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Real Life

Real life: This monster raped me and 24 other women

Maybe if he thinks I didn’t see his face, he might just let me live.

By Courtney GReatrex

Rhonda McHardy, 53, Auckland, NZ shares her horrifying night of horrors:

Trigger warning, this post deals with sexual assault. Readers who are seeking assistance can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
Walking towards the ATM, I performed an excited pirouette.
Dancing was always my way of expressing myself.
I had a big modelling job the following day and couldn't wait.
I wanted to be organised and get money out for travel costs and lunch so it didn't hold me up in the morning.
I had been at a party at the restaurant where my boyfriend of two months James worked, and was on my way home.
Things between us were going so well I wanted to move in with him.
At 25, my career as a dancer, actress and model was also doing well. I'd landed a few jobs in TV, and was excited to see where it would take me.
Once the machine spat out my cash, I wandered back to the car and got in. I leaned over the hand brake to put my wallet back into my overnight bag.
Behind me, I heard the driver's door click open.
Suddenly, I felt a frenzy of thumps on the back of my head.
The pain was blinding, but I was too terrified to make a noise.
What's happening?! I worried as my ears started to ring.
Paralysed with fear, I waited desperately for the blows to stop but they kept coming. The flurry of hits came so quickly, I didn't have a chance to protect myself.
This assault wasn't a mugging, I realised – whoever was doing this wanted something else.
I caught a glimpse of a man's silhouette as he tied my hands behind me and pushed my limp body through the gap between the passenger and driver's seat, and onto the floor in the back.
My heart hammered as he clambered in behind the steering wheel and started the engine.
As he drove away, I tried to stay calm as I feared what would come next.
Tied up, and bleeding profusely from the head, I had nowhere to go. I was trapped.
I pretended to be unconscious as I awaited my fate.
If he thinks I didn't see his face, he might let me live, I thought, squeezing my eyes shut.
Me at 25 - I was building a successful career. (Image: Supplied)
Where the hell was he taking me?
I tried to distract myself by thinking about all of the things that I was grateful for… my mum rushing me to ballet classes, and performing talent shows for her, Dad and my little brother.
If I die now, I'll know I had an amazing life. I'm happy. I'm in love, I told myself.
After what I assumed was 10 minutes, the car finally stopped.
The guy unzipped my overnight bag in the passenger's seat, and climbed into the back, covering my face with the top I'd planned to wear the next day.
Then he pulled off my clothes.
Tears silently streamed down my face as he raped me. A few moments passed before he raped me again. I tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
At least I didn't have to look him in the eye.
When it was over, he dressed me again without a word, got back into the driver's seat and sped off.
Still tied up, I trembled with shock. I wondered if he'd kill me next.
When the car stopped again, he untied me and closed the door behind him.
I always loved performing. (Image: Supplied)
Is he digging a hole for my body? I panicked.
More than 15 minutes passed before I plucked up the courage to peek out from my blindfold.
I could see trees, a street light and the ATM I'd used hours earlier. We were back where this horrific nightmare had begun.
My keys were still in the ignition. I couldn't believe it.
He's gone. I've survived, I thought, my whole body shaking.
It was over.
With my head throbbing, I clambered into the driver's seat and sped off to James's house.
He wasn't home, so I drove to the restaurant where he worked.
It was 4am and he was still clearing up.
When he spotted my car, he came outside to meet me.
I hadn't thought about how I looked, until now.
All I cared about was that I was still alive.
Dance was how I expressed myself. (Image: Supplied)
When I'd left the house hours earlier, I was wearing my favourite buckled belt, jeans, a crop top and a double-breasted linen jacket.
Now, my belt was gone, the buttons had been ripped off my jacket and my hair was matted with blood.
James instantly carried me upstairs to the manager's office.
"What happened?" he asked.
Suddenly, I was hit with my new reality.
"I was raped," I admitted as I watched pain spread across his face.
Telling the man that I loved I'd been horrifically assaulted by a sick monster was excruciating.
I felt like an open wound as he called police.
Numb and in shock, I was just relieved to be alive.
The officers were caring and compassionate as I gave my preliminary statement in gruesome detail.
Because the man had covered my face, I couldn't give them an accurate description.
"He's done this before, he knew what he was doing," I said.
The attack was so brazen and he'd operated so smoothly I was sure I wasn't the first woman he'd attacked.
At hospital, as docs gathered evidence and patched my injuries, I realised I'd become that girl, who was just another statistic in the number of women who have been raped.
My parents came to pick me up. Thankfully, James had explained it all to them so I didn't have to say it aloud again.
"You look good," Mum said, as if she was relieved, before pulling me in for a hug. Dad shifted awkwardly, not sure what to say.
I understood, I didn't know how to act either. This was new territory for all of us.
Over the following days, my head continued to throb with pain as I came to terms with what had happened to me.
Me (kneeling left) - I did my best to get on with life. (Image: Supplied)
I went through what I could have done differently, but I was sure pretending to be unconscious was the right thing to do.
If I'd tried to fight back, or if he knew I'd seen his face, he may not have let me go.
Still, I was horrified that this monster was still out there, and other women were at risk.
Two days later, police released details to the public of what happened to me and shared photos of my car in case there were witnesses.
Friends called me before I'd even had a chance to work out how to tell them. They'd seen my car on the news.
"Rhonda, was that you?" one mate asked.
"Yeah…" I replied solemnly.
My loved ones had no idea what I was going through, but they tried to be there as best they could.
It took me two months to cry over what had happened and when I finally did, the tears didn't stop for two hours.
A few months later, I started working again, dancing and modelling where I thrived, and it brought a sense of normality back into my life.
It was a welcome distraction from worrying about my rapist striking again.
Police had no updates, so I rarely heard from them.
James and I eventually broke up; the incident had taken its toll on the both of us.
I dated other men, but soon realised that I needed to be on my own to properly heal.
With my beautiful supportive mum. (Image: Supplied)
I started to focus on my health and build my physical strength.
The rape had taken my power away, so I began to make up for that by weight training 12 hours a week.
When the police finally called with an update four years later, it came completely out of the blue.
"We've found your attacker. We're going to need you to testify," the officer said.
I was relieved that he'd finally been found after all these years.
"How many women did he rape?" I asked, afraid of the answer.
"More than 20," the officer said. "You were the ninth victim."
The number made my heart ache. So many women were suffering just like me.
Malcolm Rewa was charged with multiple counts of rape and even one count of murder.
He pleaded guilty to the attack against me, but not to abusing the many other women he'd targeted.
My testimony was vital in convicting him on rape charges for the other victims, so two years later, I was asked to give evidence in court.
As I entered the courtroom, I felt his presence before I saw him.
A blanket of fear washed over me knowing we were in the same room.
I refused to look at him until my statement was over. Finally, when I'd finished, I glanced up to see his head hanging in shame. Coward.
He was eventually found guilty of rape and sexual attacks on 25 women, but the jury couldn't reach a verdict on the murder charge. He was sentenced to a minimum non-parole period of 22 years.
I was the ninth of 20 victims. (Image: Getty)
Finally, after six long, painful years, justice had been served.
After I'd testified, details of my rape started to become fuzzy to me. I was letting go of that horrific memory.
It gave me a new lease on life and helped me re-evaluate what I wanted my future to look like.
I started to travel, spending time in Sydney, Tokyo, London and New York City.
A few years later, I returned to New Zealand when my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
As time passed, thoughts of my attack became less frequent.
I didn't want to be seen solely as a rape survivor anymore. I wasn't defined by what happened to me.
More than 20 years after the rape, I had my name suppression lifted by the court so I could speak out for Rewa's murdered 10th victim.
Susan Burdett was killed two weeks after he attacked me.
While Rewa was convicted of raping her, he was never held accountable for her murder.
It could have easily been me he killed instead.
Susan's family suffered greatly in the years after she died, and I knew a conviction would help them heal.
I threw myself into my modelling career. (Image: Supplied)
When Rewa was finally done for Susan's murder, the court room erupted into applause.
Now, he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars, exactly where that monster belongs.
I'll never forget what he did to me, but I've learned to forgive him.
I didn't do it consciously, but over time, I knew I had come to a place of forgiveness, more for myself than for Rewa. I could finally move on.
I share my story to show other women that even if they go through something so horrible, they have the strength and power to overcome it.
If I can help just one person, it will be worth it.
Readers who are seeking assistance can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.

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