To enlighten and inform, and to encourage overseas prosecution of sexual assault
This blog is written in chronological order starting with a review of the day I was attacked (Nov. 12, 2008) and key moments/events thereafter. Please understand, your only job is to survive a sexual assault. But this site is dedicated to arming yourself with the information to pursue the person who harmed you if and when you are able to do so.
If you are a victim seeking information, hyperlinked here are some posts that touch on what you need to know if you are contemplating overseas prosecution: being at the police station to report the crime, dealing with evidence in a way that helps your case, taking care of your mental health, hiring a lawyer overseas (but has valuable info that can be used in U.S. if needed), telling the full truth, victims compensation fund info, filing for Power of Attorney (Parts 2 & 3), official charges and what they look like, AND the final verdict. Also, if you are planning a trip overseas, read this post about the State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program and help yourself out. Trust me.
Finally, here is the first time I spoke on this topic in a public setting: The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Clinton School of Public Service. Be sure to check out the great links in the menu bars on the right of this homepage. And please, please write to me if you have questions or thoughts. I am at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No easy way to begin, so I’ll jump right in: One day, months ago, I ceased being able to stomach the blank screen that greeted me whenever I tried to compose a new post here. I could not force it. Anyone who is creative knows you cannot force it. I’d close my computer wondering where all my words went. Finally, I stopped trying.
Months later, I realized what had been hindering me: I no longer cared to bleed so openly for others. I was no longer willing to exchange my privacy for the chance to reach people, at least not in this way. Some of my old posts are so incredibly raw that I well up just a few sentences in. Blogging here about what happened to me and the immediate years after was a cathartic bloodletting of all the conflicting thoughts and feelings flitting around my brain. It was a way to give shape and order to an event that had turned my life inside out. Most importantly, it was my delivering on the covenant with God that I had forged one rainy, Roman night, when the horrors of the previous 24 hours suddenly made perfect sense for my life’s purpose.
What brought me back? Maturity. Clarity. Personal discovery. And the knowledge that time has a way of making you forget – and not always for the better. Time dulls some of our brightest, most triumphant moments; it can make us forget who we are at our best or at our core. I wish it didn’t do that.
On days when I am near exhausted from dealing with the seemingly endless string of assholes I encounter while dating, or I start to stagger from the weight of my worries or fears, I wish I could recall, always, the fight I had in me – and the courage – at 2 a.m. on November 12, 2008.
Almost seven years ago, I dangled by my neck six stories over a cobblestone street in Rome, fighting for my life. When I close my eyes and relive it, I can feel the determination, the strength and the confidence I had to free myself from Marco’s manacles. I was an absolute force. I should cling to that memory on my lowest days.
The past two years, I have spoken at high schools, universities, associations and businesses to share with them what I’ve learned. I’ve spent two years as a rape crisis volunteer counselor at a local hospital and worked with dozens of victims there and hundreds beyond its walls. And I’m ready – finally – to recall here some of those moments. I appreciate your patience with me and (I hope) your forgiveness for my absence. I promise, I have found my words again. I have so much to say.
This time last Sunday night, I was wrapping up a PowerPoint for U of Pittsburgh female student-athletes. I had been invited to speak to them about sexual violence and decision-making, and I had SO MUCH to tell them. Whittling my copious notes to just a few bulleted slides challenged me and my penchant for detail. I had worked a 12-hour volunteer shift that day and I felt fried. But then, it came to me just as my frustration seemed to be winning out: To flip the concept of decision-making on its head and focus my energies on rapists.
I decided to educate the young ladies at Pitt about rapists by explaining rapists’ decisions: The how and why of them. The horrors of them. But not, NOT women’s decisions. Because it is never a woman’s decision to be raped. Suddenly, it became crystal clear I pound that message. Those women deserved my best.
I used all that I have learned and digested, pondered and realized in my six years of exploring this crime and poured it into my notes and presentation.
The next night, as I spoke, I felt all the usual things that I’d be worried if I didn’t feel: urgency, anger, frustration, but also, hope. Something about the feel in the room and the looks on their faces told me I had their attention or their respect; I was willing to take either. Indifference would have crushed me, so passionate did I feel while talking to them, staring at their pretty, fresh faces.
After concluding, I was approached by some of them – with questions or thanks (many have emailed me too). Some were so excited to have information they could use in future discussions or debates with their friends. And some were curious about how to help in the fight against sexual violence. All of them seemed comfortable talking to me and ok with all I had thrown at them the previous 70 minutes. I felt relieved. No matter my big dreams and lengthy Powerpoints, I know to be grateful for however small a change I can implement in how people think about sexual assault. Pittsburgh, you were tremendous. Thank you.
I am not sure where to begin with this post (hangs head). I mean… it’s been a reaaaallllly long time since my last post. And I can tell you one thing for sure: Not writing is not indicative of not wanting to write or not having anything useful to say. (Let’s be real, I ALWAYS have something to say.) It is indicative of that life moment we reach where our brains (my brain) cannot churn out more than it’s taking in. For well over 18 months, I’ve been hard at work on a project. Work projects, especially exciting ones, have a way of sucking me in like that jet engine did to all of those caped superheros in The Incredibles. Late last week, it spit me back out and I am re-assembling myself accordingly.
Atlanta. Next week marks a year I packed up my life and headed south for work and for a better quality of life while I worked. The move represented a burst of self-preservation that had long been dormant for reasons I won’t bore you with. But I’ve adjusted just fine. More importantly, MY HAIR has adjusted just fine. And my New Yawk accent? Happy to report it is so ingrained that no amount of y’alls I let slip shall shake it loose.
Golf. I know, GOLF?? Just checking if you’re still with me… I’ve been learning the game with a great coach and am proud to report I have a pretty decent swing. He seems pleased with me, and our morning lessons are some of the funniest moments of my day/week.
Volunteering. I am still at it, completing 12-hour shifts each month at the local rape crisis center. I was doing the 7pm-7am shift on weekdays but they were kicking my butt because I never really slept on those nights and they rendered me worthless for the high level of work I wanted to achieve each day in my real job. Also, my sleep room had some, um, critters I wasn’t too fond of. It happens. But I couldn’t sleep after that. So, I do day shifts 7am-7pm now instead. What I am struck most by the victims I encounter is the variety of ways rapists operate yet the commonality in their actions. The end goal is always to overpower, take what isn’t theirs and think nothing of it. One victim, in particular, has stayed with me well past our time together. She was so shocked, so… struggling to grasp her new reality. And I just watched her beautiful, tormented face in the very early morning hours, unable to take that from her. Those moments are gut punches and they are renewal to someone who works in an industry that has very much lost its way.
What’s Next. I spoke two weeks ago in Austin at a summit for high school athletes and will write a separate post about that. It was a fulfilling and challenging experience for me that I am certain helped me grow as a speaker. Up next, I am traveling to university athletic departments this fall to speak about sexual violence and healthy relationships. I could not be more excited about those opportunities. In some ways, they are my sanity. I feel a super strong pull toward that kind of work lately, like I’m up against the clock or something to get to as many people as possible to talk through this crime.
Life. I’m not certain anything this past year will resemble anything in this coming year. And that’s ok. Life is a series of skins to shed. To wriggle out of and take on the new. I look forward to fiercely reclaiming my personal time and my sense of peace. I deserve it. I keep telling myself that – I DESERVE BETTER. Furthermore, I am putting down roots, best I know how. The fatigue of having a litter of addresses and no one place to truly call “home” has gnawed at me for so long. I think I’ve finally fixed that. I look forward to telling you all about it soon.
There comes a time when one’s parents decide to move and they tell you, “Come take your stuff. All of it.” Somehow, and might I add, expertly, I had avoided having to lug my entire childhood around from apartment to apartment and city to city; I had prolonged the inevitable well into my 30s. But alas, that dreaded phone call came, and off I went to Colorado last week with empty luggage en tow.
I was expecting to sift through the college papers, high school recruiting letters and dusty trophies I’d gotten used to perusing whenever I went home. I figured I’d part with some old VHS tapes and cassettes,
dump my collection of premiere issues of magazines (a slight obsession of mine)
and say goodbye to my XXL Champion sweatshirts featuring names of colleges I never attended.
But I came upon so much more than that. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
The five boxes and leather suitcase that greeted me in my old room contained many of the items I mentioned, but really, they contained the record of my life – the parts I wasn’t aware anyone had recorded or cared to save. And they contained the parts I barely remembered but that had once meant everything to me. Through all the sifting and discovery came side-splitting laughter and tears across a gamut of emotions. For in those boxes, I saw my reflection and I realized that at 3o-something, I am exactly who I was at 4 years old. I just dress better now and have finally gotten rid of my braces and tamed my crazy hair.
I found records on everything from my week-by-week height and weight charts to the dates I first rolled over, sat up and proceeded to eat my own toes.
I demonstrated a sincere and sustained effort to win over both Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. On every note, I told them I loved them. Just to be super clear.
Aside from persuasion pieces, I liked to elucidate on self-improvement.
Beyond the notes and lists though, I found the proof of what I have always loved: Writing. Communicating. Making deep connections with my friends and working to sustain them no matter where they lived and in my favorite handwritten form.
I spent hours sitting there reading my letters from Olga and from a serviceman I wrote to during the Gulf War. And I wondered where they are now and if I should try to find them. Right before I arose to go Google them, I stumbled upon a packet of my nursery school report cards and found the answer to a question I have long since had about myself: Were there any signs when I was younger of the work I would ultimately take on, helping victims of a horrific crime? There had been no academic or career path that skewed toward human/health services. No interest in psychology or law. Yet there it was, a report from 1981 summarizing the inclinations of a 4-year-old too unsophisticated and unabashed to ever hide who she was.
I smiled, broad and tooth-filled. And then I cried. I loved the teacher’s description and the snapshot it provided of an age I do not recall. I felt relief. The volunteer work I do now takes a toll on me and I have sometimes doubted – if not for my being attacked, if I’d have taken on such a role. But the how and why of it doesn’t really matter. That piece of yellow paper was proof positive I was destined to do something good for people. It was a gift.
So, I hope all of you are fortunate enough to have your parents call you up and tell you to come take your belongings. Forget worrying about the possessions you might have to let go of or discard. I promise you, the treat is in what you will find.
With the clocks’ leap ahead this morning, I awoke from my blogging slumber and contemplated the launch of a new series here. I’ve been volunteering at the rape crisis center at a local hospital. And there is not much I can share about that save for the fact I have to wear an oversized red volunteer smock and sleep in a small residents’ floor dorm room during my overnight shift, nervous and a little bit scared.
But what I have discovered while navigating the volunteer road here in Georgia is there seems to be a disjointed effort on the anti-sexual violence front both at the local universities level and the wider state level. What does that mean? Opportunity. I see an opportunity to step in and step up. I am in the early stages of coming at that and hope soon to lay it out here.
I suspect there will never be a time when I know exactly when I’ve achieved the title of “expert” on this subject. But in lieu of a committee showing up at my door to put a gold star sticker on the tip of my nose, I’m going to slide right on in and get to work. I hope Georgia is ready for me :)
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
A great piece of news quietly worked its way across my Twitter feed. The White House is creating a task force to address campus sexual assault to hopefully bring about REAL change and action. The White House reiterated that 1 in 5 college women will be victims of sexual assault and only 12 PERCENT report the crime. Given the utter debacle and sham of an investigation of a highly publicized campus sexual assault in the news recently, maybe this will get through to people that it is RARE for a victim to come forward – STATISTICALLY unlikely – because our laws, our leaders and our institutions fail them when they do.
From the 38-page report issued by the White House today (http://t.co/ldUqghbChU) this hard-to-ignore finding on PAGE 18:
“Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know, especially in incapacitated
assaults.And parties are often the site of the crime: a 2007 study found that 58% of
incapacitated rapes and 28% of forced rapes took place at a party. Notably, campus
perpetrators are often serial offenders. One study found that 7% of college men admitted
to committing rape or attempted rape, and 63% of these men admitted to committing
multiple offenses, averaging six rapes each.”
Can’t think of a stat more sobering or that demands more urgency we get a handle on this crime.
Wanted to share a quick note with you all… Just now, while eating dinner, I penned a note to a local writer at the Atlanta Journal Constitution who penned this piece:
My note, which took about two minutes to type:
Regarding your article on the doctor arrested for drugging and sexually assaulting his patients, you used the term “having sex with” them while the patients were unconscious. I assure you, the correct phrase is “raping them”, not “having sex with” which implies mutual consent and pleasure. In fact, the only correct phrase is “raping them” and anything else takes away from the reader’s ability to grasp the full weight of the crime he perpetrated on people who trusted him. You hold an important position as a news reporter; the correct language here, especially for a crime with such a low conviction rate, is very important. Please reconsider going forward. Regards, Keri Potts
The crime of sexual assault often feels overwhelming to combat. But I always remember that saying “Think global, act local.” If we all did that, we’d wield such power. I encourage you to join me the next time you see something similar in your local media. Be respectful, but clear. I’ll let you know if I hear back.
As I come up for air from one of my busiest work weeks all year, I want you to know I have put considerable thought into my last post for 2013. I wrestled with the notion of looking behind vs. looking ahead. Last year, I looked ahead. I did that – most of all – to make myself accountable. A woman I admire a great deal and who has meant a lot to me through the years, always encouraged me to tell people my goals – even if I was uncertain/scared I could achieve them – as a way to make myself accountable. So that people would then ask me about them and my progress. Somehow, I’ve realized that I no longer need that crutch. Turns out goal achievement has never been a problem of mine so much as the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. And there is no resolution for that. If you’re not a little bit scared of stating a goal, it probably doesn’t mean that much to begin with and is not worth striving for.
2013. Where to begin …
Friends. I left so many behind with the move this past summer. They are in my heart always, I just wish they were on my couch too. And at my dinner table. Some days, I wonder what I am doing. But you have to go find your life. I’m getting closer.
Work. Suffice it to say I continue to be challenged with the work I do. Most days, it feels like I’m running around with my hair on fire. And if I wasn’t, I’d worry something was wrong.
Love. Probably the toughest thing is to see it be so easy for some people to find it or some half-measure of it or get multiple tries at it. Some days, it is suffocating to think it might always be just me in this life. Some days, I don’t care at all. It is not in me to bend to what the world seems to be telling me it wants. Succumbing would shame me.
Life. A look back through my iPhone photos reminds me that what is ordinary to me is actually quite extraordinary stuff. I’ve seen places and met people I never could have imagined when I was seven years old with braces and unspeakably awful hair. So, let me show you …
2014. I have no idea what’s in store. Please be just as good to me as 2013.
To follow-up on my previous post Five Years Ago Tonight, I wanted to share a few images that make me smile, and hopefully, you too.
First, I give you yours truly as a woman with straight hair even if it lasted all of 48 hours before hygiene dictated I finally wash it. I felt luxurious and saucy – words I would never use to describe me. That hair was EARNED for four hours at the hairdresser’s and it was PAID. But I loved it and I did it to celebrate my five-year anniversary. I did it because I deserve it and because I should treat myself better than I do in these matters.
And I found, I couldn’t really stop myself from posing. For two whole days, it was … obnoxious.
Like, really, it was an issue. I was considering giving myself an alter-ego name – “Salt” – you know, from the movie and all…
The night of my five-year, my fabulous hair and I were at dinner with a friend who hasn’t known me all that long and who was thankfully spared the brunt of my suffering. This person has seen more smiles and laughing from me than most who’ve known me far longer. But after a toast to my milestone, I caught myself trying to convey my thoughts about what I felt five years ago and how the experience changed me, made me better. And how it still stings. I got a little choked up at one point, but gathered myself, and was reminded how I only started doing that after the attack – the choking up on cue. It’s a stupid holdover I despise and I love. I hate the weakness it conveys yet I love the fact I am no longer so thick or so hard a person that I can’t let myself feel things as they hit me. It tells the world that I am completely unable to bullshit what I am feeling or thinking. And that I am the last person you’d ever pick for your group poker team.
My ridiculously awesome hair and I came home and sat up most of the night looking at old documents, journal writings and Bible passages (hellooo Psalm 59) that I would chant to myself during the worst times when I was so strangled by fear that I understood why people want a way out. And I promised myself that I’m going to finally let loose on the reins I pulled so tight to reassemble my life. Straight hair is just the start of it, and three boxes of amazing shoes, and two pairs of jeans that do things like lift some parts and slim others. I’ve got trips and concerts in my sights. And house parties I am going to host with guests I will force my mediocre cooking upon. I shall double book my weekends with new friends and old friends and catch-up phone calls. I might even purchase a DOG. And I am going to dream BIG right after I figure out what my new dreams actually look like.
Because after one’s five-year anniversary of the day she almost died, she absolutely fucking deserves it.