I Am a Survivor

Our guest author today is Natasha Alexenko, a survivor, activist, and educator who is working to change the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault. In 2011, Natasha started Natasha’s Justice Project, a nonprofit dedicated to processing the untested sexual assault kits in the United States. Here, she reflects on being a survivor during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I am a survivor of sexual assault. I am also a survivor of the rape kit backlog. I am a daughter, a friend, an aunt, a sister, an advocate and an author. While I like to celebrate the many aspects of the mosaic that is me, April is a special time for me to reflect on my life as a survivor.

On August 6, 1993, while I was a student living in New York City, a man raped and robbed me at gunpoint. While his face remains a complete blur to me, I can still remember the gun he held to my head.

After the assault, I went to a hospital, where I underwent a sexual assault forensic exam, recognizing that my body had become a crime scene. I fought the urge to take a shower right away so that evidence could be collected. It was difficult to bear, but I knew that underneath the shock and pain, I wanted justice. I wanted him to be caught and held responsible for my rape. And I wanted to make sure he would never be able to hurt anyone else. I didn’t know that my rape kit would spend nearly a decade in a police storage room collecting dust, as part of 17,000 backlogged kits in the New York City Police Department.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that my kit was finally tested.

On August 6, 2007, a man named Victor Rondon was arrested for striking the police officer who had given him a citation for jaywalking in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada state law allows for DNA collection upon arrest for certain crimes. His DNA was entered into the national DNA database and matched to the attacker’s DNA in my rape kit from 14 years earlier. We finally found him.

I faced my assailant in court and told my story to a jury who found him guilty. I gave a victim impact statement to the judge on the day of his sentencing. When Victor Rondon was put in jail, I intellectually felt some closure, but my heart was not allowing me to rejoice. How could I celebrate justice when so many others did not receive the closure I was fortunate enough to receive? What did it matter when so many others were still frozen in time like I had been for so many years?

Although I have never met any of the other 17,000 survivors whose kits languished next to mine, I carry them in my heart every day. Our stories may not be the same but the horror we faced is something that will connect us to one another forever.

I recognize that not every survivor has the resources or support—or desire—to come forward and discuss their sexual assault. It is a very personal thing and each survivor processes it in their own way. Know that wherever you are, you matter and you deserve to be heard, feel safe, and be validated, even if you wish to keep it a secret.

Since 2007, I have been on a journey for justice through advocacy. One of the greatest joys this voyage has brought me is a family of survivors who remind me every day that I am not alone. As I testify at hearings to support the passage of bills that will expedite the processing of rape kits, I think of each and every one of them. I am grateful to be flanked by advocates from all over the country who inspire me with their altruism. I also partner with advocacy organizations, and their resources and expertise are invaluable to me as I venture deep into the world of legislation and victim-centered law enforcement approaches to sexual assault.

This April, as I reflect upon Natasha Alexenko, the Survivor, my heart overflows with gratitude. My healing didn’t begin when Victor Rondon was placed behind bars. My healing began when I stepped on this path with all of you—survivors, advocates and friends. More work is ahead to end the backlog and bring perpetrators to justice, but with our collective determination and support for one another, I know we can do it.

-By Natasha Alexenko, April 27, 2018

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials, and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

keep up with backlog news

END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of