Molly’s Story: Fighting to be heard after a sexual assault

Molly is not her real name. For her own protection, she asked that I change it. She also asked if we could alter the details surrounding her attack, but she didn’t really need to. Molly’s story could be that of just about any woman.

Her attacker wasn’t a stranger; Molly had dated him for a while. It wasn’t until she broke it off that the problems began. 

First, he followed her home a few times; then he began to stalk her. Then came the night he managed to surprise and corner her in a parking lot. He began making crazy accusations – as she tried to reason with him, his anger escalated until he physically attacked her. She fought him off and managed to get away. She was left hurt and shaking.

This was when the second nightmare began. No one believed her. The woman at the police precinct who took her initial report was rude and indifferent. Molly wasn’t covered in blood, her face wasn’t beaten in – her successful self-defense was rewarded with doubt. Without life-threatening evidence, there was nothing the police could do. 

But the harassment and stalking continued. Unexplained vandalism of Molly’s property and car became a recurring event over the next weeks. By this time, she’d spoken with the police several times and filed reports, but she couldn’t catch the guy on camera. The cops began to make jokes: “Wow, someone really doesn’t like you!” There wasn’t enough evidence. They couldn’t help.

As time went on, the harassment became corrosive. Molly couldn’t sleep – she was anxious, depressed and so exhausted that she couldn’t go to work. When she finally forced herself back to her job, her coworkers gave her the silent treatment. Worn down, she gave up and quit her job. Even her own friends avoided her.

Finally, Molly got enough evidence that one cop believed her. She hired a lawyer and began the  expensive and frustrating process of getting a restraining order. It took well over a year; Molly was ridiculed in court by her attacker’s lawyer. Afterwards, the hard-won document proved useless. The vandalism continued; she knew he was still stalking her. If he attacked her again, he could have been gone before the cops ever got there.

Eventually, Molly found her own help: She refused to let the experience define her…but she knew it had changed her. “I died in that moment,” she told Motif about the night she was attacked, “but I wanted to turn the pain into purpose.” She found a program that helped her cope with the PTSD. She slowly rebuilt her life. It was not the same life she’d had before.

“When I tell you that the assault was devastating – it was. But the treatment from the people in the system, my friends and my coworkers … that broke me.” Later on, Molly finally spoke to one of the friends who had abandoned her. She wanted to know why they had reacted as they did. It turned out that they were mostly afraid. They were scared of her, scared of the attacker; they didn’t know how to behave. 

Molly’s story shows the breakdown in how victims are treated. If not for the one friend who believed her, the one cop who believed her and the one person at her job who showed concern, Molly thinks she would have lost her mind.

But what about the system that is supposed to be in place for victims of violent and sexual assaults – counseling, self-defense classes, support groups?

The therapist that Molly went to didn’t know how to help her. The resources that were supposed to be available did not support her. Molly tried over and over to reach an adviser at one of few agencies in RI which claim to be organized specifically to deal with issues of sexual assault, but no one ever returned her calls or answered her emails.

Today, Molly has found hope of a different kind. “Trying to fix the system – the police, the agencies – these are epic in proportion. There’s nothing we can do about it. But we can treat each other better as human beings.” Molly has been able to help other women because she went through what they experienced. “But you shouldn’t have to be raped or beaten in order to understand,” she said. “This is something we should all be talking about before things happen. We need to be teaching men that this shit is not okay.”

According the the World Health Organization, one in three women are subjected to physical or sexual violence over the course of their lives and intimate partners / family members, are by far the greatest perpetrators – only 6% of women report being assaulted by a stranger.

Violence in all its forms has an impact on a victim’s health and well-being long after the violence has ended. It carries an increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, and other serious health problems, and comes with a tremendous cost to society. It impacts all of us. It is time that we all learned how to become part of the solution.