Did you know that… Every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted? College aged women are four times more likely to be assaulted? One in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes? One aggravated assault occurs every 35 seconds? One burglary occurs every 10 seconds? One violent crime occurs every 20 seconds? One robbery occurs every 60 seconds?
I was attacked one fateful night In the fall of 1993 when I lived in the Miracle Mile neighborhood, near the Los Angeles County Museum. My husband, a French chef, Bruno and I were about to move out of the apartment we had been living for the past year, right across the street into a fabulous ground floor apartment with hardwood floors. It was like a little house, with two bedrooms. it was like a mini French Chateau, where you just walk up to the front door. It was basically my dream apartment.
Bruno had told me to wait until the next day, his day off, and we would move the boxes together. The place was freshly painted, and I was so excited, I didn’t listen. I started taking over the boxes and unpacking the kitchen stuff.
My little 3 pound Yorkie, Daphne watched me going back and forth across the street. I remember seeing an old van parked nearby. Strangely, I pictured a man popping open the back doors of the van, grabbing me and pulling me inside. I also thought thieves could be watching. I told myself I’d just been spooked because I had been watching one of those Unsolved Mysteries on TV where someone was murdered.
At about 9:00 pm I trudged across the street with the last load for the night and set it on the floor. I turned to close the door behind me but a Latino man stood at the door on the porch. I immediately tried to close it but he pushed it open and charged in, another man right behind him who slammed the door shut.
I screamed, “Take what you want and leave!”
Ignoring my words, the first man knocked me to the floor and held me down. I was lying on my back, and could see the second man standing at my feet and undoing his belt. All I could think of was oh my God, I’m going to be raped.
The man at my feet grabbed my pant legs and pulled. My tennis shoes came off in his hands. I screamed like a wild animal, screeching and squirming and kicking like crazy to get away, ending up turned over on my stomach, still crying for help. One man held my shoulders and the other my feet. The man at my shoulders slapped his hand over my mouth and covered my nose as well. Deliberately. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to claw his face, but I couldn’t reach. The men were completely silent in the process of snuffing out my life. By bucking and twisting, I was able to get a small gulp of air at the side of his hand, but I could feel the left side of my brain getting heavy. I was passing out. I was sure I was a dead woman.
Didn’t anyone hear me? Why weren’t my landlords coming to rescue me? I knew our landlords were elderly, but not deaf! Yvette and Leon lived upstairs, yet they have had to hear me. I could imagine my name on the news the next day as a rape and murder victim. There was a lot of crime in Los Angeles in the early 90’s. Was it really my turn?
At least Daphne isn’t here I thought. She’d be barking and going nuts. One swift kick from one of those brutes would kill her.
A sudden glassy crash and some voices made that terrible hand let go. Air! I could breathe. They hadn’t raped me. The men let go of me and I gasped for air, the fresh paint smell almost stinging my nose. I couldn’t move other than to scream. Then I felt myself being dragged up a flight of stairs. I was brought inside an apartment where I lie in the entryway still screaming. it was Leon and Yvette’s son, Derrick who was visiting from Washington D.C., who had rescued me. He shattered the window just in time.
I finally calmed down enough to be brought to the sofa where I lay down. Leon brought me a glass of whiskey which I downed in one shot. I managed to tell them what happened and Yvette called 911, but it was a Saturday night and there was so much crime going on in L.A., that she was told the response would be slow. In the meantime the paramedics came and checked me out. Since I was basically okay Bruno didn’t want to leave the restaurant without a chef, so I waited for him at the landlords apartment.
I put my hand out to Derrik, “Thanks for saving me, I thought I was dead. ”
Yvette leaned over the sofa. “At first we thought, you know, a young couple, they must be fighting.”
“You were screaming so loudly that people were coming out into the street to see what was going on,” Derrik said.I finally grabbed a broom and came down and broke the window with it. The guys ran out so fast, they almost knocked me down.”
Leon brought me another shot of whiskey. Bruno came for me at 11:30, and I literally slept with half my body on top of him that night. I was completely traumatized and afraid to even go to the bathroom alone. For weeks after the attack, I was certain those men were going to come back and finish me off. I started working the lunch shift at a closer restaurant. When I came home in the afternoons, I checked all of the closets, shower, under the bed and behind every door. I triple checked the locks on the doors as I waited for Bruno to get home. Whenever I heard a noise or Daphne barked, I would jump up and recheck the locks. When Daphne needed to go out, I carried a kitchen knife up the sleeve of my jacket and some pepper spray that a policeman gave me.
The main thing that got me through all of this was that my dad called to chat calmly with me for about an hour every evening to distract me from my fears. I still tear up, remembering his patient, caring conversations. For years, the smell of fresh paint flooded me with the memory of my attack and traumatized me all over again.
I want to share an interview I did with Rachel Walter who owns a company called, Safely Sexy, Designer Pepper Sprays. We chatted about her wonderful product line of pepper spray and tips for women on how to stay safe.
Love yourself. Love your life, and stay safe out there.