In her dreams, the ones that spin through the dark with nightmare hashtags, she struggles with her phone.
Kate is locked in a closet, hiding from her attacker, the man who has raped her. She fumbles with the phone, her fingers frantically trying to dial the number.
The dream is its own reality show, still in reruns six years later.
“It’s a recurring nightmare of not being able to call 9-1-1,” she said. “It’s only three numbers. But, at that moment, those were the three hardest numbers for me to call on my phone. In my dream, I can’t make it happen.”
Kate is not her real name. It has been changed here to protect her identity. Our newspaper policy is to not identify victims of rape.
But she is a real person with a real horror story.
She has been able to put her life back together, thanks to the girders of family, friends, time and therapy.
“You have to know it gets better,” she said. “You can’t let it define you.”
Although I first met Kate three years ago, I did not know her story until she shared it last week. She wanted to lend her support to the annual Appetites for Advocacy on Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Cheddar’s restaurant on Riverside Drive. This is a fundraiser for the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia.
I will be one of a dozen celebrity waiters pouring tea, bringing appetizers and gratefully accepting donations for this amazing agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families.
Kate is 27 now. She lives and works in Atlanta. She grew up in Macon and graduated from a local private school.
After her father died during her freshman year of college, she got a job as a nanny for three children. She worked four days during the week and attended classes at night.
She was at the home on May 1, 2008, looking after the youngest child, who was 3. An employee from a cleaning service, who had been there earlier, returned to the house. He knocked on the door and asked to use the phone.
“I was always taught not to open the door for strangers, but he had been there that day,” Kate said. “When I handed him the phone, he hit me. It was very sudden. I have always tried to be aware of my surroundings. But you don’t expect to have your guard up when you’re in your home. It was like a second home to me. It was 2:30 in the afternoon in a nice neighborhood.”
The 42-year-old man beat her and raped her. She had a swollen eye, a mild concussion and cuts and bruises. She sustained a sprained ankle when she tried to get away.
Kate managed to escape and lock herself in an upstairs closet with the 3-year-old girl. She called 9-1-1. The homeowner got home before the police arrived. Kate’s mother was contacted.
“My mom later told me it was a terrifying experience for her,” Kate said. “She pulled up and people were standing around outside the house with their heads down. There were cops everywhere. She went inside, walked up the stairs and no one would look at her. She had no idea what kind of condition I was in. She was in shock, too.”
At the hospital, Dottie Stafford introduced herself as an advocate from Crisis Line & Safe House.
“She was fantastic,” Kate said. “I found out later she had not been on the job long. She brought clothes for me to wear and toiletries. If a woman is attacked, she should never wash. It’s the first thing you want to do, but the last thing you should do. Dottie was very protective of me and how I was treated. She was there for my family, too. She was wonderful about consoling them.”
Stafford was not a one-and-done responder. She called Kate the next day. And the next. And the next.
“It has been ongoing,” Kate said. “If I needed her now, I could call her.”
In news coverage, the court proceedings became known as the “nanny trial.” The man charged, Rudolph Valentino Smith, had previously been convicted of six felonies, ranging from robbery to voluntary manslaughter.
The first trial in February 2010 ended in a mistrial after a hung jury. At a new trial in May 2011, Smith was convicted of rape, kidnapping, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy and burglary. He was sentenced to four life sentences, plus 20 years.
Kate called the dual trials “gut wrenching.” She cried on the witness stand.
“It was like being re-victimized over and over again,” she said. “Every little thing you say is scrutinized. You have to defend yourself all over again.”
The physical scars have healed. The emotional scars have taken time. She has suffered anxiety, paranoia and flashbacks -- all signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. At times, she has felt uneasy in crowds, around groups of men she did not know or when she sees someone who closely resembles her attacker.
She has undergone therapy. She has taken classes in self-defense.
The steps have been small, but she is getting there.
“I am grateful to have had such a supportive family and friends, on top of having Crisis Line to help me,” she said. “They are the reason I can have a conversation about it. If you are ever in that situation, it doesn’t change who you are as a person. It doesn’t make you broken or damaged. Yes, it happened to you. But it’s not who you are.”
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