Recently I was going through my old articles and found one that had been quite difficult to write because of the horror that the lady had gone through. The lady was Florence Holway. She was the subject of a documentary called, “A Rape In A Small Town, The Florence Holway Story.” She passed away in 2012, and she is to be remembered in part for her ability to reach deep down to challenge a system that often protected the criminals, and she fought a courageous battle for the rights of the victims.
I watched her as she recounted her evening of terror. She spoke with an eloquence that allowed her to rise above the hideousness of the crime. She went into detail about the circumstances that had occurred that night, and how the perpetrator, a serial sex offender, came into her home in Alton, New Hampshire, and raped, sodomized, hogtied and beat her.
I had tears in my eyes and yet I was able to smile at each tiny victory that enabled her to outwit and ultimately escape from the brutal hands of John LaForest, a man who had the audacity to say during the rape, “Isn’t this nice, isn’t this great, I think I’ll come every week.” After the attack he hit her and knocked her unconscious.
When she regained consciousness, she found him next to her asleep in HER bed. And though she was hurt, she knew she had to get out. She made her way to her car and drove across the way to her son’s home.
When she arrived at her son’s house, she told her daughter-in-law and her son that she had been raped and that the guy was still inside her house. The police were called, and her son also went over to make sure that the guy couldn’t escape. Let me segue for a moment and all you men out there, picture this: Your mother has just told you a sadistic brute has raped her; she is missing teeth, because he smacked her silly. What would you do? And could you restrain yourself from killing the jerk? Well, her son Bill did just that. Total and complete restraint, bringing new meaning to the phrase calm under pressure and that’s not to say he didn’t think about it, but the assumption was to let it be handled through the legal system. Keep that thought.
The police arrived and John LaForest was arrested. And you would think that would be a neat and tidy ending, basically almost caught in the act with forensic evidence et al…NOPE. Though the rapist was taken into custody, Florence spent the next 12 years in and out of the court system fighting for greater sentences for rapists and helping to further the cause of victims’ rights.
Through the course of the court hearings and parole board meetings, she persevered and found out he had quite a history of sexual offenses and she worked to change the laws that had once allowed this repeat offender to receive a plea bargain.
The attention to detail is amazing, from the camera angles that capture her bedroom where the rape occurred, complete with the way the bed was part of the “ordeal” and yet her beautifully crocheted afghan lies atop the bedspread. This could be my grandmother’s room, your grandmother’s room. This was her home, complete with items that had decorated her life, where her memories had been created. And to think that a sexual predator could come into her beautiful home and disturb everything defies logic. I know that the scope of her life isn’t to be defined by a few hours of brutality, but how can you ever go back to being you after that? Does her bedroom look the same to her after such a vicious attack? Aren’t most of us creatures of comfort who enjoy the simple things like the sunlight shining through a window in the late afternoon? Does that ever look the same? Believe me, as hard as this documentary was to watch, you are given snippets of an amazing woman who stopped at nothing to make sure justice was done.
In the end she emerged as the victor in this demented system of what society allows and calls “the rehabilitation of the rapist,” one who had quite a history behind him. Ah, but folks that huge fact wasn’t allowed in the “current case.” Hmm… seems to me the slight detail of him purposely hitting a young girl on a bike, then offering her a ride to seek medical attention, cutting off her clothes, cutting her throat, and then raping her, is certainly news enough to help substantiate the fact he was, is and always will be a sexual deviant.
When the documentary was over, I knew in my heart I had to find a way to speak to Florence. The following week I composed a letter. Knowing that the town in which she lived was small, I called the Alton Police Department, and asked if they would forward correspondence to her. They couldn’t do that, but a very kind person assisted me, and I was able to figure out how to reach her.
I called Florence, and while we spoke, I hoped my voice wouldn’t crack as I sung her high praises. I thanked her for sharing her experience and asked if she had been receiving letters. She told me that she had already received 120 of them, and so I asked if I could be the 121st. She gave me her address and asked me my name. I could hear the pencil writing it down, so I said, “I’ll write on the envelope, ‘We spoke on the phone,’” and I told her to look for my teacup return label.
I guess I wanted her to know me, and it wasn’t as if my letter was better than the other 120, but because I wanted her to know that two women, my sister Cindy and I, would be honored to be her pen pals.
Though our conversation was brief, I told her that despite her ordeal, she emerged a heroine, one for women everywhere who had been sexually assaulted. Her persistence eventually worked and finally a “system” listened and evolved!
I was all caught up in the emotion of the conversation, when I said, “You are my hero, and one incredible woman!”
She replied, “My dear I am just ordinary.”
To which I replied, “Well, I beg to differ. I think you are extraordinary, and it was lovely speaking with you.”
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.