On a day of many sudden and brutal realizations, the most memorable was my arrival at the US Embassy in Rome. I exited the cab with my rolling suitcase and bags, and approached the US Citizen line, which was next to the Non-US citizen line. That line had about 7 or 8 people in it. Mine had none. Yet I just stood there, watching the non-citizens allowed in one by one. I finally flagged one of the uniformed guards telling him I wished to see an Embassy official. With a thick, Italian accent he asked me if I had an appointment. I told him no. He looked at his clipboard, shook his head and walked away. He continued working the non-citizen queue. I was surprised.
I again caught the officer’s attention, and told him I desperately needed to get inside, but he seemed unmoved. I started to “lose it.” My exact words: “Well, I am just SO SORRY I did not think to make an appointment before I was attacked! How stupid of me!”
A French man, in the line next to mine, understood that something had happened to me. He could see my beat up face and he asked me what happened. I told him and within seconds, he was speaking Italian to the guard. The guard instantly removed the rope in front of me and ushered me in. Except, he said, I could not enter with my bags. I was surprised yet again. Hadn’t I been told to bring all my belongings? Nonetheless, I had to give them to my friend and tell her I would be out as soon as possible.
Inside, I had to take a number and wait to speak with an Embassy rep. Once I did, I conveyed the name of the officer on duty I had spoken to much earlier in the morning and my situation. The officer moved me to a different floor so I would have some privacy and she continued her questions. All of this, by the way, was conducted with a huge bullet-proof glass between us.
Here are the things I’d like you to know about what the Embassy was able to do for me:
- They had me fill out a privacy form whereby I had to designate the ONLY people allowed information about my case or discussions with the Embassy. Anyone not approved by me would not receive any information about me or my whereabouts. I put my sister and brother-in-law as the only two people. They told me that once I hired an attorney, I’d have to contact them and have his/her name added.
- They helped me find a new hotel.
- They spoke to the airline that had my current ticket home (a flight I was going to miss in order to file a report) to see if there were any alternatives.
- They gave me information about reporting a crime (a slightly depressing piece of information)
- They arranged for me to have a phone line to call my sister and my airline. Each time I dialed a new phone number, I had to ask them to open the line.
- They arranged for me to meet with the Sex Crimes division head (Sezione 4) at the Police HQ down the street and arranged for an interpreter to meet me there.
- They gave me my paperwork and sent me on my way. They did not provide a car or accompaniment.
I don’t know about you, but I had a vision that I’d be able to stay at the Embassy, with my bags, and do my interviews with the police from that building and then head to the US. I had always thought it was some kind of fortress where you could go and take cover if you had to. But that’s not the case. It was a very sterile experience with the bulletproof glass, the weird phone line and the paperwork. Still, I must say the Embassy employees who helped me were top-notch people. They talked to me as the crime victim I was and could see I was a little disoriented and not sure what I was going to do. While I was struggling to decide if I really wanted to go to the police station, one Embassy officer told me, “If you think this guy has done this before or would do it again, the best chance to get him is to file your report while you are still here. Once you leave, it will be much harder.” Those were the words that did it. I knew he was right, I knew I needed to make Marco accountable for his crimes, and I left the Embassy, dragging my bags for 15 minutes in the rain to the police station.
EXTRA THOUGHT: Even after I left Italy, the Embassy officers kept in touch with me and the Italian police, eventually assigning me a State Department contact. Until I could hire an attorney, the contact was the means by which the police could communicate to me and by which I would receive the various documents the investigators and judges wanted me to review or sign.