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.