I am frequently asked if there is a particular survivor that I worked with that sticks out in mind. Although by now I have probably worked with several hundred survivors of child sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, there is one case that I will never ever forget – Tina*.
In the mid-80’s, I worked as an advocate in Arizona. One night while on call, I was paged to the emergency room of a local hospital to meet with a woman who had been raped. Upon my arrival, I was introduced to Tina who was in the process of being examined for multiple injuries and was waiting for my arrival to commence the “rape kit” exam. She was grateful to have me in the room with her as at this point there were only male medical personnel available to her as well as male law enforcement officers. She held my hand and kept keep her eyes riveted to my face throughout the examination.
Tina had traveled to our area for a job interview and when checking into her hotel, she was kidnapped and repeated assaulted over a 24-hour period of time. She was able to escape when the rapist left her to go out to his car to retrieve a gun, an escape that mostly likely saved her life. The rapist was caught within a few hours of her escape.
Over the course of several days, I spent many hours with Tina. We were able to find her a safe and private place to begin her healing while we worked with her to prepare for her trip home. In these initial days, I watched Tina so very bravely identify the rapist in a police lineup, retell her story multiple times to various law enforcement officials, and to piece together a plan on how she would drive herself home (over 800 miles) alone. And on top of all of this, in a city where she knew no one but now myself and police detectives, to proceed with her scheduled job interview and get a job offer!
A few months later Tina returned and started her new job. She again bravely faced the rapist during a long court hearing, spending two full days on the witness stand. We celebrated together when this man was handed the maximum sentence. Our celebration ended abruptly when the chief detective on the case brought us a newspaper that identified Tina as the victim of this horrific crime, a crime of which the media published all the grisly details of her 24-hour ordeal. Tina had never told a single person about her rape – not her family, her employer, her new friends or neighbors in her brand new city.
Although several of her new friends were supportive, she ultimately ended up losing her employment and her newly surfaced fears of being unsafe forced her to move from her new home. This revictimization took Tina back many steps in her journey of healing. But she thankfully fought her way back.
Sadly, even decades later, I know that there are times when Tina relives the terror from the assault and the revictimization she has had to face. I know that when survivors witness the victim blaming of other survivors, they are often triggered back to their own victimization. Our continued fight for justice is not just to prevent future incidents of assault but to support those survivors of the past. When we speak up for one, we speak up for justice for all.
It was a total privilege to have worked with Tina for over 2 years. I very selfishly gained so much from her strength, her fear, her bravery, her faith, her tenacity, and her hope. Tina is a survivor in every sense of the word. Her story and her survival, as well as the stories of so many other survivors, has helped in fueling my fire to stay in this field.
*The name has been changed to protect the identity of this amazing woman.