'If there is a knock on the door I go into hysteria' 'stop it happening to others'

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The Independent Online

Rape is just a word so small it does not compare with the enormity of what Maria associates with it. "All the disgust. Everything I went through," she says.

"It is just a little word compared to a big thing like that. The police said he was out to kill. I was very lucky to survive."

Maria was attacked in her own home, early one evening, last April. She had driven home from work and parked her car opposite her house in south London when she saw a man jogging down the road. When she noticed him again, he was sitting on a wall, staring at her.

She hurried inside, unnerved. About half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. Although she never normally did so, she put the security chain on and opened it a just a sliver.

He ordered her to let him in. Not recognising him and terrified, she tried to close the door but he flung his whole weight against it and burst the chain.

The man she now knows as Grant slammed her against the wall. She punched him with all the force and skill she had learned in three years of Thai boxing. He reeled but merely became infuriated and beat her mercilessly.

He then subjected her to an ordeal lasting more than an hour-and-a-half in which she was raped three times at knifepoint. She was forced to perform oral sex and he carried out further indecent assaults. She escaped only by throwing a sheet over him to slow him down, and running for her life.

Now, Maria is angry with herself for allowing him to get her - although she knows, deep down, there was little more that she could do.

"If you knew me before, I was really confident. Walking down the street, I was so confident that nobody would ever touch me. I'd never been scared of anything, ever. I always felt extremely safe at home.

"Now being indoors is a nightmare. Any noise that I hear I run to the stairs. I feel a total wimp. I don't recognise myself. I'm cracking up. If somebody comes to knock at the door I go into hysteria if I don't know who they are. I can't even have a bath because I'm scared to be naked in the house. I go to sleep with my tracksuit bottoms on so if someone comes in I'm dressed to run. I'm just not coping."

She loses her temper easily and nearly lost her job as a buyer with a wine company because she became so erratic. "I was in such a state of shock I couldn't concentrate. People would talk to me and I wouldn't hear anything they said. I'm getting flashbacks and nightmares. I get up in the night to go and check the door. I'm freaking out about the most stupid things."

Outdoors is as terrifying. If she sees a man coming down the street, she crosses over. "If people haven't been there, standing facing death, they can't imagine. I never thought it was going to happen to me in the first place and it did happen to me, in my own home. You never think anybody is going to do anything to you in your own home. I'm scared to be outside, scared to be inside."

Meanwhile, Grant has been in Broadmoor, where he was treated before and to where, he told police, he wanted to return.

"He's been having doctors looking after him, running after him with pills. I'm the one in prison, because I'm scared to be in my own home. He's getting the best of both worlds. He wanted to go back to Broadmoor. I think in Broadmoor he's getting too much of an easy life. Me, I'm left to live the rest of my life in fear. I'm paying a fortune to my psychologist."

She cannot understand who agreed to let him out, given his history, which began with two rapes when he was only 15. She became convinced of his instability in 90 minutes. The authorities had had years.

"He should never have been let out. From what I understand, he went in for rape 10 years ago. If somebody was that bad, how on earth did he convince the doctors that he was sane?

"He was going from one extreme to another when he was with me. One minute it was as if I was his girlfriend, in a matter of seconds you could see him switch and get totally violent. You didn't know what was going to come next. You could see he was crazy."

Maria, an Italian-born Catholic, hates the person she has become. "I liked the person I was," she says. "They have destroyed me. But I've got my dreams and I'm not going to let him stand in my way."

She has agreed to speak because she does not want "people like him" freed to walk the streets. "What happened to me I don't want to happen to other people. People can't believe how strong I'm being but there are other people who have been attacked who are totally cracking up. I want the law to be changed," she says.

"This one had rehabilitation and he was committing crimes while he was still being seen by the hospital. Is that what they call rehabilitation? People should be careful when they make decisions to release prisoners. They don't know how many lives they might destroy."

(Maria is not her real name.)