Victim is not a word I use to describe myself. Even then, I viewed myself as athletic, strong, perhaps even invincible. My rape came as a surprise. I was aware of rape, but it was one of those experiences I had never imagined being part of my own life.
That was the summer of 1990 and my case, until recently, remained unsolved. In January of 2004, through an unusual series of events, the National DNA database identified the man who raped me. In preparation for a trial and sentencing, I was asked by the prosecuting attorney to put into words my statement about the impact of this incident. Victim I was not. Impacted I was.
Impact aptly describes much of my experience. There was the initial impact of his fist hitting my face, the impact of him throwing my bike into the bushes, the impact of his body forcing itself into mine. Then there were the blazing sirens that delivered me to the hospital, my body becoming the source of evidence, my swollen face in the mirror, and the pain in friends’ faces.
But there was something much deeper. Now, 14 years later, I was faced with the task of communicating this impact; it was not easily put into words.
Statement—my statement—a declaration to the court of how this incident has affected my life. I played with the idea for three months. How could I share the impact of this heinous crime without participating in the role of victim? How could I focus on the positive outcomes without minimizing the act?
Once I became clear on my questions, I was gifted with answers. One afternoon in April as I spoke with the District Attorney, he shared with me the story of the other women, raped just one day prior by the same man who had escaped from a road gang of prisoners working in West Virginia. She was relaxing on her porch swing. She, too, was hit in the face, raped, and her car was stolen. Her young daughter witnessed the act and managed to climb on a stool to reach the kitchen phone and dial 911; she then hid in the closet.
The words struck deeper than replaying my own drama. It hit some emotional treasure chest that released some long-held gifts. This story gave me the opportunity to view myself with true compassion. It also enabled me to open my heart to receive just the words I needed to express.
The following is my Victim Impact Statement, submitted to Prince William County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in June 2004. It was read in court at the sentencing on October 29 of that same year.
I was raped in July 1990. It was a beautiful summer day and I was enjoying a road trip on my bicycle exploring back roads. I loved the freedom I felt on two wheels with the sun on my back. What a stark contrast this incident was to my intention for that day.
As one can expect, this crime has had a huge impact on my life. Without this experience, I feel I would have missed out on much of the richness available in life. While I don’t believe this richness need come only when faced with adversity, I do believe this horrific event provided a background of contrast that created a more vivid palette for my life. At age 40 and 14 years beyond this event I can honestly say that I’m grateful for the growth that this path has provided me.
While I do not condone Mr. McDonald’s act and feel he should receive his just sentence, I have come to accept this as a chapter of my life that has provided me with the potential for my personal healing and development.
There are many facets of this growth that I believe serve witness to the impact this rape has had on my life and I’d like to share a few of those:
The day I was raped, I learned about friendship and kindness when a stranger picked me up along that dusty road and took me crumpled and terror-stricken to the closest paramedic unit. A rather new acquaintance made calls to dentists for me. I had two teeth that were knocked out of place and a kind doctor agreed to stay late to help me. Unfortunately, the teeth were irreparable, the roots damaged. I would eventually have to have root canals and other reparative work done to them.
I learned about letting go as I had my favorite blue biking shorts and shirt, stained with blood, bagged by police and taken away for evidence.
I grew into new ways of viewing my freedom as I had my trusty touring bike covered in black fingerprint dust returned to my apartment. It sat untouched for weeks.
I remember with disgust the volunteer at the hospital who came into my room to read scripture and tell me I could be forgiven for my sins. I experienced what it felt like to be shunned at the health center when I went in for a pregnancy test and shared that I had been raped. I quickly learned to trust my own knowing that I had done nothing wrong.
A dear friend of mine drove to see me the day after the rape; he loaded me in his car and drove me to my parents’ home. My parents were mostly silent, unable themselves to process the emotion of what had happened. I learned that those who love you often have the hardest time expressing their hurt to you.
At the beginning I remember with some fuzziness passing many days in deep fear, jumping at the smallest sounds, panicking at daybreak, dizzy from my lack of breath, unable to face crowds or put myself in the presence of strangers. I learned to give credence to my intuition and listen to my body.
Months passed and I had the opportunity to participate in group and personal counseling, both of which I abhorred as it was extremely challenging to get to the emotion of my experience when that emotion was mostly trapped in my body. I learned patience with process and had the opportunity to look closer at my own character.
I woke many nights with a vivid picture of the perpetrator in my head and often drew pictures of him hoping that putting it on paper would somehow purge my body of my relentless fearful thoughts and feelings. This taught me to let my emotions flow through me.
I learned about patience and trust as I waited 10 days to receive the results of my HIV test.
I experienced my lack of readiness for learning self-defense when I broke into uncontrolled tears at my first class; I learned how to be kind to myself.
After several more months, I did complete a self-defense class that allowed me to release lots of the emotion I had packed in my body. My women colleagues where I taught high school all came to support me at my graduation. I learned how deeply all women are affected by acts of rape and abuse and I learned wherever women come together, there is intense power that can be created.
A year after my rape, I left Manassas, hoping to leave my intense emotions behind and find a more peaceful environment in which to heal. Initially panic set in and I gradually learned how to build a support system for myself. I had the good opportunity to find a wonderful group of supporters at a local Rape Crisis Center whom I called on periodically when my body was remembering the trauma and my mind didn’t know how to process it.
After much more counseling and lots of tears, I undertook training as an Advocate at the Rape Crisis Center and also served on their Speaker’s Bureau. There I learned how very many women shared my horror and I learned how to respond appropriately to those who were healing as well as those who had never experienced rape.
Within a couple of years, I had received training in women’s self defense from a number of programs and began teaching assertiveness training to young women. I had great passion for the topic and quit my teaching position at a local high school to devote my time fully to this endeavor. Through this I gained confidence and strength and a deep admiration for women.
As time has passed, I have thought about that horrid day less and less. What had remained until, actually less than two months ago, was a persistent and often severe pain in my pelvis and hips. This pain began in the year following the rape and has been my most constant reminder that there was emotion that had still not been released – my body’s reminder that I still had some growing to do.
I have met with all types of medical, psychological and alternative health professionals over the years, always hoping to find the path that would relieve my pain. I’ve gone through too many months of feeling tired and frustrated from this drain in energy and weeks of being unable to walk.
This past January, I declared this my year of strength. Within a week after that declaration, I received a phone call from Detective Newsome sharing the developments in a case that I had felt would go unsolved. I knew then that my dream to feel whole was soon to be fulfilled.
I have two young children now who are vibrant with life’s energy and I’ve longed to experience my own peak health and fully enjoy my time with them. Indeed, I’m ready for that piece of growth that provides me my freedom.
The time for that growth is now and my intent for participating in this sentencing is to close this chapter of my life, to release whatever negative emotion I may still be holding in my body and to feel the freedom and joy that I so clearly had that morning 14 years ago when I left home to enjoy a day of biking.
Some people tell me I’m courageous for appearing in court. I believe I’m blessed to have the opportunity to experience this part of my healing process. This event is for me a symbolic statement of hope fulfilled and justice served and most importantly, it demonstrates the power of choosing my own strength.
On August 23, 2004, Terry L. McDonald, who was serving a 48-year sentence for sexual assault in West Virginia, pleaded guilty in Prince William County, Virginia Circuit Court to rape and abduction with intent to defile. The Judge in this case was asked to give McDonald the maximum punishment—two life terms in prison—at his October 29 sentencing.
I returned to Virginia on the sentencing date to read this statement to the court. I took my bike and declared my freedom on those dusty backroads in Virginia.