But today... today I've emerged from the fog of assault and the criminal justice system. I've rebuilt, and am rebuilding, myself piece by piece. With the help of an incredible community of friends, acquaintances and family I've been able to create a new normal and take up this cause.
In 10 days I'll speak about Sexual Assault publicly. I've been asked to speak at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Third Annual Sexual Assault Awareness 5k/Zumba event. I'm both nervous and honored to do so. If you're free on April 14, 2018 at 10 am, I do hope you'll join me in supporting survivors and those who work with us.
As a warning, the statement is lengthy, so click below if you're interested in reading it. If you'd rather talk to me about my experience, or your experience, or anything for that matter, I'd love to meet you and chat over coffee or drinks.
I’d never met the defendant before he tackled me in my bedroom that night. In fact, I learned his name when I read it in a press release sent to my email at work. His name will unfortunately forever be imprinted on my mind. I read the official release – black and white text on a page that summed up the torment I endured for hours. It was surreal. It is only one of many out of body experiences I’ve had during this journey – times in which I stood in disbelief that this was indeed my life. Experiences that include dodging reporters outside my apartment the day after the attack, seeing video of my home on the television, trying to breathe as I was poked and prodded during my sexual assault kit and listening to my voice as my 9-1-1 call and interview with detectives were played in this courtroom.
The night of September 10, 2014 should have been the perfect ending to a wonderful day. I should have walked into my apartment, locked the door behind me and went about my evening in safety and peace. The defendant’s world and mine should never have collided – but they did the second he tackled me and pressed that knife to my throat. Our worlds collided when I was preyed upon. When the defendant broke into my apartment and waited for me. He waited in the darkness of my closet when I locked the apartment door behind me that night.
The details of that night will never be erased from my memory. As this trial neared, my stomach turned in knots. My nights became sleepless and out of nowhere waves of memories of what he did, washed over me. It made my life with friends and family harder to focus on, and my job in the news – a job I love – significantly more difficult.
Rape is not only a crime about sex. It’s about power and stripping a person of their agency – their ability to fight back. I’m fighting back now, and although he did not know it, I was fighting that night too. I have fought against him every day since then as I’ve rebuilt my life, regained some of my confidence and prayed for the ability to forgive him.
The defendant took so much more than just sex from me the night he raped me. I had been saving my virginity for marriage. I was and I am proud of that. Now, this attack will be part of my story that I'll have to share with the man I marry. It devastates me to know that the actions of a stranger will hurt the man I will spend my life with.
My life has changed forever because of him. I'll never get the hours of that night back. I’ll never get the countless hours since where I’ve been anxious, nervous, irritable, exhausted and depleted because of his actions. I’ll never get my sense of security back.
I used to love the darkness. Now I become uneasy and nervous when the spaces around me aren’t lit. I now am unable to relax or sleep in my home without nightlights scattered throughout the house. I used to feel safe and secure in my home. It used to be my sanctuary. Now, even with extra latches and locks on my doors, I do not feel completely safe. I locked the door behind me the night I was raped, and because of that fact, I now search my home regularly before feeling settled.
The defendant came from behind my open closet door. Because of that, I no longer can leave that door open and certainly can’t lay down to sleep unless it is closed. I cautiously check inside my closet when I enter my room – even if I’ve been home alone for hours. I'm never 100% secure. It saddens me that that sense of security and safety was stripped away from me.
When I’m out in public, I constantly scan and search my surroundings with a watchful eye. I never used to have to question the intent of every person I interact with. Before my rape, I was free to chat, wave, smile and enjoy the people around me without worrying if they were preying on me, too. I used to run alone on the greenways in town regularly. Now, I think twice and rarely run outdoors without a friend with me. When I do, hypervigilant in watching those around me. To this day, I’m working in therapy to reduce those anxieties and I’m learning to create a measured level of trust in those around me.
As much as I’d like to believe that his actions that night only hurt me, that is just not the case. My friends and family have been changed by what happened to me. We all live differently because of him. We’re all shaken and less secure. I'll never forget the look on my brother's face when he and my dad arrived at my apartment that night. The look in my parents eyes after they'd had another conversation about their guilt over their inability to protect me from him that night. While it will never be their fault, or mine, we all changed forever that night.
What’s more, the defendants’ refusal to accept responsibility at all has forced me to relive the terror he caused and the crimes he committed in excruciating detail. He has had multiple opportunities to admit his guilt and accept the consequences that come with his actions. Instead, because of him, I not only was re-victimized as I took the stand to tell my story, I had to endure questioning by the very man who raped me. A room full of strangers, my family, friends and colleagues in the news media have now all heard in detail what the defendant did to me and have seen photos of my naked body splayed on screens in this courtroom. It was humiliating and embarrassing. And I NEVER should have had to endure it.
But there is strength in all of this, too. Strength in seeing my community of friends, neighbors church members and colleagues rally around me. There is even more power in choosing to look him in the eye and speak my truth – the truth of what he did and how I fought back by outthinking him every step of the way. Make no mistake, the power I’ve gained by fighting back against him during every step of this journey doesn’t change the fact that I was raped. It also, unfortunately, doesn’t erase the emotional scars that will forever outlast the physical injuries I sustained.
Derek Smith deliberately chose to rape me. HE made a terrible choice. His actions were calculated and callous. He has been convicted and he is a violent felon, sex offender and rapist whose actions have earned him the sentences he will receive. I hope those sentences he is given will be served consecutively, so that he can never have the opportunity to hurt another woman, another family, the way he has irreparably harmed me and mine.
I’d like to briefly address the defendant now. Derek, that night you stripped me of my clothes, but you did not strip me of my dignity. You may have robbed me of my virginity, but you also robbed yourself of a future. You stole my car and my belongings, but you did not steal my life. You made me a victim. But that is just one small fraction of who I am. Because in the early hours of September 11, I also became a victor. I was victorious when they pulled you from my vehicle and arrested you. I was a victor when the DNA proved you were indeed the man who raped me and I will enjoy a small victory every morning that you wake up in prison for the crimes you’ve committed against me.
To conclude, I want to thank you, your Honor, for hearing this case. I want to thank the jury for their time. Thank you to the dispatchers who took my call that night and assured me that help was already on the way. And to the officers who responded and heard my statements, who did not discredit my story and who took me seriously. Thank you to the officers who apprehended him quickly and were with me as I identified him. Lastly I want to thank the District Attorney’s office and the prosecutors who took this case and worked diligently to bring about justice for me.