Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
This is the true story of one such case that happened 25 years ago this week. It is about Carmen, her rape and attempted murder, and how something so disturbing helped her become an advocate for other victims of sexual assault.
Of course, this is Carmen’s story to tell, not mine, so I use her words as much as possible. She asked me to document this for her because she needs to have her story told. Too many cases of rape go unreported. For Carmen, voicing her story is important, especially if it can help someone else.
Carmen is the most beautiful woman I know, inside and out. Happy, joyful, full-of-love Carmen. She and I have a bond that is unbreakable. When she was still a teenager and I wasn’t yet born, she came to this country from Venezuela, and lived with us. From as long as I can remember, I’ve loved her. She helped raise me.
In those days, my mother would often travel to Venezuela, for stretches at a time, and leave Carmen in charge of us. She doted on us and proved to be my fierce protector the day a lady pushed me out of her way because I was apparently blocking the TV screen in the Radio City Music Hall lounge area. It startled me and brought me to tears, but Carmen stood up for me and told the woman to never, ever shove a child.
Petite and pretty, her skin like milky caramels, Carmen was always looking at the upside of life. She’d play basketball with my brothers, and let me stay up late with her, so we could watch old movies on the TV console in the living room, in the darkness of the house. For lunch, she’d make us bacon sandwiches or melt Velveeta on toast in the broiler pan. We devoured them gladly. We played dolls together and ambled through Central Park. She was like a second mother to us.
When I was six, she married and moved to another part of Queens, and eventually she moved out of state and had two children of her own. It was heartbreaking to see her go.
Through the years, we’d visit each other whenever possible. But then one day, many years later, we were both living in the same state again, and sometimes she’d watch my son while I went to work.
Then Monday, March 19th happened. Frankly, I don’t know how she survived that day. Think about it–4 foot 7 inches, weighing about 100 pounds. Need I say more?
If you ask her, she’ll tell you she was fortunate. Lucky to survive, lucky to be alive. And I guess she’s right, because her assailant did all he could to make sure she’d never again see the light of day.
Though it’s been 25 years, Carmen remembers every detail as if it happened yesterday. Each time she tells the story it is exactly the same. It is seared onto her brain.
March 19th was the first day of the workweek, and it began in the most ordinary of ways. Carmen’s husband and son each went to their jobs, as they would on any other Monday morning. Carmen’s daughter took the bus to her college campus, with the intention of coming home for lunch. Around mid-morning, Carmen made her way to the grocery store to fetch some items she’d need for preparing lunch. With two bags of groceries held firmly in her arms, she started making her way home on foot. Eight blocks, it was a walk she often made.
Here, Carmen can tell you what happened next:
I remember it was a gray, cloudy day. I could’ve taken the bus but it wasn’t coming, so I decided to walk home. I was carrying two bags and wearing braces on my hands for my carpal tunnel. I had on a long pair of pants, a light jacket and walking shoes. A few blocks from the store, I crossed the street and put my bags on the ground to give myself a rest.
Suddenly, a young man, about 5 feet 11 inches in height, appeared beside me and offered to help me with my bags. Something about him made me suspicious.
“You are kind, but no thank you,” I said.
He disappeared, and I continued walking. I didn’t know then but he’d been casing the neighborhood and stalking me for some time. He took a short cut through some buildings and he got to my street before I did, hiding behind a bush next to the porch of my house.
As I reached the front door of my house, I unlocked it and put my bags just inside the door. I then turned around to pick up my mail, which was in the mailbox on my porch. He jumped out from the bush and onto my porch. Giving me a hard karate chop on my neck, he pushed me into the house. I fell but I got up quickly. He grabbed my throat. I told him I didn’t have any money and offered him my purse.
“No, you got money upstairs,” he barked.
He then pushed me up the stairs to my bedroom, punched me in my eye and threw me on the bed. I tried to get up and run, but he punched me again. Every time I tried to get away, he grabbed me again and punched me. He was tall and very big. Later, I would find out he was a weight lifting champion and amateur boxer, and he was using me as a punching bag.
He pulled my pants down, holding my neck. I kicked, but he was too large. He took the cord from the bedside radio and wrapped it around my neck, twisting it tightly so I could hardly breathe. But I managed to put a finger between the cord and my neck to protect it. He checked to see if I was breathing and then took a pillow and put it over my face. I passed out.
In my mind I heard my voice say, “9-1-1,” but I couldn’t move because he was on top of me. Afterwards, he threw me out the bedroom window, using my head to break the window glass. I was unconscious, but the reason I know he did this, is because I would later learn that my scalp was filled with shards of glass.
The roof of my porch broke my fall. According to my neighbors the police, the paramedics, and the fire department came. As I lay there, semi-unconscious, I had an out-of-body experience. I was in one corner seeing myself as a child, and my younger self was trying to pull her shirt down.
I felt myself gently saying to her, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re gonna be okay.”
Stuck on the porch roof, I was trying to cover myself. I was all banged up and bleeding everywhere. The last thing I remember is a man’s voice calling my name, and when I realized it was a fireman who had come to my rescue, and not the guy who had done this to me, I felt myself re-enter my body and I lost consciousness again.