She Says: Emily's House
The man charged with assaulting Linda made bail and is out of jail. She’s scared because she’s no longer anonymous after he saw her during a court appearance. She Says talks to another sexual assault survivor in Charlotte who had a very different experience.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT:
EPISODE 7: EMILY'S HOUSE
Editor’s note: This podcast includes adult language and themes. It also contains descriptions about sexual violence. Please be advised.
SARAH DELIA: Fear is a powerful thing. Sometimes, it motivates; other times, it paralyzes.
And fear is born from all sorts of circumstances. Sometimes, it comes when you’re on a road driving, and you see a car in the distance. As it gets closer, you can see it’s coming head-on in your direction, and you have that sinking feeling that you’re about to be hit. Your horn is blaring as you swerve and narrowly miss the impact of the oncoming car. In a situation like that, there’s something that replaces fear: relief. You’re safe now. No need to be scared.
But in other circumstances, fear comes, and it doesn’t leave. And sometimes, it’s brought on by something as seemingly small as a phone call.
VINE MESSAGE: This message is from the Mecklenburg County VINE service. Please listen carefully. You may want to have a pen and paper handy.
DELIA: That’s where we left Linda last episode.
DELIA: This automated message was alerting Linda to let her know that the man who was arrested in connection with her assault had posted bail and had been released.
VINE MESSAGE: If you have any concerns about your immediate safety, contact your local law enforcement agency, or if you have an emergency, call 911.
DELIA: Linda had many concerns about her immediate safety, and those concerns were manifesting into a fear that was rapidly growing because now the man she identified as her attacker, who came back as a DNA match, who was arrested and posted bail, knows who she is.
LINDA: If you think, you know, you're fearful when you're anonymous, now he knows my name. He saw me in court. We made eye contact, and I sat there and I held eye contact with him. He's the one that looked away. Now he knows my name.
DELIA: And part of what was making that fear grow was not knowing what was going to happen next. Whether this man would come and find her. Whether her case would move forward now that he had been indicted.
She doesn’t have a road map and has no idea how much further she has left to go.
So this episode we’re going to give Linda a point of reference. And that comes in the form of someone I’d like to introduce you to. She’s someone who has also traveled this winding road, and because of that, she’s left some footprints for Linda to follow even if the path is a little different. It’s time to take a detour to Emily’s house.
From WFAE in Charlotte, I’m Sarah Delia. This is She Says.
(End of introduction)
I’ve known Emily for several years. And that is her real name by the way, although we are withholding her last name for privacy reasons. She’s 39 — a former journalist so we’ve frequented the same press conferences and events. She’s been featured in numerous publications in Charlotte, including WFAE.
One thing to know about Emily is that she loves her home. When I drove out to Huntersville in April 2018, it was my first time at her house, which she affectionately calls the ranch. It felt like I was meeting a friend she’s talked about for a long time.
DELIA: You have an amazing home.
EMILY: Welcome to my crazy house.
DELIA: It's beautiful.
EMILY: You see why we call it the ranch or the farm or the…
DELIA: Emily’s house sits on top of a hill on a quiet, picturesque street. Her house oozes with charm. There’s a brightly colored door, which she says, makes a select few in the neighborhood roll their eyes. There’s a ton of land, perfect for the neighborhood Easter egg hunt her family had just hosted. And more than enough space for her kids and dog to run around, which is what they were doing when I pulled up.
EMILY: Hey guys. This is mommy’s friend Sarah.
EMILY: My husband is almost home and is about to take them to soccer. And so I’m like just finishing up dinner…
DELIA: It was a breezy but warm day, so we started the interview outside on a bright yellow blanket she had laid out in a sunny spot. We were perfectly centered between her house and the street, two scenes that are important.
And the reason I came to Emily’s house was to hear more about her story. She was sexually assaulted on Jan. 3, 2017, in her home on this quiet street in a town considered to be a safe suburb of Charlotte.
EMILY: Basically, I was sound asleep in my own bed and woke up to being raped by a total stranger who had broken into our house.
DELIA: It was days after Christmas, and she says she was suffering from an ear and sinus infection. She was heavily medicated. Her husband moved into the guestroom so she could have their bedroom to herself and get some rest.
Emily says when she first woke up, she assumed it was her husband being frisky.
EMILY: I'm still, you know, medicated. Still groggy, still waking up and realizing, you know, that if I'm having sex and there's moans that I don't recognize and hair texture that I don't recognize in a shape that I don't recognize. And I'm definitely awake, and I'm definitely sure that that is what's happening. That's when I was able to start screaming.
DELIA: Emily says the man said nothing to her, and when she screamed, he bolted.
EMILY: And it's a cliche to say, but it was all so fast that I did not even see the guy run out of the bedroom. I was just aware of this sort of fleeing figure, and my husband came running right away, and I told him that there was someone in the house. And my husband is this athletic sort of guy who would’ve, of course, liked to have caught him, but he was just gone. And I grabbed my cell phone, and I ran into the closet and called 911 — still having just no understanding of what had just happened at all.
DELIA: The police came right away, and she made sure they knew about a boot and a pair of pants he left behind. She was taken to a hospital to get a sexual assault exam done. She knew this stranger had left evidence on her body.
EMILY: And so I really felt that whatever they were able to get off me — and I knew that they would be able to get things off from between my legs — and I knew that they would be able to get things from under my fingernails. And I'd also been wearing a T-shirt that I was sleeping in. It had blood on it that wasn't my blood. And I felt calm at that time -- maybe some because of shock but also because I thought, I trust science and that whatever they get is my best shot at this.
DELIA: In the days that followed, Emily and her husband tried their best to maintain a sense of normalcy around their children who knew something bad had happened but didn’t know exactly what that was.
EMILY: At night, we would go together as a team and do this elaborate ritual of, of checking every door, of looking behind tables. Checking every window sill. Early on, we were barricading the doors downstairs by moving furniture, couches, things like that.
DELIA: The couple slept in shifts. She likened it to having a newborn. She never had more than a few hours of sleep at a time.
Lt. Andrew Dempski with the Huntersville Police Department says police were able to identify her assailant based on evidence found at Emily’s house and interviews conducted. Emily says her attacker left a cell phone behind in his pants pocket. Police and Huntersville residents were familiar with the man. He was a local guy who had been in and out of jail for crimes involving theft and drugs.
LT. ANDREW DEMPSKI: And everybody in Huntersville is aware of him because he walks or rides a bike throughout town all the time. And usually he rides without a shirt on. So every time somebody saw anybody that they thought could be him, we had everybody calling in.
So we literally were driving all through town, Cornelius, into Charlotte, Northlake Mall. Everywhere where people thought they saw him, we were traveling to.
DELIA: Emily began to see posters of his face at the gas station she frequented and her children’s day care. On his lunch break, her husband patrolled the neighborhood checking in on this man’s local haunts.
It was mid-January, and Emily began to worry that the man would succumb to frigid winter temperatures before the police could actually find him. But the police did find him. He was about a half-hour away in Charlotte. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department made the arrest.
DEMPSKI: Her case bothered us as a police department in that we pride ourselves on having a safe town. Not a lot of violent crime. Not a lot of break-ins, sexual assaults. There was a lot of manpower, and that went into that case just merely because of the facts that pertain to it. So that was an unusual occurrence here in Huntersville.
DELIA: The Huntersville Police Department has a much smaller jurisdiction compared to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. In total, the HPD has seven detectives. That compares to the six detectives CMPD has in its sexual assault unit alone.
Dempski says the relationship between his officers and the victims they serve is an important one. You can see that in Emily’s case. The Huntersville Police Department responded quickly to the scene. They answered any questions she had during the investigation. Her attacker was found and arrested 11 days after her assault. Emily says the HPD even drove her to the hospital that night so she didn’t have to pay for an expensive ambulance ride.
But that time, from the assault to the arrest, deserves more attention.
First, there was the initial interview Emily had at the hospital with the detective assigned to her case, Charlene Tombaugh. Emily remembers how desperate she was for the police to believe her. On the surface, her story sounded strange. She got that. The man who assaulted her had slipped quietly into her home on a day she just happened to be sleeping in a separate bedroom from her husband. It was days after Christmas. Toys and electronics were still scattered around the home. He had taken nothing.
EMILY: They had a lot of questions early on about my sex life. Basically, was I having an affair? Did I think my husband was having an affair?
DELIA: Questions like were they swingers or into wife swapping? Was this a consensual encounter that she just now was regretting? The answer to all these questions was no.
EMILY: Even when I was talking about it at the same time, I'm thinking to myself, you know, I could be sleeping with half the neighborhood and I still am telling you someone broke into my house and came upstairs and raped me and ran away.
DELIA: Emily says when the detective asked if she could see her phone, she handed it over so she could scroll through her search history and confirm there weren’t any odd Craigslist postings or emails from strangers that might suggest she knew who her attacker was.
And then there was this question asked by the detective:
EMILY: She asked me if I had an orgasm, which surprised me.
DELIA: That's such an interesting question to ask.
EMILY: Right, I don't know what that question was about, other than — I would just be speculating that the questions at that point were still related to whether I might have known this person and or, you know, had a secret lover or something like that, I guess.
I asked Lt. Dempski why a detective would ask that question.
DEMPSKI: I didn't know, I didn't know that question was asked till you just told me.
DELIA: How do you feel hearing that that question was asked?
DEMPSKI: Well, I don't have a problem that it was asked so long as there's a reasoning behind it. I don't think, I don't think any of my detectives are going to ask something that would be damaging to the case. I think anything that is asked is to generate and provide more information as we move forward. And I would think that that question would be asked merely in case some profile was established from the kit.
DELIA: We followed up via email and asked if he had a chance to talk to the detective who handled Emily’s case about why she asked Emily if she had an orgasm during her assault.
He wrote back: “The detective asked this question to gain further information as to what might be found in the SANE kit and to possibly add additional information for a possible profile.”
Lt. Dempski is referring to the exam Emily had done by a SANE nurse — remember that stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. And by possible profile, he’s referring to a DNA profile.
So we wanted to check in with some experts regarding the relevance of that question. We wanted to know: If a victim had an orgasm during her assault, would that make any difference to the crime lab as they were testing the evidence found in the kit?
We asked Ray Wickenheiser, the president of the National Association of State Crime Lab Directors.
WICKENHEISER: There's a lack of full education as to what is needed and what is not needed. So that’d be probably one of those pieces you really don't need because it's not relevant.
DELIA: We wanted to know: From a law enforcement perspective, would there ever be a reason for an officer to ask a victim if she had an orgasm during her assault? We checked in with Lt. John Somerindyke. He’s head of the Fayetteville Police Department’s special victims unit.
LT. JOHN SOMERINDYKE: That sounds like something I'd read in a 1990s Fayetteville police department report, to be frank with you. That’s terrible. You can’t do that to victims.
DELIA: Emily was pleased with how the police handled her case and kept her updated. She never felt like she was in the dark about the progress of the investigation. But the questions asked of her during that initial interview did stick with her. And they also offered an unexpected point of reflection.
EMILY: I remember thinking that if I were younger and less secure in my sexuality, less secure in my body, those questions — not even necessarily the police's fault — but it just would have been, it would have been terrifying. And not that there's any sort of happy moments in these stories. But I did remember feeling gratitude at that moment that I really know who I am.
DELIA: When Emily looks back at the week and a half after her assault -- the time when her assailant was still out there -- her interactions with the police are not what she considers to be the traumatic part of her story. The twists and turns that would be most traumatic to Emily while she was on this journey on the winding road came next from her former line of work. It came from the media.
More after this quick break. I’m Sarah Delia. This is She Says.
DELIA: Days after her assault, temperatures began to drop and a winter storm passed through Charlotte and surrounding areas. On Jan. 9, six days after her assault, there was enough snowfall to justify a school day.
And it was the first day her husband had gone back to work after her assault. Her kids were playing in their large front yard on their quiet street.
EMILY: We were sledding, and I knew that the police had done a press conference that day about who they were looking for and what had happened. While we were on the hill, and I was probably right where we are right now, I saw the news channel WSOC coming down that street over there.
DELIA: She expected the news to cover this story. The man who assaulted her was still on the loose; it made sense. But come to her house? She couldn’t believe that. Yet at the bottom of the hill, she saw WSOC-TV Channel 9, a local Charlotte TV station owned by the Cox Media Group, pull up in a vehicle.
As a sexual assault survivor, she was terrified by this. As a former journalist who covered crime, she was appalled. Emily said she had two options: One, she could start yelling at her kids to go inside the house, but they had no idea about her assault and likely couldn’t have made it up the hill before the crew started to film. Option two, she address the TV station head on.
EMILY: I'm already halfway down the hill. I’ll run to the bottom of the hill at the fence where they are parked and I will tell them to go away. And that that would be faster and also would not involve trying to convince happy children playing in the snow that they needed to come inside immediately. So, some of it was the parenting path of least resistance.
DELIA: She says Mark Becker, a long-time Charlotte journalist, was standing at the bottom of the hill getting set up. She went into full-on momma bear mode. She started to yell for him and the crew to leave. She was desperate to keep her children out of the story their mother was a part of.
EMILY: And we had worked so hard to keep what happened from them. And so it was very disturbing that I wasn't going to be able to keep the TV from them. And so I screamed, ‘Leave.’ I told him to leave. I ordered him to leave. I begged him to leave. I turned around and pointed up the hill in front of my house and said, ‘My children are right here.’ I told him that this was not the way to cover this. This is not the way you cover these crimes, that people who cover these crimes know this is not how you cover these crimes. I told him that my attacker was still on the loose, and I had no idea where this person was and that I was terrified for that reason. And during all this time he, he did what I called the ‘ma’am hand,’ which is holding up, holding up the hand to interrupt. And I was not interested in anything that he had to say or what his viewpoint would be.
DELIA: Eventually, the TV crew left. Even though the incident had passed, it stayed with her. She was re-traumatized. Re-traumatization can cause someone to have the same feelings and reactions they did during or after the crime they were a victim of, like fear or anxiety.
As journalists, we cover tragedies and talk to people at their most vulnerable moments. Sometimes the mere presence of a journalist can be upsetting. Emily was later told WSOC was there to get footage of a crime watch sign on her street.
But for Emily, WSOC’s intentions were to get a story, and they didn’t care that their presence was traumatic. The anger and frustration she felt bubbled. She wanted to make the TV station understand how what they did by showing up to her house affected her. What she wanted was an apology.
She filed multiple complaints with WSOC and its parent company. In response to one of Emily’s written complaints, Joe Pomilla, the general manager of the station at the time, did apologize [that] she was a victim of a violent crime. He said the news crew didn’t know how close they were to her house.
He said he had reviewed video from that day and that he stood by Mark Becker and the crew. He added that law enforcement did not identify her or disclose her specific address.
On the incident report from the Huntersville Police Department, which documents her assault, Emily’s name is withheld and so is the exact location of her home. But, under “Location of incident,” it does list the name of her quiet, picturesque street in Huntersville, North Carolina.
Pomilla in his email said Mark Becker apologized that day and left quickly. Emily says she never got an apology from Mark Becker. We reached out to Becker and Pomilla and various members of WSOC for this story. None would comment.
We ran this scenario by media ethics expert Lee Wilkins. She wrote a textbook on media ethics and is a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.
She says when covering sex crimes, it’s important to think about what the point of the story is. If the point is to let the public know someone dangerous is on the loose, are pictures of the crime scene really necessary?
WILKINS: I do sort of think that, you know, one of the problems with television, one of the problems of having to get pictures, is that you can wind up doing some fairly stupid stuff. And that includes chasing all over town to get an image that, upon reflection, you probably didn't need.
DELIA: After the assault, it was important to take back some control of the family’s life and safety. So they made some modifications to the house. As we walk in, you can hear the first change.
They added chimes to the doors and video cameras. Emily’s husband spearheaded the changes.
EMILY: I like having it. Does it make me feel 100 percent safe? No, of course not. Do I think any of that stuff can keep anyone 100 percent safe? No, of course not. Is it a nice peace of mind? Yes.
DELIA: Emily says her detective was very good about referring her to resources after the assault. One of them was Safe Alliance, a nonprofit whose mission is “to provide hope and healing to those impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault.” They have a crisis hotline, offer counseling services and accompany victims to court dates for support. Her first appointment with a Safe Alliance counselor was shortly after the incident with WSOC reporter Mark Becker.
Emily went online to the Safe Alliance website to learn more about the organization. That’s when she saw that another WSOC reporter, Erica Bryant, was on the Safe Alliance board. Bryant has spoken publicly about her experience as a domestic violence survivor. Emily wasn’t aware of that when she emailed Bryant.
EMILY: And told her that I had been terrorized by one of her co-workers, and her boss and her boss's boss had completely blown me off. And I, I used the word ‘begging.’ I was begging for help. I was begging for help because I was desperate. And I never heard back from her. And I saw a counselor at Safe Alliance a few times, and the counselor was wonderful.
DELIA: And while she had this positive experience with this counselor, Emily eventually decided she couldn’t keep going to Safe Alliance because of the connection the organization had to WSOC. We did reach out to Erica Bryant. She respectfully declined to comment. Bryant served a six-year term on the board. She’s not currently a sitting member.
Emily wanted Safe Alliance to back her up. She wanted them to help her get WSOC to see how coming to her street to film after the assault was traumatic. But, she says, she didn’t get that assistance, and it still bothers her to this day.
EMILY: It made me feel like I was one person who didn't matter, and that was what the message that I got from Safe Alliance so loudly is that their relationship with Channel 9 was more important than how Channel 9 treated me — the very victim that they were supposed to be helping.
DELIA: I spoke with Cori Goldstein, the director of the Sexual Trauma Resource Center with Safe Alliance.
DELIA: What would you all say to someone like Emily that feels like she didn't feel safe when she came to Safe Alliance. I mean, how does that make you guys feel, like on a human level of hearing that?
GOLDSTEIN: I mean it is impactful. I think that my staff, including myself, wake up each day and do this job because we're dedicated to the cause, and we are dedicated to helping survivors on their healing journey. And so we, it is impactful, and we hear from other survivors — the impacts that other situations outside of the assault happened — outside of the assault and that impact that it had on them, and we really try to help work with them to focus on that healing journey and to help them in any way that we possibly can. And so it is impactful to us when we hear something like this and to know that there is a survivor out there that is hurting and a survivor out there that is upset and is continuously being re-traumatized because our goal is to really support survivors and to offer advocacy services to them as best we can. And so, yes, it is impactful.
DELIA: Safe Alliance declined to discuss any of the specifics around Emily’s account, citing client confidentiality as the reason.
In February of 2018, Emily had been traveling on her version of the winding road for over a year. One path in particular she had to walk was one regarding closure with WSOC. It dawned on her that she may never get the apology she wanted.
Emily occasionally takes freelance work for different media publications. On the day the Reverend Billy Graham died, Feb. 21, she accepted an assignment to go to the Billy Graham Library, like so many other reporters were, and to report back on what the scene was like. When she was getting ready to leave, she saw a familiar face. It was Mark Becker from WSOC.
EMILY: And I recognized him right away. And I was about to leave the library anyway. And as soon as I saw him, I had a nervous and uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.
DELIA: Nervous and uncomfortable because she knew she couldn’t help herself. She was going to talk to him. So she pulled out her phone and started to record a video.
EMILY: I didn't intend to scare him or hurt him. I also knew that it was going to surprise him. And that however surprised that he might have felt or uncomfortable that he might have felt that it would have been just the smallest fraction of how scared I had been when there'd been a camera pointed at me and I told the camera to leave and it hadn't happened.
BECKER (audio from video): This isn’t the time.
EMILY (audio from video): When is the time? Mark. Was the time in my front yard? Was it? Was that the best time? And I asked you to leave maybe 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times. So I want to make sure that you ask me to leave at least those 10 times. And, of course, your bosses told me you were just doing your job and I’m doing mine.
DELIA: At one point, Becker does stop, looks at Emily and says:
BECKER (audio from the video): ‘I’m sorry.’
DELIA: To Emily, that apology wasn’t the satisfying part of the interaction. Seeing him so uncomfortable was the part that made her realize after spending so much time of being afraid and feeling like she wasn’t in control of the situation — she finally had some power.
Emily says maybe she wasn’t going to change how this one media organization covers victims of violent crimes, but maybe her story could be used as a cautionary tale to budding journalists.
EMILY: Maybe somebody younger in the business would watch it or think about it and would think twice from doing the same thing. And that's the person that I want to reach.
DELIA: Emily has been able to navigate this unpaved and at times unmarked trail despite the obstacles that have come her way.
Like Linda, Emily has come across roadblocks on her journey on the winding road. She’s traveled in a direction that looked like it was headed somewhere but was actually a dead end. And there have also been the paths that looked too treacherous to walk that actually offered some relief.
Coming up, Emily gets somewhere Linda hasn’t. A sentencing hearing at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
DELIA: On Aug. 4, 2017, less than a year after her assault, Emily got her day in court. The man who assaulted her, William Byrd Thompson, had confessed and agreed to a plea deal. This was a hearing to determine the length of his sentence.
ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY KRISTEN NORTHRUP: May it please the court your honor, Kristen Northrup on behalf of the state. This is William Thompson.
Beginning at line one, line 21 on your calendar counsel at 17CRS200456. One count of second-degree forcible sex offense and 16CRS0 2 6 6 5 8.
DELIA: Emily says the room was purposefully packed with friends and family that day. They were there to make her feel protected. She wanted to see this man get punished for what he did, but she wanted to be invisible at the same time.
EMILY: Part of the prep for going to court, a sort of dark humor with a few family members and friends, was joking that if we called it the worst wedding ever because we were working out the seating arrangements because I knew that I wanted people sitting sort of on either side of me or all around me so it would not necessarily be obvious to him which one I was.
DELIA: She also wanted everyone in the room to bear witness. That’s a powerful thing as a victim, she said, to have people understand and take in how terrible what happened to her was.
She had no interest in giving this man a face and voice to think about while he was in prison. So she declined to give a victim’s statement. She said she was told that he may receive a higher sentence if she gave a statement, but she didn’t want to. She liked and appreciated the idea of integrating the voices of victims, but she felt tired. She felt like it wasn’t her job to stand up in front of everyone and go over the details of her assault. It wasn’t her job to persuade anyone that this man should get the highest sentence possible. The facts should speak for themselves. Although Emily didn’t give a statement, her husband did.
EMILY’S HUSBAND: He attacked us, specifically my wife, while we were asleep in our home -- while we were most vulnerable in the place that we felt the safest. There is nowhere now for us to feel safe. We have been forced back down to a very basic level of existence, all the way down Maslow's pyramid just above worrying about food, water and air. We have experienced terror in a very real way -- not in a faraway place but right here in Mecklenburg County.
DELIA: The defendant asked to address the court.
THOMPSON: I'm sorry. You have no idea. No matter what, what I'm facing .. I don't know. Never. I've always been protective over females …
DELIA: He breaks down. Emily remembers him breaking down.
EMILY: It was good to see him in court because my anticipation of seeing him was so much worse than the reality, and I didn't expect that. The reality of seeing him was this guy who was pathetic. And I don't use that word in attempt to make myself feel better or to even put him down, but I saw him as this pathetic creature and did not feel afraid of him.
DELIA: It’s not to say he shouldn’t be locked up she says, he should, but she did feel something she wasn’t expecting for him. It was empathy.
JUDGE: This case, State v William Byrd Thompson the defendant having pled guilty of second-degree sexual offense and financial transaction card theft. Those will be consolidated pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement into a class C felony.
DELIA: Because Thompson confessed and pleaded guilty to the charges, Emily’s sexual assault kit was not fully tested. It is being stored in the property and evidence room at the Huntersville Police Department. Thompson was sentenced to a minimum of 140 months or about 11 and a half years in prison. And after he’s released, he will have to register as a sex offender for the next 30 years.
When you’re in Emily’s house, the love she has for her children and husband echo throughout the rooms and hallways. It travels up the staircase and is felt in every corner of every bedroom. That includes the couple’s bedroom, the one she was assaulted in the night of Jan. 3, 2017.
EMILY: It's still my favorite room in the house.
DELIA: Why is it your favorite room?
EMILY: Gosh, I love my bedroom because it just feels like something that even though that happened there, it still feels like a place that is completely mine. And when I say mine, I really mean completely ours. My husband's and my — you know there's art on the wall that we made. It's the mattress that we bought when we moved into this house. It's a space that just reflects sort of what we wanted to do with our lives as a married couple and as a family. And I just love my house.
DELIA: Emily was able to navigate the winding road in a way so many others don’t. In my mind, her journey ended when her assailant was put behind bars. So I asked her, does she feel like she made it to the other side of this winding road?
EMILY: That's a great question. I don't feel [I’m] on the other side of it for two reasons.
DELIA: The first reason is that she’s still not as she says “out” to everyone in her life about her assault. The other reason is that recovering from a sexual assault is not a linear path. Some days are easier; some, harder. She’s still processing her experiences with WSOC and Safe Alliance. A support group she’s been able to connect with has helped, but it’s complicated.
EMILY: Nobody is flat out saying that I'm lucky, but because people believed me, and a lot of these victims have not had people believe them. I had a criminal case. The vast majority of them did not have a criminal case. My offender said he did it, and a lot of these victims have wanted their whole lives to hear someone acknowledge what happened to them, and to see that person punished in some way. And, after my court case, a lot of them said, ‘I'm so happy for you.’ And, I did not feel happy for me. But as I get further in my own recovery and connect with more victims, the more that I understand why so many of them say that or feel that way.
DELIA: Emily has also found therapy in the form of painting. She told me a lot of what she painted after the assault, and continues to now, are bedrooms and beds. She looked at the idea of sleep in the same way someone having a desert mirage would look at water or food. It was something she craved. It was something she searched for. It’s something she’s slowly just now finding, but it can be gone in a moment’s notice depending on the day and where she is in her recovery.
Because her attack happened while she was asleep, she has no interest in taking a sleep aid. “I hate the idea of something putting me in a deeper sleep,” she says.
Emily continues to work on her trauma recovery. That includes addressing her fears. The fear of sleeping too deeply. The fear of not sleeping enough. The fear of her family’s safety and her own.
Fears look different for everyone, but everyone has them.
And that last fear about safety is one Linda can relate to, but she also has others because now, like Emily, Linda has a case that’s full of files and evidence.
LINDA: I guess my biggest fear right now is just safety but also the case. Because to hear we will be going through all of the files, you know, that, you know, I just thought to myself ‘Jesus, good luck with that.’ I don't know. I don't know what they're going to have. It’ll be, it’ll be interesting.
DELIA: Linda’s nervous. Did the police do a thorough enough job with their investigation? What about the evidence she was able to contribute, like her Google search that led to an online identification of the man she believed assaulted her? The same man who came back as a DNA match. The same man that was arrested. Will a judge and jury believe her story?
She’s getting closer to where Emily was on this winding road, but will the evidence be enough for a conviction?
Next week on She Says, we hear what they have to say about Linda’s case. We hear from her family and another crime victim who has dealt with the Charlotte police.
She Says is written, produced and reported by Sarah Delia. Our editor is Greg Collard. Joni Deutsch is our producer. Alex Olgin is our reporter. She co-wrote this episode. Music is provided by Pachyderm Music Lab. Keep the conversation going on Twitter using the hashtag #WFAESheSays. You can tweet at Sarah Delia directly @SarahWFAE. If you want next week’s episode in your feed as soon as it comes out, make sure to subscribe to She Says on NPR One, Apple Podcasts or wherever you find podcasts. You can find more information about the podcast at WFAE.org/shesays.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.
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