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Author And Assault Survivor Recounts Ordeal In 'Jane Doe January'

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Emily Winslow
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Harper Collins

In January of 1992, Carnegie Mellon University student Emily Winslow left her Shadyside apartment to get change for a dollar to do her laundry. She was followed home by an unknown man who broke into her apartment and raped her.

Twenty-one years later while living in Cambridge, England, her husband received a phone call from police saying they had identified and arrested a man named Arthur Fryar.

“That is the call I had been wanting for years and years and years,” Winslow said. “That was just good news. Full stop. It was good news.”

In the intervening years, Winslow established herself as a crime novelist, penning The Whole World, The Start of Everything and The Red House. Her latest endeavor, Jane Doe January, details her rape, the discovery of her attacker and her involvement in his trial.

When someone survives sexual assault, police assemble rape kits with his or her permission, including the collection of any remaining physical evidence that might be used to identify an assailant. Winslow’s kit sat in a freezer at the Pittsburgh Police Department for several years — at first, because there wasn’t a criminal DNA database to compare it to.

“My kit went untested, not because people didn’t care, but because there was nothing they could’ve done with the results,” Winslow said.

By the time the department had access to a database in the late 90s, they had accumulated such a backlog that it took several years for them to arrive at Winslow’s kit. She said she kept in touch with the police department, calling every few years to check in on the case’s progress.

“While it frustrated me for a very long time that I couldn’t get my kit in the queue, I understand that it was not because people didn’t care,” Winslow said. “There was a limit.”

When police finally identified Fryar, Winslow was informed that he was being prosecuted for another rape, but the details were so similar that police were confident hers would be a match. She said it was important to her to make sure he was charged for her case at the same time.

“What he did to me was personal,” Winslow said. “And I wanted what was done to him to be personal, too.”

When preparing to testify, she said she paid close attention to her appearance, aware that onlookers would mentally rate whether she was worth it, writing, “I assume they’ll wonder why he bothered.”

“Being a woman just going about in your day-to-day life, you do often feel like people are judging how attractive you are,” Winslow said. “So why wouldn’t that apply in a courtroom?”

Prosecutors had already discussed the assailant's predilection for his victims’ legs in open court, so Winslow wore pants. She didn’t want anyone else evaluating her legs.

“It’s a very emotional thing to be public among strangers in talking about something so personal,” she said.

Winslow assumed being the same room as Fryar would be the most significant aspect of the process, but said she was surprised to find that meeting the detectives working the case behind the prosecutor had the greatest impact.

“Those relationships were so profound and so wonderful that they overshadowed seeing Arthur Fryar again,” Winslow said. “It was very surprising and actually very beautiful.”

Her relationships with fellow students and faculty in the theater department at Carnegie Mellon helped her get through the year or two following the incident. She said actors are very articulate about strong emotions and difficult things, and they all discussed it.

“There was nothing secretive;  there was no shame,” Winslow said. “Having that as this foundation of, ‘This is a piece of my life. This is a thing that happened, but my life is full of other things as well,’ was an enormous comfort."

She doesn't think about changing the past. It's unrealistic, she said.

“In 46 years that I’ve been alive, one terrible thing has happened to me,” Winslow said. “I wouldn’t’ want to trade all the good things that have come out of living my life the way that I have just to get rid of that one bad thing.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.