Note: Nearly 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. (If you missed Part I, you can find it by clicking here.)
The call came in around 10:00 p.m., just as I was getting ready for bed. It was Carmen’s husband on the line. He broke the news to me about Carmen. His voice was soft, quiet, and methodical, but I could hear the weight of his sorrow in his timbre. It broke my heart. I hung up the phone and cried.
I slept little that night, thinking of Carmen and what she must have gone through. It all seemed so unreal. Beautiful, loving Carmen whose favorite things to do were to tend to her children, her garden, and Tiggy, her tabby.
The next morning I called my work and explained that I wouldn’t be coming to the office. Instead, I drove to Carmen’s house to be by her side. Nothing prepared me for what I saw.
She had been pummeled, with a few teeth knocked out. He broke her cheekbone and her nose, with bruises and swelling everywhere. Her left eye was swollen shut, and shards of glass embedded in her scalp from when he used her head to break the second story bedroom window and chucked her out. Thank God the porch roof broke her fall.
Seeing her like that, I wondered, how would she ever survive this?
In Carmen’s Words:
The rape left me dead dead dead inside. I couldn’t feel anything. Normally, people describe me as happy-go-lucky, but that was gone. I’d been a wife for 28 years, but in just a few hours, he took it all out of me, my dignity and my peace of mind.
After the hospital checked me out, I was sent to the Health Department for another examination. There, I was relieved to have a female physician do my examination. But my comfort didn’t last. The doctor pulled out a large instrument to insert in me. I requested she use a smaller one instead. She didn’t listen and made me go through what felt like a second rape.
The police asked me if I could provide them with a description of the alleged rapist for an artist sketch. They said I could do it when I was feeling better, but I told them I didn’t want to wait and give him the opportunity of striking again, so the next day I went to the police station and gave a full description.
A few days later, the police brought some mug shots for me to look at. It took me less than two minutes to pick out his photo. It turns out, he was a serial rapist, in his early twenties, and the police had already been looking for him.
Three days later, he was arrested after he had tried to commit another crime. There were many charges against him, including 11 charges for what he did to me.
Of all the women he attacked, I was the only one he tried to kill. I was also the only one who could really recognize him. He had covered the heads of his other victims–most of them young mothers and one who was age 80–so that none of the others saw him as well as I did.
I had asked that he be tested for AIDS, but I was told that wasn’t possible. It was against his civil rights to test him for AIDS. Instead, I had to be tested for the next three years.
About nine months after he was arrested, he escaped from a holding cell where he was awaiting transfer to the court house. For three days he was on the run and, because I knew what he was capable of and had been the one to identify him, I was terrified.
For many years, I remained a prisoner in my own house. I was afraid of everything and would not turn on music or TV, as I wanted complete silence so I could be aware of any sudden noises. I still cannot watch a movie or TV show where someone is hit in the face, or a pillow is used, and I lose it if someone comes up from behind me.
One day, I started to repaint my house, all by myself. I didn’t want any help. I wanted to accomplish something and giving my house a fresh coat of paint felt right. It was something I could concentrate on.
The police were kind to me and very thorough in their research. They treated me, not like a number or a case, but as a human being. He went to trial several times, and when it was my turn, the district attorney dropped the charge of attempted murder, because he felt this would help increase the odds of a conviction. It did and he ended up receiving a life sentence.
I was invited to speak at a roundtable meeting of all the first responders involved in my case. I mentioned the discomfort I’d experienced with the woman doctor, not realizing that the director of the Health Department was there. He heard what I had to say, and invited me to speak to his department heads.
He told his staff, “Carmen did not get raped once. She got raped twice and the second time by us. She, and anyone else who comes here after being raped, are victims and they have to be treated with respect.”
The County Sexual Assault Center referred me to the State Crime Victims Resource Center, Inc. They interviewed me and I told them about my frustration that criminals couldn’t be checked for AIDS. I traveled to the State House and testified to the State Congress and the House of Delegates. When I spoke, the congressmen listened.
I’m happy to report that the Criminal Offender HIV Testing Victim Notification Bill was passed in April 1992.
Working to change state legislation on behalf of victims rights helped me recover. Two years later, the Sexual Assault Center asked me to join a group to help two other victims who were having trouble opening up. I went and started sharing my story and through my words I helped them open up and start talking. Being there to support them, made me feel better.
What I learned is that rape doesn’t just happen to one person. It happens to the family, the friends and the neighbors. Everyone gets hurt. They feel guilty that they weren’t there to help.
Yet it was the love of my family and friends, and also my positive spirit, that got me through this period. Still, every March 19th I feel very sad. It is the anniversary of something that died. He took something from me and, in the process, he did a lot of damage. On that day I need to keep busy. I go out all day. I volunteer, go to church or visit my grandchildren.
Everyday is a beautiful day—no matter what—because I am alive.
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But I’ll tell you what, Monica (and Carmen): Carmen’s testimony is testament that good can still conquer evil! Carmen’s courage is simply amazing, raises awareness on an oft-neglected and underrepresented issue that still lurks in our very open and democratic society, and gives hope to those who might still harness the stigma and shame often associated with crimes of and offenses of a sexual nature. With this month being Sexual Awareness and Assault Prevention Month, we cannot talk enough about these incidents. Talking about the survivors and hearing them open up about their stories, can be a balm for those still needing to heal. These stories serve, engender community. Thank you for your courage, Carmen. Thank you Monica for sharing Carmen with us.
Thank you, SomerE. Carmen is touched by your words and is grateful for the warm and positive response her story has garnered. I am so glad she was willing to speak up. It’s not good to keep it locked inside, and thankfully, Carmen has never been afraid to speak up. The above photo is a testament to how she lives her life now–full of zest!
A woman after my heart. Have an equally courageous day, woman, On Purpose!
Thank you, Monica, for sharing Carmen’s heart-crushing story. Every word I type falls flat…but I feel proud of her for being an advocate; for reliving her pain in order to help others avoid some of the atrocities she experienced. This is my definition of heroism.
Thank you, Britton. It means a lot to Carmen and to me to hear you say that. It’s hard for many victims to talk about it, and Carmen hopes her words will help others to speak up.
Wow, Carmen! What a story. What a courageous act of bravery. Standing up for rights for other victims, facing the medical staff, facing the attacker in court. I love the spirit this woman has. Yay.
Renee, I remember when it all happened and back then, I never imagined the impact she would have on others and in helping crime victims, but for someone who’s 4’8″, she’s enormously generous of heart and desire to help others. She has quite a spirit! Thanks!
Thank you for allowing (encouraging ) her to share her story with us. So much inspiration here!
Carmen, you are a beam of a light. I don’t believe traumas ever leave our bodies, but I do believe that compassion for ourselves, and others, lets us know we don’t have to let our suffering consume us.
Carmen’s not good at the commenting thing, but I’ve been sharing your comments with her. She really is thrilled her story has been received in a positive way and is so grateful for the kind thoughts and caring folks have shown to her. This was a long time coming.
Carmen Lives & Breathes & tells her story thru you, Monica.
These words change lives.
I hope so, Kim. Like you, she found a way to make a positive change. Kisses to you, too. 🙂
I simply wish I could hug Carmen. I wish I could thank her for speaking out and tell her I understand, I get the need to do something. Thank you Monica for being her voice here.
Thank you, Val. Carmen feels your love and good vibes. She appreciates all the warm wishes she’s been receiving from the telling of her story, and is glad to share it through my blog. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll meet.
It’s easy for people to forget survivors retain scars and sometimes they still hurt. I’m so glad that something positive came out of this horrible experience. May love and healing continue to fill Carmen’s life.
Thank you, Lisa. You are so right. Recently someone said to Carmen, “It happened, you cried, now you need to put it behind you.” They don’t understand how it can affect you for life, and it becomes something you live with. There are small things that Carmen used to do, that she no longer does because of what happened. It doesn’t just go away. Thank you for understanding that.
Carmen is a woman of courage who took time step by step to help a vast number of other women to be treated with respect post rape when the doctor collects evidence; to have the culprits tested for HIV; and to support other victims. It is never easy to step up to the plate when the person stepping up is the one who was severely traumatized. Carmen and women like Carmen are my heroes. They prove the point that one individual can make a huge difference for the good of others. Thank you, Monica and Carmen.
I am overwhelmed by your comment and on behalf of Carmen and myself, thank you profusely. Yes, Carmen is a true hero. She took something so vile and turned it around into something good. She’s not afraid to talk about it, and even addressed the FBI once, talking about victim rights. Indeed, she still helps other victims of rape whenever she can. So glad that you shared your input with us. Means a lot to us both.
Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.
I respectfully thank you from the bottom of my heart, for reblogging this post. Carmen’s story needs to be told, even if it only helps one person to know they are not alone.
Monica, thank you for telling Carmen’s story. What a brave woman she is! And I’m glad to hear she’s done so much to educate others, comfort others, and speak to others involved in this issue. I’m sure that’s had a big impact on her own recovery.
It’s sad to think that in some ways, we’re still so unenlightened when it comes to rape. Too often, our prisons turn these offenders out on technicalities, our doctors and some law enforcement officials re-rape victims, and even their families and friends can’t be present for them with the support and love they need. We can only hope that things will change — and victims will be shown the compassion they should expect.
I know what you mean, Debbie, about technicalities. Thankfully, the man who did this to Carmen and several other women, is still behind bars. He’s in his fifties now and I hope he never sees the light of day. Not too long ago, Carmen ran into the DA, who’s now retired. He looked into it on her behalf, and told her there are no plans in the works to consider parole for him anytime soon. It was his brief escape from custody that seems to have added years to his time.
Carmen’s beautiful spirit speaks volumes in her actions; her work on behalf of other victims, having that law passed for HIV testing and asking for compassion when treated – what a monumentous change. Hearing her story, in her words, is so powerful Monica. I’m so happy you’re telling her story. She looks fantastic on that bike. I cannot imagine what March 19 must do to her. Her strength is so palpable.
MM, it’s so true what you say about Carmen. Those of us who know her know she’s the sweetest, most generous of heart person you’ll ever meet. She is loving and she is joyful and an amazing grandma, not only to her grandkids, but to my children, too. With my own parents long gone, she’s made sure to be here, for all my children’s milestones, which means a lot to all of us.
Thank you for sharing Carmen’s story. I admire her courage and the way that she fought for herself and other victims to improve the system. Ending violence against women is such an important cause and her words are powerful tools in the fight.
Thank you, Shary. Carmen is hopeful that her words will help someone. She’s made it her mission to help others and she does just by sharing her love of life.
Thanks for the post Monica.
Carmen is a brave lovely lady and it is my loss that I do not know here personally.
All too often with crime the victim is treated no better than the offender, when things are wrong they have to be changed.
Victims of crime especially sexually related crimes have to be treated with care compassion and respect.
Love the motorcycle by the way, it’s nice to see a person who is obviously a lovely lady enjoying life, and long may she continue to do so.
Robert, you know just the right thing to say. Thank you so much, and thank you for showing so much compassion. Even though it happened 25 years ago, it still hurts, especially this time of year. But Carmen’s a trooper and she genuinely finds joy in all the little things. You don’t know how lucky I was to be raised by her for the first 6 years of my life.