Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hope for Humanity

I have reached out to other survivors and offered to help them tell their stories without having the backlash of victim blaming. Being comfortable enough to tell your story and getting everything out is one of the most important steps to healing. The survivors journey your are about to read will leave you with chills. Her amazing heart and strong will to fight back is truly unbelievable. Here is her story.

In the early weeks of summer 2009, I was enjoying newfound freedom as a young woman following my dreams. I had moved into my first apartment, I had a great summer job, and I was still coming down from an emotional high after completing my first year at Missouri State University. My days were filled with work, pool time, exploring and relaxing with friends I had made the past year, and singing in a graduate choir (I was majoring in vocal music education). I was finally achieving the things I had dreamt of while in high school, and (I thought) I was well on my way to becoming a well adjusted adult (at least what a 19 year old thinks an adult is).

Everything changed in the early hours of June 15th.

The night started off how most nights usually did. I got home from working an afternoon shift at Express and called my best friend (who is incidentally my husband now-we'll call him Steve for the sake of anonymity) and asked if he wanted to swim in my apartments pool. When he showed up, he called another friend over (let's call him Bob) and the three of us swam for a couple hours and then decided we would go to "Bob's" apartment and watch a movie. When we got there, it was probably 10:30. We watched a movie, the guys drank a couple of beers, and I had 1 glass of some God-awful boxed wine and decided I did NOT want anymore of that crap. Somewhere along the line, I realized I had to work the next morning and told the boys I needed to leave. "Steve" thought it would be funny to pretend to steal my car keys and take my car. I knew he was joking, so I ran outside without my shoes-laughing all of the way-to get the keys back. As we were laughing, our friend "Bob" came out and-I'm just guessing here- thought we were actually fighting. He then proceeded to try and yank the keys from "Steve" and they got into a ridiculous argument, which I honestly have no recollection of because it was literally stupid. Boys...am I right? Anyways, it all ended up with "Steve" deciding to take a walk down the street. Again...boys. Of course I followed him, with NO SHOES ON. I thought he would eventually turn around, but no. I followed him about a mile down the street...across a busy intersection, and to another friends apartment. Once we got there, I realized I had no phone, and I had no idea what time it was. I knew I had to work in the morning, so I BEGGED "Steve" to walk me back to my car because I knew if we slept there, I would be late. Being 19 and from a small, relatively crime free town, I made the decision that would change my life forever. I decided to walk the mile back to my car....by myself... around 3 in the morning.

I almost made it.

I was about a block away from my car when I was followed, attacked, dragged off of the road, and raped in a backyard by a complete stranger.

I consider myself lucky because in that moment, I was 100% positive that I was not going to be alive when the morning came. By some miracle, my attacker did leave me alive...and ran off. As soon as I could, I got up and started knocking. I knocked on the first door...no answer. I knocked on the second door...no answer. I ran across the street. I knocked I the third door...a light switched on. As soon as that light shone in the darkness I lost it. I'm sure opening the door to a young woman sobbing uncontrollably and falling on the ground would come as a shock, but as soon as the word "rape" came out of my sobs, I was ushered inside and given a blanket and sweet calming words by the most amazing people. I didn't know until later, but I had knocked on the door of a firefighter and his wife. After we called the cops, he walked the neighborhood for 15 minutes looking for my attacker. Gives me hope for humanity.

I was taken to the hospital and underwent a rape kit. Let me tell you now, they are terrible, and demeaning, and scary. A police officer took so many photos of my naked body and of my private areas. Don't get me wrong, I know they needed those photos, and I willingly agreed to anything and everything they asked because I knew it would help...but it was still awful.

I was questioned that night about a million times, and when I FINALLY got in touch with "Steve" and he showed up... It felt like I could breathe for the first time. He took me home, and I immediately got into the hottest shower I could handle and stayed in there for what felt like forever. I couldn't get clean enough.

My parents came... and we all mourned together for a while. I told them to go home early in the evening because I knew everyone still needed to process everything, and I didn't want to go home with them and leave the life that I had been trying to build. That felt like giving up. I was NOT going to give up.

I could not be left alone for weeks. I'm pretty sure "Steve" didn't get a good nights sleep for months, considering all of my nightmares, anxiety attacks, and the fact that I had to be touching him at all times during the night to feel safe. When I was finally strong enough to let him go home a few nights out of the week, I slept in my locked closet with a pair of scissors, SO sure that someone was going to come for me.

I talked to a detective a few times, and they told me they would do everything in their power to find my attacker.

It was two years before anything happened.

After I was raped. I changed. I was not ready to be back in college in the fall and I struggled rejoining my friends. I started going to parties and drinking. I didn't go to class drunk or anything like that, but it was no big deal for me to go to a party during the week instead of studying.

On Halloween I found out I was pregnant, and I left school two months later. It was hard. It was really hard... But... I pulled through.

I can honestly say that my daughter saved me. I gave birth to her the summer after I was raped. She gave me MORE than enough reasons to pull through and be myself again. I will be forever thankful to her for that.

Two days before her first birthday, I got a call. THERE WAS A POSITIVE DNA MATCH!!! One of the FIRST matches using the CODIS system for DNA matching in the state of Missouri. Sadly, it was another two years before the state had enough evidence to make a case...The wait was torture.

This past year, I had about 6 court appearances. I was lucky to have a WONDERFUL advocate and an equally wonderful attorney.

No one can prepare you for court. Nothing hurts more than hearing the defense attorney drag your name through the mud and blame the rape on you. I heard everything from "it was consensual" to "she must have been drunk" (which FYI-I wasn't...and even if I was...it still wouldn't have been okay). We offered plea deal after plea deal after plea deal. He declined them all, and never once took responsibility or apologized. In the end, we held the final trial with a jury of 12. It was unanimous- guilty on all counts. 45 years. With the new laws, he has to serve at least 85% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. As he was being led out of the court room, he yet again proved what the mentality is for a lot of rapists, he said I was "ruining his life" and called me an awful name that I will not repeat...trying once more to exert power over me. That's what rape is...the illusion of power. Guess who has the power now?

I'm doing pretty well. There is a good chance he will appeal for a retrial, which may or may not be granted. You never know in these cases. I'm prepared to fight until the day I die, if that's what needs to happen.

I just wish I could have that girl back. She was so spunky, and free, and inspiring, and passionate, and, and, and... I could go on forever. She was stolen from me, and no matter how strong I get, how happy I choose to be, or where I end up... I will never get her back. I would have liked to see where she would have ended up in her life. I see glimpses of her sometimes in my daughter, and I know it will all end up okay. I know that I'll get out of this life what I put in...so I'm going to put in so much good that it's overflowing. I'm going to fight for other girls out there, so they won't be lost like I was. I'm going to try and do my part to spread the word, so we can end rape. For good.

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