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Speak Up and Speak Out after Assault

In the early morning hours of August 21, 1988, an unknown assailant climbed onto the second floor balcony of the home I shared with my mother. He entered though a sliding glass door and silently crept to the first floor landing where he had a clear view of my bedroom door below. Unwinding from a hectic night at work, I sat on my bed reading, unaware of the danger waiting just a few feet away.  I never saw the face of the man who raped me that night. It would take 20 years for technology to catch up with the evidence collected and make it possible to solve this crime.

At least 70 percent of these rapes go unreported. With odds like these, most rapists will not be stopped from continuing to terrorize victims. The only way to prevent rape is by getting rapists off the streets and behind bars, which is why I decided to speak up and report my assault that night.

Statistics show that one in four women are victims of sexual assault and no matter how far technology advances, none of the DNA or fingerprint sciences do any good if these crimes are not reported. That first step, the most important link in the chain, is the responsibility of the survivor. By not notifying the authorities we are in effect giving the rapist a free pass to target his next victim. 

It seems impossible, but you can move forward after rape. Believing in your strength of character, trusting your talents and relying on family and friends for support can help survivors begin to rebuild their lives. I know now that I should have allowed others to help me more. They wanted to show their support but I thought that once I appeared to be “okay” and my life appeared to be back to “normal,” the my family and friends would stop treating me with kid gloves.

I didn't handle the trauma of being raped very well. I went through a period of darkness following that night. I felt different, my whole world felt different. Everything was off balance, and my life seemed strange and uncomfortably new. I longed for the days when I could wake up and get dressed without weighing the consequences of wearing one outfit over another. I wanted to be able to walk in front of a window without being afraid of seeing a face looking back at me. I wanted to know I could be alone, inside or outside my home and feel safe again.

I began to drink heavily and isolated myself from the very people who could offer me comfort and aid in my healing. It was some kind words from a friend who helped me to realize my self-destructive behavior was empowering my rapist and destroying the very thing that made me, me. I entered rehab for alcohol abuse and once I was released, I rebuilt my life relying on my art to act as a sort of therapy and reconnected with many of my old friends, finding we could pick up where we had left off.

Although during this time my attacker still walked free and continued with his life of abuse, rape and crime, I was no longer paralyzed with fear knowing he was “out there.” I was able to move on. For 20 years he believed he had committed the perfect crime. He was wrong. It took the dedication of Chief Investigator David Cordle with help from his partner Bill Johns to solve my case. DNA evidence collected the night I was raped and two fingerprints he left in my bedroom eventually linked William Joseph Trice to this crime. On January 19, 2010 he was convicted of 1st and 2nd degree rape, 1st and 2nd degree sexual assault and burglary.

I testified against the man who raped me in court and, by doing so, I was able to redirect the shame and social stigma associated with rape in the appropriate direction — toward my rapist. I found the very act of seeing his face for the first time so empowering that I was final able to see him as the pathetic soul he was, not the larger than life monster I had made him out to be. 

I’ve written much about the courtroom proceedings of my case as a way of shedding light on what happens behind those big wooden doors. In addition to fearing their attacker, many women do not report the sexual assault because they don't want to have to defend their honor in the courtroom. Rape reform laws have helped, but not completely eliminated defense lawyers exploiting the character of the victim as a way to suggest she somehow brought the crime upon herself (a tactic uncommon in cases where men or children are the victims).

It is important for us to understand that no matter what I or any other victim did in the past, nothing makes it acceptable for a rapist to rape.

The process of regaining my footing after my attack was difficult and waiting two decades for my case to get to court was frustrating, but hearing the word “guilty” that day was worth it. By seeing cases through to a conviction and keeping the discussion of rape in the forefront, we redirect the humiliation and shame often experienced by the rape survivor back to the rapist. As a victim, it’s hard to remember sexual assault isn't who you are. It changes you, but it doesn’t define you. I am an artist,  and that will be my legacy. Trice was a rapist, and that’s all the world will ever remember about him.

Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf was born and raised in Annapolis, MD and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983 with a degree in painting and printmaking. She is an award-winning artist who currently resides in Virginia with her husband. Her book, “One Voice Raised: A Triumph Over Rape” is currently available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.
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