Let Freedom Ring!

Hi Everyone!
    I am officially back in America again after my amazing Irish travels.  It was rainy and bleary most of the time, but I still took advantage of every moment letting the Irish customs and landscapes help heal old wounds.  When I got back to America I found out that there was a disastrous storm that hit the twin cities on June 18.  When I heard about this, the first thing that came to mind was maybe God was reminding my rapists of the storm they created in my life one year previous on June 18, 2011.  Maybe He was trying to tell them they can’t outrun His justice even if they can outrun the Justice System.
    In reflecting on the past year of my life, it has been one of the hardest years for me.  As a result of the gang rape, I had to force myself out of bed everyday; I was subjected to a hostile work environment by one of my lead teachers due to bias and judgment toward sexual assault, ultimately resulting in my changing schools; I lost a lot of friends; many times I had to force myself not to throw in the towel and give up on myself and everything I’d worked toward; I battled a debiliitating illness for 3 months; and finally I experienced defeat when my case was denied prosecution.
    It would be so easy to focus on the bad days and difficult times, but I know there were a lot of good things that happened too: I got to change schools and was mentored by an amazing team of teachers working with remarkable kids; I started dating a great and understanding man; I was awarded a full ride scholarship to graduate school and relish the opportunity to achieve my Master’s in Education starting this coming year; I found out my true friends while still meeting new people; I have a loving family; I have found amazing support and encouragement from my new BWCA.com friends and others who have reached out to me, and I am now blessed with a strong support system.
    All in all, I have learned a lot from this experience.  It is not okay what happened to me and it is not okay that these things are STILL happening.  However, I choose to grow from this event.  I choose to shine the light on what happened to me to help others.  I choose to get closer to God with each step forward.  I choose to hope that I may help and encourage even one person who may be suffering in his or her recovery from a sexual assault. I choose to live fully and embrace each day.
Let freedom ring!
– Julia

June 18, 2012

Last night as I was getting ready to go to bed in my Ireland castle, I turned on the TV to find Thelma and Louise. It is a classic, so I have seen it before, but I saw it with different eyes this time. It was a story about a woman who was nearly raped on her vacation and her friend shot the rapist. They are on the run from the cops because they know the cops would not believe the women if they told them about the rape. Later we find out that the Louise, the one who shot the rapist, was raped herself. Near the end, Thelma even told Louise that she was glad Louise shot the man because her life would have been worse being raped than being caught for murder, robbery, and kidnapping. Finally they take death over everything.

This all really sits with me. First, that even now woman find it hard to go to the police because they might not believe them. Second, a lot of people don’t get the help they need, so they try to do it on their own. For me, It has been a long, struggling year, but I am glad I am alive and can talk with others about this. Being faced with a gun in the woods, it could have gone another way. However, here I am trying to get over what happened with up and down days.  But I have found support I need and I am getting more comfortable with asking for help.

I was raped one year ago today, but I lived to tell the tale and there is no shame.

– Julia

Luck of the Irish

Each month on the 18th, it has been hard to remember and sometimes cope.  As the one year anniversary comes up on June 18th, what I want more than anything is freedom from the mindset and memories that have plagued me this past year. When asked by a friend, “Where is the one place you could feel most alive and yourself again?”, I remembered my 2008 Ireland trip – so it is there I will take my refuge for a week. Think of me and pray with me, and I will take your kindness, love and support with me as I face the one year anniversary and reclaim my future.

– Julia

 

Grand Marais – All the Way!

I first visited Grand Marais in 1996. I was only 9 years old at the time, but I still remember walking along the breakwall and enjoying the harbor with Sandy, a dear family friend who was dying of ovarian cancer. We were on a pilgrimage of sorts, travelling to her favorite places as she showed me and my Mom where she wanted her ashes scattered.

Last June 18, it seemed my ashes mixed with hers, crashing against the rocks. I felt battered and broken. It was no longer a place of repose.

But that has changed again for me. I have received an outpouring of support and encouragement from so many who have shown me the heart of this harbor community. I am grateful for your outreach and the many emails sent to me offering hope, belief and compassion. I am inspired and deeply moved by your selfless acts of kindness. I want you to know that you are helping me heal and restoring my belief in the inherent goodness of people. Thank You.

– Julia

Camping Redefined – CHECK!

I am having a really good day today.  I woke up with a spring in my step, and God in my heart.  I received several wonderfully supportive messages that make me feel blessed.

This weekend I’m taking a giant step.  I’m going camping again for the first time since the BWCA trip.  I’m reclaiming the peace of the outdoors for myself again and sharing the experience with some trusted friends.

I’m looking forward to fresh air, sleeping in a tent, the stars in the open sky, roasting marshmallows, and laughing around the campfire.

Camping Redefined. Check!

Julia

Reality Check

I was handed reality way too early.

The young twenties are supposed to be a time for exploration and learning – doing – experiencing. That’s all I set out to do. I’ve only ever been normal.  Ordinary really.  And that suited me.

My life was 23.5 years in the making.  I had 8,574 days before it changed. Before I woke up in my new body with a new perspective. It takes some getting used to. I’m venturing out and giving it a try.

Sometimes I feel lucky. Lucky like the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit.  I won’t have to spend those years wondering, “What is Real?” “What is Goodness?” “What is Important?”

Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. . . .”

Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit, trying to understand.

Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “But once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. And once you are Real, you can’t ever become unreal again. It lasts for always.

Maybe reality is something I can get used to.

It’s Never Too Late

This blog entry is to the friends and family of survivors. I want you to know it’s never too late to support a survivor. There are so many reasons we may not have connected at the time. It took an incident such as this to for me to begin to identify the important people in my life. A new boyfriend I had started seeing broke up with me within the month after my gang rape saying, “it’s just too intense.” I lost a lot of my social network in the area I was living and lost people I thought were trusted colleagues on my job based on the circumstances and the differing reactions we had to the situation. I can’t say that I would have understood. Who can even surmise what a situation like this does to people and the things it calls up. There’s nothing one can really do to make things ok again. They just aren’t ok. They won’t ever be really. Everything is changed and it’s all different. I am different. But I want you to know who I am becoming.  I want to share with you my journey. I wanted to tell you . . .

It’s never too late . . . to be there.

Shout Out!

I want to share a resource that may benefit anyone with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that often emerge after a severe trauma or life-threatening event. This technique has played a strong role in a more rapid and sustainable recovery from the brutal gang rape, from which I experienced all 27 symptoms of PTSD, some of which included the following:

  • feeling upset by reminders of what happened,
  • hyper-vigilance to sudden noises, sounds, and  environments that act as triggers,
  • persistent flashbacks resulting in acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were happening again,
  • avoidance of anything that might results in emotional or physical reactivity similar to the initial trauma,
  • nightmares and difficulty sleeping,
  • blunted affect and detachment,
  • anxiety, irritability, and feeling constantly on-edge,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • isolation and cutting-off contact from things I cared about,
  • difficulty with relationships, friends and family,
  • depression,
  • feelings of imminent danger.

People battling PTSD may typically try medication or counseling (in which techniques such as biofeedback or EMDR may be used).  I tried all of these with limited success; none of them seemed to lead to a substantial improvement for me. My uncle is a Physician Assistant and he recommended I look into a treatment he heard had been effective for veterans recovering from PTSD.  I was blessed to find a center offering this technique within commuting distance; I went to Neuro Strength, LLC (http://www.NeuroStrength.com/). They have been providing Brainwave Optimization with RTB™ (real-time balancing) in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area since 2007. There are more than 160 offices worldwide that offer this technology and more than 50,000 people have harnessed the strength of their own brain to triumph over difficulties. Their contact information is listed below.

Neuro Strength, LLC
10800 Lyndale Avenue S., Suite 299
Bloomington, MN 55420

paulette@NeuroStrength.com
952.888.0011

Their process is well described on their website and through their professional and timely outreach, but I want to emphasize how meaningful it was for me to find a staff that cared about me and engaged with me in a non-invasive manner. Rather than being forced to relive the trauma, their process greatly reduced the associated triggers and my symptoms quickly abated.  In the first two weeks of treatment, I attended 10 sessions, and I’ve only had the need to return for a few sessions since completing the recommended program during high stress times when my PTSD symptoms flare up. I know how hard it was for me to find these resources when I needed them most, so I’m sharing this with you in case it may benefit you or a loved one, now or in the future.

Best,

Julia

Too Much to Consider

Just for today

I will remember a child’s giggle and hug when he says I’ll be his best friend forever!

Just for two-day

I will fall asleep and dream I am flying.

Just for 2-day

I’ll hold a dream in my heart and it won’t vanish or break open.

Just for 2-2-day

My friends will surround me and I’ll feel completely safe.

Maybe 2-2-2 day

I will belong in my body and I will be whole again.

Can you help me make a difference so this is never handled the same way again?

If anyone is willing to share your feedback or suggestions with the two Cook County elected officials (Sheriff Mark Falk and Prosecutor Tim Scannell), I would appreciate it. Their emails listed from their websites are below:

mark.falk@co.cook.mn.us

tim.scannell@co.cook.mn.us

I was shocked and dismayed by the way the Cook County elected officials, the Sheriff and Prosecutor, followed up with and handled my case and the lack of priority and attention given to me as the victim and the crime. In my experience with how this reported crime was handled, I felt a lack of compassion and empathy, a lack of professionalism, a lack of expeditious follow up, a demonstrated unwillingness to get to the truth by allowing the suspects to be re-interviewed following what appears to be obviously insufficient BCA interviews, and the refusal to take a tough stance on the crime given the brutality involved.

As elected officials, excerpts from their websites are below:

Cook County Sheriffs Department Mission Statement:

– The fundamental duty of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is to “protect and serve” with fairness and respect.

– We demand excellence in the quality of our law enforcement, stressing professionalism, integrity, and timeliness, so that those we serve may feel secure. Provide equal enforcement and protection of the law without prejudice and favor.

– We promote the setting of goals in partnership with the community, and prioritize and address problems based on the concerns of the community.

The mission of the Cook County Attorney’s Office is to:

Serve the people of Cook County; Protect and provide for the public safety by the vigorous and just prosecution of adult and juvenile violations of the law; Provide support and assistance to victims and witnesses of crimes.

Prosecutor Scannell’s stance in communicating with my Mom she felt was quite mean. Several times he lost his temper with her and it appears that how this victim’s family was communicated with was far harsher than the rapists (from what is documented in my Mom’s detailed notes and the case file review). In the end, when the case was transferred to Amy Sweazy in Hennepin County, she told my Mom she was serving as Assistant Prosecutor for Cook County, so ultimately it appears to me that Scannell made the final decision to dismiss. I wonder if this case would have been handled differently if the family were local to the area and one of his voters?

Below are some other questions I still have for Sheriff Falk and Prosecutor Scannell that remain unanswered:

• Did you feel the BCA interviews were sufficient and timely in establishing a basis to dismiss the case?

• What did you specifically do to expedite the process to ensure a timely and vigorous prosecution?

• The crime occurred on June 18, 2011, yet the suspects were not interviewed until October 6, October 20 and October 26. Is this an example of the priority the Cook County Sheriff and Prosecutor give to vicious gang rapes that occur during the height of tourist season?

• Do you feel the spacing of the interviews and handling of the suspects fulfills your requirement for the safety and protection to the BWCA community?

• Did it appear that the suspects had more credibility than the victim?

• Was merit put into the diligent investigation and efforts made by the Deputy?

• Why was the FBI not allowed to re-interview the suspects since that the agency offered to do so in cooperation with the Deputy?

• As elected officials, you pledge to protect victims and to provide a timely, vigorous prosecution of criminals while supporting the victims and their families. How do you rate yourself against your stated goals?

• Are you going to make sure the suspects are not allowed back into the BWCA this year?

• Can you point to one specific thing that led you to believe you should not prosecute this case?

• I understand that not once did the prosecutor or the sheriff actually call the victim.  Not even once did you meet her, clarify a fact, or personally ask to hear her story. Why is that?

• Did the fact that this happened in the BWCA, a major tourist area and the economic life blood of your community, play a role in the decision not to prosecute?

• Have you ever had any reports like this happening before? If yes, did you prosecute them? If not, are you saying this is an isolated incident?

• What is being done to make sure the BWCA, often marketed to families, women, and church groups, is safe and protected?

• Are you planning to have your department or other agencies do more patrolling of those areas during the overnight hours?

• Do you feel you adequately safeguard the public given that those with felony convictions, firearms, drugs and alcohol are entering the BWCA?

• Do you believe victims and their families deserve to be informed of the disposition of crimes in a professional and timely manner? If so, how do you account for the manner in which this victim was informed of the dismissal?

• If this or any other victim can’t count on you both to fully investigate the cases and fully prosecute any crimes, who can they count on?

The other two suggestions I have are the following:

  • Reach out to the Cook County Commissioners office. The phone listed for them is 218-387-3602. It’s probably best to get an address or email and document any concerns or suggestions rather than merely call.
  • Write a letter to the editor of their weekly newspaper to engage the Cook County voters.

Does anyone have any other suggestions of actions that can be taken to ensure this does not happen again and that safety in the BWCA is improved?

– Julia