He made some comments. He said, “shut the f--- up or I’ll kill you”. I thought I was going to die. He asked me where my third roommate was. (She was gone.) He told me he was taking me down to my roommate’s room. On the way down the hall he started making sexual comments. That was when I realized not only was I going to die, I was also going to be raped.
He had me wake up my roommate, and then said, “I’ll kill you if she screams”. He proceeded to rape me, then her. He made us shower. He made us douche. He took everything. He gathered up all our belongings and eventually left us with our lives.
Once it was over and he was gone, what emotions, thoughts, and feelings were going on inside of you?
Fear. I was afraid that he may come back and try to finish us off. Disbelief. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Anger. I just really felt that my life had been changed forever and I didn’t know how I was going to cope.
Did they catch the rapist or is he still at large?
“They” did not catch him, but he is no longer at large. He continued raping other women in the same vicinity for about 9 months. For almost a year I had to deal with knowing that the same attacker was getting other women. Eventually the last woman he tried to rape had been raped before and she had a gun. She shot and killed him after he stabbed her 8 times in the altercation.
Did the knowledge of his death help to take away your fear?
It helped a lot because he had been masked and every time I saw a black male I wondered if he was my rapist. When I was in the car at a stop light or walking down the street I wondered if it was him. It was nice to know that he was gone, that he could not get me again… that he was not stalking me. It was a huge sense of relief. Very few rape victims can have relief because their attacker is either not found or is not convicted (and if he is convicted – he is eventually released). Needless to say, the news of his death gave me peace.
How long did it take to begin healing?
I’d say my healing began right away. I thought it was very important to get involved in a support group because I needed to be around others that had experienced what I had. I just needed to know that I was going to be OK and come out on the other side.
I immediately went to Support Group and started realizing that mine (rape) wasn’t as bad as some, and that did help. But just knowing that other people had gone through something similar; the fear, the sleeplessness, the crawling on the floor (afraid he could see them from outside)… It was just nice to realize that I wasn’t crazy.
Can you explain to a reader who may be going through this the steps your healing process took?
I probably went through all the steps of healing, not necessarily denial, but the anger and acceptance and everything. I think I went through the denial stage once I found out he (my rapist) was killed. I didn’t get to pick him out of a line-up and I didn’t get to see him.
He was dead and buried by the time the processed DNA proved it was him... They told me it was certain 2 months after he died. I had a very hard time understanding and coming to terms that it was him… DNA was fairly new at this time. I had to do a lot of research to accept the fact that it was him by looking at some black dashes on a sheet of paper.
To another reader going through the process - it’s tough because you have ups and downs. You can have days when you are doing well and then you can have a nightmare that completely sets you back.
I thought I was healing and then the news came out that he raped a woman in the apartment complex next to me. It was so hard to know that he was right next door and he was still out there getting people and there was nothing I could do about it.
Did you cycle through healing emotions and destructive ones?
I think everyone goes through some destructive phases. A lot of the women in my Support Group went through very destructive phases and I think it almost helped me to not want to go through what they did (by listening to them).Some of them were alcoholics, some of them had gained excessive weight, and some of them were promiscuous. Some of them never dated again, some of them couldn’t hold a job. All these things were directions their lives took after their rapes and instantly I wanted to make sure that I kept mine as much on the same track that it would have been if this had not happened to me. Unfortunately, I probably drank more than I should have -trying to escape, but I never got involved in drugs or promiscuity or anything like that. My goal after meeting the other women in the Support Group was to stay as normal as possible.
What were some helpful things you encountered in your healing journey?
I’d say Support Group was absolutely huge. I highly recommend it to anyone else going through this. I was also in a sorority and had 85 sisters… they were there for me. A couple of them reached out to me that they had been date raped in high school. I had my family there for me, but really I wanted to talk to someone that had been through it.
Looking back, I kind of think about it as if I found out I had breast cancer. My mom’s the first person I’m going to call, but the second person is a survivor of breast cancer. You want to talk to someone that’s been where you are and made it out the other side. That was huge. I made an excellent friend through Support Group; she’s still one of my best friends to this day, (her name is Joy).
Another thing - I started helping others. I started volunteering through Victim Assistance and Rape Crisis. I was going to hospitals when others were raped and counselling them and their families and going through the rape kits (physical examination) with them.
I started speaking out at Take Back the Night and doing interviews. I tried to do things to help educate people because I thought I was a good poster child. I don’t look like what someone may think is typical rape victim. My message was, “if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. Really try to protect yourself.” I thought I was healed enough to help others…other victims.
I thought I was really full circle until I was invited by Joy (from Support Group) to speak to sex offenders at a prison to educate and counsel them on “how not to create any more victims”.
That was a difficult thing for me. But it was amazing… I was hell bent against it and I went with my arms crossed and a very poor attitude. I didn’t think it was possible to help sex offenders. I didn’t think they were worth it. I didn’t think they were worth my time. I didn’t think they COULD get better. I didn’t think I wanted anything to do with it, but Joy was a good friend and I told her I’d go to support her.
It was amazing that through listening to the questions and comments that the sex offenders had, my attitude changed. I absolutely wanted to be a part of this program (SOAR). I realized that this is where I needed to be helping people - not helping the victims so much; lots of people are willing to help the victims. Nobody’s willing to work with the sex offenders. Very rarely will any survivor be willing to go into a prison with 30 plus sex offenders with no bars between you, shake their hand, talk to them and tell them you forgive them. Not many want to be there and take off work to help them.
That was huge in the healing process, although I didn’t know how my family was going to take it. I honestly thought Joy was crazy when she was doing it, so I thought my family would think the same thing. My mother sees the importance of what I am doing and how it has truly helped me to come full circle. I’ve befriended a few men and connected back to the offender.
My mother has actually come to the point that she goes with me; we’re a mother-daughter team who travels to the prison to counsel sex offenders. We educate them on what it is like being on the other side of rape as victims and secondary victims. They make the effort of remembering our names, our faces, and our stories so they will never do it again. No more!
Helping the offenders has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I think that’s where prevention needs to be. Hopefully I won’t have to go help the victims because I’ll stop it before it happens by educating and counseling the offenders.
Has the rape changed the relationship that you have with your mother?
We were always close... It may have brought us closer. I mean I think we were close to begin with so I’m not going to say “we didn’t have a good relationship and now we’re close because of this”. We were close and now we’re even closer. I guess going visiting prisons definitely (chuckles) is something most mothers and daughters don’t do, so I think it creates a closeness that most mothers and daughters will never know.
I think my mother was great being there for me through all of it. She would take my calls at 2, 3, 4, 5, whenever o’clock in the morning. And believe me, there were many mornings when I’d call crying. When I was alone I felt like the attacker was outside my apartment, trying to get me again and I was afraid. So her support during that time caused us to get closer.
Plus, she got me an amazing book that helped. It was basically a guide of all the emotions that I was going to go through and it was pretty dead on. I recommend “Quest for Respect” to anyone going through this.
Yes - I think mom and I are close. We have a weird sense of humor and we can laugh about it and I think that’s big.
I think that’s it good that not only do I educate people, like random strangers on an airplane, but she does it too. (chuckles). Yeah, we’re not afraid to get out there and talk about it. But I think definitely in that year or so before (the rapist was killed and) I realized he was dead; it was huge how close we were during those times. She would always be there for me and as she said “she would talk to me until the sun came up” when I finally felt safe again.
Looking back, were there things that set you back in your healing?
Yes, as I mentioned this rapist was still out attacking people in the apartments surrounding mine. We moved out of the one it happened in, but we relocated up the street near campus. Both apartments were off campus, the one where it happened and the one where we later lived, my roommates were not home much and I was studying for exams. I did not sleep much for almost a full year; if it was dark out I could not sleep because I was afraid that someone would get me. The only way I could protect myself was to be awake…and if I slept during the day, he wouldn’t know I was sleeping and he couldn’t get me.
I remember that year during final exams I was studying and he (my rapist) attacked another woman very close by and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was just a train wreck so I spoke to a close loved one about it. This was about 3 months after the rape, it was May, and the rape was in February. I told her what a hard time I was having trying to study for exams and take my exams when he had just attacked another woman. Her comment back to me was “What? You’re not over that yet?” I just couldn’t believe it! I also had another loved one tell me to "stop airing my dirty laundry" (by sharing my story).
Fortunately, in my situation, most people believed my roommate and me. The attacker was a stranger, the break-in happened in the middle of the night, both victims (my roommate and I), immediately separated by the police, told the exact same story. Everybody was on our side.
On the other hand, I really feel for people who have been date raped or acquaintance raped, where it’s “he said - she said” with two sides. There was nobody who took his side, with the exception of his mother at the end who said the police framed him. His mother said that the last woman who shot and killed him was somehow his girlfriend… even though the victim had never met the attacker in her life. But I think that’s just denial.
I had some issues with some professors who weren’t very helpful; just people being insensitive, other than that, most things were helpful.
Where are you at now in your life?
As I alluded to before, I feel I’m definitely full circle. I can’t remember how long I’ve been doing the prison visits… at least 5 years, once I thought I was completely healed. I say completely healed - you’re never completely healed. When it happens to you it’s 110 percent of your life. Nothing else matters. And little by little, every day it’s a little bit less and a little bit less. But it never goes away completely.
It’s very much full circle. I’ve always felt that everything happens for a reason and I really struggled with this. Why would God allow this to happen to me? I feel it was because I wasn’t afraid to speak out and go to campuses and tell other people my story.
I thought that was why it happened to me - so I could know what it was like to go through it; so I could help other people because that’s what I wanted when I went through it. I wanted someone that had been there who would say, “It’s going to suck for a while, but it’s going to be OK. You’re going to come out on the other side.”
But now I truly believe that it happened so I would go on to educate sex offenders and counsel them and help to prevent them from reoffending. I feel that is the place where it is hard to find many survivors, or victims of rape that are willing to go. I don’t get paid; I take time off work to go there. There’s a very, very small decimal of a percent of people who would do what I do. But there needs to be someone that does it. I think maybe that’s why (it happened to me).
I think I’m healed. I don’t have issues in my relationships; I don’t have fear like you would think I would have. I’ve lived alone for 9 years in my house and you would think the first thing I would do would be to install an alarm, but I never have. I feel if someone wants to get me they will, but I DO NOT live in fear.
I DO NOT let this (the rape) dictate me. The guy got me once, anything I don’t do that I would have done - I feel I’m letting him victimize me again. That’s not something I’m going to let happen.
I’m definitely full circle. I’m doing something I love. I would actually, if I could get paid for it, love to quit my job and go to all different prisons and counsel sex offenders. I have a huge passion for it and I know it changes lives.
If you could share something with the victim of a rape what would it be?
I would let them know, especially if they’re newly into it:
Number one - it’s NOT their fault. In a lot of situations people blame, they don’t really want to, but others blame them or they blame themselves. They think or say things such as: “Well, if I hadn’t been drinking…”, “If I hadn’t been at that party…”, “If I hadn’t gone over to his house when I really didn’t know him well”, or “If I hadn’t taken a ride from him.” I think whatever you do, don’t blame yourself. NO means NO.
Get help, get help, and get more help! It’s tough, I mean all of your control is taken from you and you experience a level of fear that most people never experience… especially if there was a weapon involved or physical harm. It’s not something you’re just going to get over. It helps to talk about it.
A lot of people don’t want to tell their family or friends. They (family and friends) need to know. They need to know you’re going to go through an emotional roller coaster, and they do want to help. It’s amazing how many people I have gotten to share with - people who did not think they’d ever tell anyone. More amazing is the support they received once they opened up.
Get in a Support Group or at least something online… whatever you can do. Deal with the emotions. Deal with what happened. Do not try to suppress it because it will come back to rear its ugly head.
Where Victims Can Go For Help:
It is often difficult for victims of rape to reach out for help. If you or someone you know are a victim of rape or sexual assault please get help. There are numerous resources that victims can turn to. Online resources can provide victims with access to information 24/7. Here are some helpful online resources for victims of rape:
1. www.rainn.org - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. This is by far the best resource available for rape victims. RAINN offers a 24/7 toll free hotline number, online chat with a trained volunteer, information on rape crisis centers across the country, statistics, information on how to get help, resources and volunteer opportunities. Again, this is a fantastic website that has helped thousands of victims.
2. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/progdir.htm - this link will take you to the Office for Victims of Crime. This direct link is specifically in regards to the Victims' Crime Compensation Fund. This fund is provided to victims of violent crime. Victims can be reimbursed for hospital stays, sexual assault kit, medications, loss of property, relocation expenses & much more. Victims should log on to this website to find out what they need to do to file for this fund.
3. www.ncvc.org - this is the website for the National Center for Victims of Crime. Victim assistance, civil litigation, public policy, stalking resource center, etc. This is another good resource that not only helps victims, but can also assist victim advocates and rape centers with trainings and conferences.
4. www.ncadv.org - National Coalition against Domestic Violence. 24 hour hotline. Resources on safety planning and how to obtain help.
5. http://www.jfcadvocacy.org - Justice for Children. This is a great website dealing with child abuse. Resources regarding legal assistance can be found on this site. Justice for Children deals with the topic of abuse of children.
6. www.1in6.org - A website dedicated to men that have been victims of rape. A fantastic resource for this very seldom discussed victim.
7. http://www.hopeforhealing.org/hotlines - Where abuse and rape survivors find information and hope.
8. http://www.rainn.org/get-help/sexual-assault-and-rape-internation... - International Sexual Assault Resources - Rape crisis centers outside of the United States
Braswell, L. (1992). The quest for respect: A healing guide for survivors of rape. Ventura, CA US: Pathfinder Publishing of California.