We’re continuing our feature of stories from survivors of rape and sexual assault who have been affected by the backlog of untested rape kits. Today, Natasha shares her story with us. We thank her and honor her courage in sharing what she has experienced.
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand: there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend; some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”
–Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
J. R. R. Tolkien has a knack for putting thoughts into words that I, alas, do not. How could I possibly put into words my journey and all the events that brought me to where I am today?
In 1993 I was violently raped, sodomized and robbed at gunpoint by an unknown assailant. When I escaped and thankfully found myself in my apartment, my roommate insisted that I go to the hospital. I agreed to wait for an ambulance, even though my first instinct was to take a shower. I am so very grateful today that I made that choice.
In the early 1990s, DNA profiling was in its infancy. Still, my medical examiners were aware of the fact that my body was a crime scene. Great care was taken into collecting the evidence necessary to find my perpetrator. If we only knew back then that 16 years later we would find him, perhaps it would have been easier for us all. It was clear to me that the “evidence collection” was a difficult process for them as well as for me. Medical professionals are there to heal–-how do they process a sexual assault?
Following the sexual assault and after all leads were exhausted by the New York City Police Department, life for me went on, as it has a habit of doing. We didn’t find him. Did I find me and go on? Yes, I did. I healed, as did my family and friends who embraced and loved me when I struggled with the events that nearly took my life.
Ten years later, in 2003, I received a call from the New York City District Attorney’s office. My rape kit, which had been sitting on a shelf, had at last been processed. I was asked to testify before a Grand Jury in an attempt to “stop the clock” on the 10 year statute of limitations (New York has since overturned its statute of limitations in 2007 but many states continue to have a statute). I had long since reconciled with the fact that my perpetrator would never be held accountable for his actions. But now there was hope.
The Grand Jury indicted the DNA from my kit in 2003. What that meant was that despite the fact that at the time the statute of limitations was 10 years, we could charge my rapist with the crime even if we found him 50 years into the future. For the first time in many years, I felt hopeful. Although I had healed (as much as one can heal) from my assault, the fact that a person who could commit such violent crimes was walking around the streets potentially harming others plagued me.
In 2007 they found my rapist through his DNA profile. After a cathartic trial, Victor Rondon was tried before a jury of his peers and in 2008, was found guilty on all 8 counts of his violent assault against me. He is in jail now, and for a very long time. The best part for me is that he can never hurt anyone ever again.
My rape kit sat on a shelf for many years. My rape kit was not just a number in a police department. My rape kit was me-–a human being. Every rape kit that sits on the shelf is a human being. Every rape kit that sits on a shelf has the potential to solve a crime. The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) found my perpetrator through DNA profiling and I am living, breathing proof of the fact that we can find these criminals. I am not, and should not be, an anomaly.
Natasha has recently started a non-profit foundation, Natasha’s Justice Project, with the aim of resolving the rape kit backlog. You can be in touch with her and her new organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.