IN THE TOWNHOUSE apartment converted to an office, a Christmas party was going on. The front rooms were crowded and noisy, so the woman took me into the kitchen. She told me how it happened and only once did she come close to tears, her eyes reddening and her fists clenching. Then she caught herself and went on. She told first about the rape and then about the fear and then, strangely, how she wanted to meet the rapist and understand him. You have to realize she feels sorry for him.

She was not as advertised. What was advertised was a rape victim, a woman who had gone through hell, who had been beaten and then raped and who had identified her rapist only to see him walk out of jail-free on bail. She was supposed to be terrified, in a state of panic, a nervous wreck. She was nothing of the sort. She lit a cigarette.

"I'd like to sit down and talk with him," she said. "It makes me sick when I think he's going to spend maybe 25 years in jail. My God, that's a horrible thing."

Every once in a while, someone walked into the kitchen. Two men kidded by the doorway and a woman in a white pants suit came in to refresh her drink and once, while the story of the rape was being told, a little girl in a plaid skirt came in and we had to stop talking. The woman herself was dark haired and attractive-well dressed in boots, a checkered skirt and a sweater. She's in real estate, a way to support her acting habit, she says-maybe 30 years old, maybe younger. Right now she's got blackened eyes and a cut on the scalp and this desire to go eyeball to eyeball with the man who raped her. Only she doesn't exactly know why.

"I had come home about midnight," she said. "It was about 2 in the morning. A man was in my room. He said, 'Roll over.' I guess his voice woke me up. I was coming out of a deep sleep. He said, 'Roll over and take off your panties.' I though it was a bad joke. I kept saying, 'Who are you and what do you want?' He slugged me. He put a pillow over my head and said, 'Take off your panties or I will." He made me feel the edge of a knife. I was serrated and not very sharp."

He tried to rape her once and couldn't. He went into another room and then came back and this time he did it. Then he got up and left and she waited a moment, a horrible moment when she was not sure he was gone, and she reached for the phone and called the police. "I whispered into the phone. I said I had been raped and I didn't know if the man was still there. The police came. The door was open. He had left and the police called to me. 'Ma'am, it's the police." My sister came out of the bedroom and the dog came out. The police were terrific."

Soon the horror of what happened set in. In her case, it was not the rape itself, the sexual rape, that bothered her-but the larger rape, the invasion of her home, her bedroom. It's a feeling people have when they've only been burglarized that terrible feeling of helpless rage when your home, your room, has been entered by a stranger. You feel, well, raped. The woman looked up.

"He violated my home and he violated my bedroom," she said. "Honest to God, the sex is the least of it."

The next night was tough, the next night she stood at the window and looked out into the dark and wondered about the man out there. Her knees knocked from fright and even as she told about it, her eyes reddened and her fists clenched, and she seemed, for the first time, about to lose control. "Oh God, you're out there," she had said to herself that night.

But then something strange happened. The man was caught. He was taken to the lineup and three women and a male witness identified him. He had already been charged with rape and then he was charged with three more. Later he was released on bail. That bothered the woman.

The man, clearly, was a compulsive rapist but she was assured by the police that he would never return to her. Something else bothered her more. In a lineup of animals, of the living dead, of junkies and winos and sickies and bent figures with runny noses, the rapist stood tall, erect, middle class in dress, articulate in speech. He turned out to be a professional man, a husband. God, she had sold houses to men like him.

So there, in the kitchen, we tried to figure out what had happened-how what should have been hate and loathing had turned suddenly into understanding and sympathy and a certain sense of identification. It was all so mysterious. A rapist changed from criminal to sick person, from threat to victim and it was hard to tell how it had all happened. Later I went and reviewed my notes and saw something the detective assigned to the case had said. He had been at the party, too, and had come into the kitchen and listened to the conversation. He knew right away how the rapist had gone from threat to victim.Nothing mysterious about it.

He had been caught.

Now there was no more fear. Now there was confusion, bewilderment, a desire to know more. How had he picked her? Why had a picked her? What would happen to him? He was no criminal. He was sick. He didn't need jail. He needed treatment. How was he different from other men?

"I'd like to sit down and talk to him. I want to know what makes him different. We've all had to push off men at the dorr. I would like to see in my own judgement was this man is like."