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Novel details writer's quest for justice after rapist attacks her

| Friday, June 24, 2016, 8:57 p.m.
“Jane Doe January: My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice” (William Morrow, $26.99) by Emily Winslow

In 1992, when she was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Emily Winslow was raped.

Her attacker fled and was not apprehended for more than 20 years, when DNA evidence linked Arthur Fryar to the crime, though he was not convicted.

Throughout those two decades, Winslow was told she needed to forgive her attacker. But she was not inclined to feel beneficent.

“I had trouble figuring out what forgiving him would look like,” says Winslow, author of the memoir “Jane Doe January: My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice” (William Morrow, $26.99).

“Because I knew I wanted to go to court, and I knew that I wanted him to go to prison. A lot of people, right to my face, person after person, would ask, ‘Have you forgiven him?' And they were so expectant and hopeful that I would say yes, and the whole victim narrative would chug along just as it was supposed to.”

Instead, Winslow, who lives in Cambridge, England, and is a novelist, resisted being called a survivor instead of a victim. She wanted the word “rape” to be used, not a softening synonym. She wasn't “brave,” she says; she was getting on with her life.

Nor did she want to be stereotyped as fragile or permanently damaged by the rape.

“While I didn't conform to the stereotype, I wouldn't say I'm very different from rape victims,” she says. “So many women I knew during the process of writing this said this had happened to them, too. And you never would have known it because they weren't falling apart, as per expected.

“And so many of the men we mutually knew said they never knew anybody who was raped before. And of course, they did. … They knew a lot of women who had been raped; they just didn't know that they knew them.”

When Fryar's DNA indicated he had raped Winslow, she prepared for a trial. She worked with Pittsburgh Police Detectives Bill Valenta, Aprill Campbell and Dan Honan and Assistant District Attorney Evan Lowery. She flew from England to Pittsburgh for preliminary hearings.

Winslow also tried to compile a profile of Fryar via social media and persistent phone calls to jurisdictions where he'd been convicted and jailed of other crimes, attempting to understand his motivations and makeup.

Her efforts would be for naught. Just before the trial was scheduled to take place, it was determined that the Pennsylvania statute-of-limitations law being used to prosecute the case had expired. Winslow never got her day in court, and Fryar was allowed to remain free.

She does, however, feel a sense of completion about the prosecution.

“That last trip to Pittsburgh where I connected with the prosecutors and the detectives, we all grieved the case together,” she says. “We had all taken it as far as we could go. Our trying had been a complete arc. Our attempt was a complete story, even though it didn't end the way we wanted it to. What we did is complete.”

Today, Winslow rarely thinks about Fryar. She is happily married and has two children, and has a successful career as a writer. Her experience was horrid, but two or three years after she was raped, she reached a turning point in her life.

“I realized how many people had supported me,” Winslow says. “How many people I was connected to, and how much they hated him for what he had done to me. I was actually able to feel pity for him because I obviously had so much more, in terms of human connection.

“Presumably he feels guilty, and I can't imagine how you carry that kind of guilt. I felt pity for him, and that's possibly a step closer to forgiveness.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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