Rape survivor ‘doesn’t hate’ pitiable attacker
A rape survivor has bravely described the excruciating nightmare she endured at the hands of a stranger who snuck into her home - and powerfully offered her forgiveness while begging him not to hurt any other women.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, eloquently delivered her victim impact statement in the District Court on Thursday, while her "remorseless" attacker, Michael Paul Benfell, watched the hearing via video link from prison.
She described herself as trusting, loving, optimistic and happy before her world changed after falling asleep in her Parkside home on April 9, 2018.
"When I woke up I was being raped by a stranger in my own bedroom. Every woman's worst nightmare. It was my worst nightmare. I still find it hard to believe that it really happened.
She recounted feeling "violated and betrayed by another human being for no reason".
She said the hours after her ordeal included a blur of police, hospitals, crying family and friends, emergency contraception, fear of infection and tears.
She was raped at midnight but was not able to be forensically examined until 11am the following day.
"This meant that I was unable to shower or get changed out of my clothes from the night before, hug my mum, sister or boyfriend for 15 hours while all I wanted to do was wash it away and be comforted by my loved ones."
In September, a jury took little more than an hour to find Benfell, 26, guilty of two counts of rape and a count of aggravated serious criminal trespass in a place of residence.
He snuck into the woman's home and got into bed with her, not correcting her when she initially thought he was her boyfriend.
At trial he had claimed the pair previously met and she had invited him over, but those claims were disputed by detectives who found no evidence of prior contact.
Reading her victim impact statement, the woman said Benfell - who sat slumped during the hearing and at one stage let out an exasperated sigh - had hurt her deeply but not broken her.
"I am changed but I am not weakened," she said.
"I beg you, that you seek treatment so that you never hurt another person as you have hurt me.
"I don't hate you, I pity you and I am willing to give you my forgiveness.
"I can't change the past but I can hope that whatever goodness may be left in you will lead you to never hurt another woman again."
She said she did not seek vengeance or believe in punitive prison sentences but asked the court to protect the community from Benfell.
"I never want another woman to be violated and suffer the way I have."
Her partner told the court the woman had been able to rebuild herself, despite enduring horrific flashbacks, scarring pain and her sense of safety being torn apart.
"You tried to break her as a person but you failed.
"She has learnt to kiss me again even with the lights off and trust that the person she is kissing is not a stranger."
He said Australia "still does not know how to talk about rape".
"There is a stigma about discussing what happened."
A housemate also described the shock, heartbreak, fear and grief she felt for her close friend.
"What happened in our home that night was every woman's worst nightmare. As women it is now clear that no matter what actions we take to ensure our personal safety we will never truly be safe, not even in our own beds," she said.
"Subconsciously I was working overtime to ensure my safety. Little things like triple checking the doors were locked and bigger things like enrolling in kickboxing to regain my personal security."
A second housemate, who was also living with the victim at the time, said the incident had eroded the sense of security and petrified every woman she knew.
"I live in hope that nobody ever comes to any harm at the hands of this man again."
The women said they were unable to speak with each other about the ordeal, for fear of being seen as colluding, increasing their feelings of isolation after the attack.
Their trauma was compounded by each having to give evidence at trial, and fearing they would not be believed.
"He sat under oath and lied about the vile crimes he committed," one of the housemates said.
"He went to such great lengths to invalidate our experience, discredit (the victim), diminish the gravity of our great suffering that we had worked so hard to resolve."
She said she feared the day Benfell is released from jail.
"This man is a danger to our community and I fear for the safety of other women at his hands."
Also at the hearing, Benfell sacked his lawyer and asked for a six month adjournment to find another lawyer.
That request was denied and Judge Paul Slattery directed Benfell to apply for Legal Aid. Benfell returns to court next week.
Originally published as Rape survivor 'doesn't hate' pitiable attacker