It was a Friday evening in February 1983 when Sara Graves, a 22-year-old magazine picture editor, stopped at her neighborhood cash machine in downtown Manhattan to withdraw $100 for the weekend. She exited the booth and had walked down the street toward her apartment when she felt a hard object poking her back. “Give me the money, bitch,” threatened a low voice. “Don’t make me use this.”
Graves turned around to see two men, one of them holding a gun. They demanded her money and jewelry, then took her to a nearby abandoned garage. where for the next three hours they raped and sodomized her. Then they let her go. When she reached home, she telephoned her parents, Ralph Graves, former editorial director of Time Inc., and Eleanor Graves, former executive editor of LIFE. They rushed Sara to Bellevue Hospital’s rape crisis center, then lovingly supported her during the intensive three-week police investigation that resulted in the rapists’ apprehension and conviction.
Seven years later. Ralph Craves. now 68 and a full-time author, decided to write a novel about the experience. When he broached the idea to Sara—who six years ago married a yacht captain with whom she now works on private yachts—she was enthusiastic. “She agreed that it could help both victims and their families,” says Graves. His recently published novel, Orion: The Story of a Rape, a fictionalization of Sara’s rape, deals with the crime and its devastating aftereffects on one family. Father and daughter talked with senior writer Susan Reed at the Graveses’ Manhattan apartment.
Ralph: At the time of the rape, it never crossed my mind that I would ever write about it. Then a few years ago, rape became a subject of widespread public discussion. I began seeing a whole spate of books, articles, TV and radio shows about it. Most of them dealt with the question of why men commit rape and what it does to a woman’s psyche. I found that very little attention was being paid to two other aspects of rape. One is that rape victimizes everyone who knows the woman—parents, lovers, families, friends and work colleagues. The other is what the victim has to go through if she wants to bring the rapist to justice. It requires full cooperation with medical examiners, police, prosecutors and grand juries—and a lot of determination. I found the process—especially the police work—fascinating, and I thought people ought to know more about it.
Sara: When Dad asked me what I thought about his writing a novel based on my rape, I told him it was a great idea—as long as he included me in the creative process. I wanted him to address the fact that rape victims needn’t hide or feel ashamed and that the legal system does work. It’s worth going through it to catch the rapists.
Ralph: When I started to research the book, I realized there were things I had either never known or had forgotten. Seven years had passed. So I interviewed Sara. She told me for the first time that she had thrown up in a city trash can on her way home after the rape I also interviewed rape counselors, detectives, prosecutors and medical experts. I was reminded of how vital it is for a victim to report a rape immediately and get to a hospital for a medical examination and collection of evidence.
Strange as it sounds, writing the actual rape scene was exhilarating, because I knew I was getting it right. I was determined to describe it in a way that would make people see just how bad rape can be.
Sara: It was so accurate that when I read it, the fear came flooding back. I remember the moment the guys pointed to the garage and said, “You’re going in there.” My mind felt like it was imploding. I knew what was going to happen. I said to myself, “All you have to do is come out alive.” When they finally let me go, I felt incredible relief. I had lived through it.
Ralph: Eleanor and I were having cocktails the evening that Sara called. Eleanor picked up the telephone and Sara was on the other end sobbing. She said she had been raped and robbed. The shock was tremendous. I thought, “This can’t have happened.”
Our instinct was to get to Sara right away. We jumped in a taxi and sped down to her apartment, then took her to the hospital. There, the muses and the cops took over. The wait was endless. Eleanor was a tower of strength, but I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say to Sara. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about the details. She says I was very quiet.
Later. my shock turned to anger at the rapists. I didn’t know what they locked like. It was anonymous, furious, pure hatred.
Sara: Dad and Mom were wonderful to me, very loving and supportive, unlike the well-meaning but blundering parents he created for the novel. In the book the victim’s brother thinks it somehow must have been her fault, whereas in real life, my brothers were really angry at the rapists. They thought they should be castrated. They talked about taking out contracts on them. I didn’t feel that level of anger. I was more concerned about taking care of myself. I channeled my emotions into helping the police.
The cops had collected evidence at the scene, and I was going through mug shots every day at the precinct, trying to identify the suspects. One day, about a week after the rape, I was at my apartment talking to a friend on the telephone and absentmindedly going through stuff on my desk. I picked up a piece of paper and saw it was the scrap the men had given me when they ordered me to write down my personal banking code. I saw it was a pay stub with a company name On it. I called the police right away. Soon after that, they went to the address and arrested two men, and I identified them in a police lineup.
Ralph: As parents of a rape victim, you have to be there for your daughter in every way you can. Be ready to listen, be ready to talk when she wants to talk. Keep your arms open and your heart open.
Sara: I consider myself a lucky rape victim. It didn’t happen in my home, I didn’t know the rapists, and I wasn’t beaten. Any one of those things can cast a whole different light on the experience.
My advice to other victims is: Don’t blame yourself or feel ashamed. Blame the rapist—and get him if you can. To friends and family: Be there to help her.
Working on the novel with Dad created a bond between us. When I finally read Orion, I felt it was Dad’s way of saying, “I’m proud of you and how you handled it.”