A Fight Back Woman Blog

To enlighten and inform, and to encourage overseas prosecution of sexual assault

Hi Everyone, thanks for visiting. Now, let’s get to work…

If you have found this blog (and me) it says you’re ready to learn more about my story – a story that can become the story of thousands of women fighting back. Sexual assault is an insidious crime. I hope to use the details of what happened to me as a point of discussion, debate, education and, hopefully, inspiration for others to pursue their attackers. The 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 afightbackwoman@gmail.com.

The Mirror of Childhood

my life book

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,

My musical tastes were varied...

My musical tastes were varied…I was ‘Forever Your Girl’ while getting my Nine Inch Nails on.

dump my collection of premiere issues of magazines (a slight obsession of mine)

Pretty cool, right?

Pretty cool, right?

and say goodbye to my XXL Champion sweatshirts featuring names of colleges I never attended.

If living in college sweatshirts was a junior high crime, I don't want to be right.

If living in college sweatshirts was a junior high crime, I don’t want to be right.

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 mean... the HAIR.

I mean… the 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.

As a baby, I demonstrated freakish upper body strength and food allergies. Alluring, I know.

I possessed freakish upper body strength and terrible food allergies. Alluring, I know.

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.

stack where I explain how I lost one and that I am sorry.

Apparently, I lost a lot of my teeth while eating – chicken, pizza, cake… No foodstuff was safe from my dental deficiencies.

Aside from persuasion pieces, I liked to elucidate on self-improvement.

The pains of a little sister and a child promising to fix her wrongs, itemized, of course.

The pains of a little sister and the strains of time management relevant to this very day.

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 corresponded with a Russian named Olga for several years. She'd write about life there and answer my questions about Gorbachev. I remain slightly obsessed with Russian politics.

I corresponded with a Russian named Olga for several years. She’d write about life there and answer my questions about Gorbachev. I remain  fixated on Russian politics.

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.

keri protect

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.

Spring Ahead

Image

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 :)

My Blog’s 2013 in Review… cool little report about the site…

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.

Click here to see the complete report.

White House Call to Action on Campus Sexual Assault

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.

 

 

The Little Things We Can Do

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:

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/doctor-who-is-sexual-assault-suspect-arrested-for-/ncwms/

My note, which took about two minutes to type:

Mr. Garner
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.

2013: That’s a Wrap.

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 …

On a chilly April weekday, I spent upwards of three hours in a green room with these guys. Listening to them tell stories was a blessing and an honor.

On a chilly April weekday, I spent upwards of three hours in a green room with these guys. Listening to them tell stories was a blessing and an honor. Yes, that’s Hank Aaron in the middle.

I saw my alma mater play in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome.

I saw my alma mater play in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome …

... which was an absolute shock considering they got spanked by Georgetown where I saw them play the last time in their storied rivalry.

… which was an absolute shock considering they got spanked by Georgetown where I saw them play the last time in their storied rivalry. Friends don’t let friends become Hoyas.

I caught up with co-workers for some Monday Night Football in my new hometown of ATL. One day, I'll enter the Georgia Dome like a normal ticket holder. One day...

I caught up with co-workers for some Monday Night Football in my new hometown of ATL. One day, I’ll enter the Georgia Dome like a normal ticket holder.

For a change of pace, I was on TV, rather then behind the scenes. The Ricki Lake Show let me speak about what happened to me. It was the first time I really got to do that on TV.

For a change of pace, I was on TV, rather than behind the scenes. The Ricki Lake Show let me speak about what happened to me. It was the first time I have really ever gotten to do that on TV.

And I continued my work on raising awareness about sexual assault by donating to the local rape crisis center and winning this marvelous trophy.

And I continued my work on raising awareness about sexual assault by donating to the local rape crisis center and winning this marvelous trophy.

I led the chants for University of New Haven's Take Back the Night event. They gals seemed uncertain of their voices. Fortunately, I have a very big mouth.

I led the chants for the University of New Haven’s Take Back the Night event. The gals seemed uncertain of their voices. Fortunately, I have a very big mouth.

Bawled like a baby leaving the first and only home I ever purchased. Counterintuitive considering it ripped my heart out.

Bawled like a baby leaving the first and only home I ever purchased. Counterintuitive considering that owning it ripped my heart out.

I said 'goodbye for now' to these two beautiful women who humbled me with their love for me.

I said ‘goodbye for now’ to these two beautiful women who humbled me with their love for me.

and the love of their husbands who were both big brothers and surrogate fathers for me.

… and the love of their husbands who were both big brothers and surrogate fathers for me.

I traded sunrise walks here...

I traded sunrise walks here…

... for sunrise walks here.

… for sunrise walks here.

Still, I managed to squeeze in a visit here. My favorite place to walk in the whole wide world.

Still, I managed to squeeze in a visit here. My favorite place to walk in the whole wide world. I love it.

Speaking of love, I fell more deeply in love with my nephew. How could I not?

Speaking of love, I fell more deeply in love with my nephew. How could I not?

I mean, have you SEEN this kid? I rest my case.

I mean, have you SEEN this child?

Moving on... I cooked my first turkey. That big life moment was rather uneventful. No one died.

Moving on… as I live away from my family, I still managed to create some semblance of a Thanksgiving and cooked my first turkey. That big life moment was rather uneventful. No one died. And yes, I failed  to remove the giblet bag hidden in its cavernous inside.

Also, I discovered the joy of taking a selfie and the filter buttons on my iPhone. Never understood the #nofilter hashtag. Having discovered the wonders of the  filter, I am #TeamFilter.

Also, I discovered the joy of taking a selfie and the filter buttons on my iPhone. Never understood the #nofilter hashtag. Having discovered the wonders of the filter, I am #TeamFilter. This woman looks fabulous, whoever she is.

And I bought my first live tree and figured out my tree decorating motif. Gold, silver and bronze.

And I bought my first live tree and figured out my tree decorating motif: Gold, silver and bronze. And bows.

I was filled with the holiday spirit after a December week in NYC.

I endeavored a live tree because I was filled with the holiday spirit after a December week in NYC.

NYC is still my first love. Grand Central, my heart.

While there, I visited Grand Central, my heart.

And Jessie, she's still the  girl I call for advice. She's always spot on. And she's fun to take photos with.

And I saw Jessie who continues to be fun to take photos with at weddings and who continues to take my phone calls when I am in the midst of a meltdown.

2014. I have no idea what’s in store. Please be just as good to me as 2013.

What Five Years Looks Like

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.

Your AFightBackWoman, all gussied up to celebrate. Notice the HAIR.

Your AFightBackWoman, all gussied up to celebrate. Notice the HAIR. And that godforsaken chandelier.

And I found, I couldn’t really stop myself from posing. For two whole days, it was … obnoxious.

I took my first SELFIE and sent it to everyone I know or care about. Because that is what you are supposed to do with your selfie, I've read.

I took my first SELFIE and sent it to everyone I know or care about. Because that is what you are supposed to do with your selfie, I’ve read.

Like, really, it was an issue. I was considering giving myself an alter-ego name – “Salt” – you know, from the movie and all…

Nothing was safe from my posing. Not even this big fan I found at the Georgia Dome.

Nothing was safe from my posing. Not even this big fan I found at the Georgia Dome.

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.

Ugly.

This past weekend, I overheard a girl at a party making offensive comments about the alleged rape victim in a highly publicized rape investigation. She called the girl a liar and a “jealous bitch trying to fuck up the life” of the team’s quarterback. She did this quite loudly and I assume it’s because she was quite certain she was expressing a popular viewpoint.  You see, she is a huge fan of the team and the school. It made my blood boil. I approached her and the two men with her and asked if she knows anyone who has been raped or someone who’s ever filed a rape report. I asked her if she knew how rare false reports are especially if someone underwent the rape kit process. She looked at me with her oily skin and eye makeup smeared across her cheeks, and answered, “No, but this girl is posting Instagram images of herself and is not acting like a rape victim. Please, she’s a jealous bitch.”

She was so ugly to me, her face contorted in a proud-of-herself nasty smirk, and it hit me: I have rarely come across a woman in the flesh to say those things in my presence. I found it jarring. It made my stomach drop. I would have pursued it further but did not want to embarrass my friends who were with me as I could tell they were uncomfortable already. But I couldn’t shake it and still haven’t. I despise that woman and what she represents. I am mad at myself for not already having a more succinct and powerful way to cut thru someone’s awful words when that kind of opportunity presents itself.  I just found it to be so personal. When she said what she said, it’s like she was saying that about me. And I don’t think anyone would understand that unless they themselves have been a victim of this crime.

I thought about her all day yesterday as I prepared for a meeting with a nearby sorority. I wanted to make it clear to the young women there that we can do better amongst ourselves. Believe me, I have my struggles with women who don’t play fair in the sandbox. But this is a crime we cannot afford to be so ignorant or flippant about. We should be the last ones standing in a room, cutting down another woman for filing a rape report. Filing a report and bringing charges – and hopefully, winning the case – is our best bet at preventing dozens of additional rapes by that perpetrator. It’s turning an ugly crime into a beautiful gesture by one woman toward many other women they’ll probably never meet or know. I fervently wish more would look at it that way.

The More We Change…

I’m cozied up on my couch awaiting the season’s first snowfall. I’ve struggled all weekend to get the heat just right in my apartment and am tearing through my repertoire of sweat pants and sweaters at a frightening pace. Reading these words, you’d think I still live in Connecticut. But no, I live in the Deep South. It just goes to show that a lot can change in one’s life, and surprisingly, life can stay very much the same. Most of that’s been by design on my part, save for the wintry weather.

I still walk everywhere I can, refusing to use my car for errands under a mile away even though that means I am usually the only person pushing a cart across town with my groceries. And I’ve found a coffee shop where I know at least one of the baristas by name. I scour the community paper for interesting events and concerts to attend, and I try to be hopeful that I will meet good people. Of course, I am continuing my work as a sexual assault victims’ advocate. I’m happy to report that I am almost through the process of becoming a volunteer at the rape crisis center at a local hospital even though the hospital’s emphasis on testing me for tuberculosis has me a little freaked out.

Volunteering in a hospital definitely comes with its own set of pros and cons. The exposure to disease thing, well, I’m just going to ignore that for now. But I am relieved to know I won’t work with child victims because Atlanta has a great children’s hospital nearby they’d go to instead. Every night that I was on call in Connecticut, I’d ask God to help me help whoever called the hotline or needed me at the hospital. But I would beg him to not let it be a child. I didn’t trust myself to handle the horror of seeing a child victim. I know I am supposed to be better than that, but I am not.

One or two nights per month, I will take on a 12-hour shift and sleep overnight at the hospital in a room just for rape crisis volunteers. That way, we meet incoming victims right away, instead of tearing across town in our cars trying to get to the emergency room in time. I am going to try to take shifts on a Friday or Saturday night because those nights are so active for this crime and because it will be a way for me to check my ego about going out and being wasteful with the good life I’ve been afforded.

Yesterday, I saw my college volleyball team play a match in town. Sitting in the stands, I was flooded with thoughts about all the things I wished for myself when I was playing there and how far off I’ve been from some of those goals, and how spot on I’ve been with others. And it occurred to me that who I am and where my heart’s at has never really changed no matter the litter of addresses in my wake, the people who have come and gone, or the painful life lessons. We might shed the skin we’re in, but that’s all we shed. We can change our appearance or possessions, we can change our friends or our affinities, but we cannot change our flaws or our gifts and what speaks to our souls. And we can move 1,000 miles away from everything that’s familiar – and love it  – but still find ourselves eagerly awaiting something so simple and infinitely tied to what we left behind:  a snowflake.

Five Years Ago Tonight…

This is Marco five years ago tonight. The things I think when I look at this photo, and all that's happened since, words cannot convey.

This is Marco five years ago tonight. The things I think when I look at this photo, and all that’s happened since, words cannot convey.

Five years ago tonight, I met an Italian man named Marco Tamburro, at a cafe, in Rome. I had just purchased a crystal chandelier for the condo I was under contract for back in New Jersey. And I was thoroughly pleased with myself, toasting the moment with a glass of wine and some cheese. I felt as if good things were on the horizon for me, and I gladly engaged in discussion with Marco, eager to learn about an artist’s life in the most beautiful city I had ever seen. I walked right into my fate that evening and there’s nothing that can change that. But I’ve had five long years to think about it, and I am pretty sure I don’t want to change a thing. I look forward to telling you all about that tomorrow….

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