One victim's story: 'He told me if I reported it he would kill me'

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Editor's note: The story that follows is real; the name of the victim has been changed to protect her identity. This, and the accompanying story about false accusations, are the last in an ongoing series about sex crimes in Bourbon and Vernon counties.

"He told me if I reported it he would kill me. He pulled a knife on me and did a little bit of cutting. At that time I believed him. I had every reason to believe him," said Samantha Morrey in a recent interview with the Nevada Daily Mail. Morrey is one unfortunate victim out of millions to be sexually attacked in Missouri.

Morreys' assault came just over 30 years ago and followed a very common scenario. Her attacker was a man she knew and had a previous relationship with. Though medical and police procedures have advanced greatly since this time, the trauma brought on by these crimes remains universal.

"Medically, I think we've made bigger advances than we have criminally. I still think the same emotional issues are there that I dealt with," she said.

Common to many sexual crimes the person responsible for Morrey's attack was not prosecuted or punished for this crime. Morrey explained that the prevailing social attitudes of that time and the mentality of those involved kept her from pursuing the prosecution of her attacker.

Morrey said, "My friend called the police department and they told me that I needed to come in and meet with a certain detective. But, I needed to go to the hospital first and have an exam. I had just a horrible experience at the hospital. Of course when you walk in as a rape victim there's no outward physical signs, there's nothing there physically to make you look like anything's wrong at all. He used the tip of the knife blade and scratched me under my clothing, so it wasn't even something that was apparent to the people what I was there for."

Embarrassed by continual questioning about her injuries in a busy and crowded emergency room, Morrey was moved to a surgery room. She said the inexperience of hospital personnel made the situation worse. "Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to handle a rape victim."

After being subjected to what she called a humiliating and horrifying experience at the hospital, Morrey became more upset after meeting with the investigator looking into her attack.

"I think the most devastating thing though for me was not being believed," she said. "I had a bad experience with the hospital when I went to the hospital for my exam, I had a bad experience then when I went to meet with the detective the next day. Basically the detective at that time asked me to take a polygraph test."

Morrey admitted that the time period was a large part of her difficulties filing charges against her assailant. She said, "I think it was the time period, you know we're talking 30 years ago. We're talking a time period before it became a big issue that you don't have to let things like this happen to you, that you do have the right to say no and have the right to be respected in the fashion that you do that."

After these events unfolded Morrey stated that she could no longer keep her emotions together enough to prosecute her attacker. "It was just too much, it was more than I could emotionally deal with and I finally told him to forget it. I couldn't go through what the detective was putting me through let alone what a courtroom defense attorney would do to me. And that's what he said, 'If you can't handle this, what are you going to do when defense attorney gets to work on you?'"

After losing an uphill battle with law enforcement and medical personnel, Morrey turned to her family, who she believes was very supportive. However, according to Morrey, an unusual problem arose from the extent of her family's concern.

"At that time I had a father who was very compassionate and I had two younger brothers who were very defensive of their big "sissy." I called my parents at the time and when I left Springfield I went back to my parents home and stayed with them for a while, until I came here. They were very supportive but my father met me out in the driveway and wouldn't let me out of the car until I swore to him that I would never tell my brother this man's name. Because, my brother would have killed him and there's no question in my mind whatsoever. He was absolutely devastated, he was livid that something like this had happened to me," said Morrey. "Later, after I got settled in we had a family meeting basically we sat down as a family to discuss it and my daddy looked at me, my gentle soul daddy, looked at me and said 'Sis, don't you know somebody who could take care of him' and it was gut wrenching for me to think that my dad had that evil bone in him. But, that's just symbolic of how it didn't just affect me -- it affected my entire family."

Several years after her assault, Morrey was able to begin her healing process in an unusual twist of fate. "I had an opportunity a couple of years after that to be appointed to the governor's task force on rape prevention, and as a result of that, was involved with a training team with a detective from the police department. And, one of the people I trained was the detective that had interviewed me with the Springfield police department. It was an opportunity to come full circle. I recognized him but he didn't recognize me until I shared my experience with them and he made a point of seeking me out to talk with me later. It was a very therapeutic situation for me, being able to serve as a victim advocate for other people was very therapeutic for me. Seeing the judicial system treat women with respect as they go through the process is very cathartic."

Not only did her attacks affect Morrey's family, emotions and personal life, they also caused her to feel unsafe in her community. "I left the community where I was living because of the attack. I just had to remove myself from the entire situation," said Morrey. "I left everything, I left my job. I just had to leave, I didn't feel safe."

Jeani Longstreth, Chief Juvenile Officer of the 28th district court said many aspects of Morrey's experience are common; guilt, for example, is commonly felt by sexual assault victims.

She said many victims feel as though something they have done, provoked or forced the situation upon them. Morrey agreed and said she did feel somewhat guilty for the incident after it occurred, because of her previous relationship with her attacker. However, she said the guilty feelings did not set in until after the crime was over. "The only feeling I had the night that it occurred was fear, I was terrified and the guilt only came later. I'm not going to tell you the fear is gone, because it's still there. I don't sit with my back to anybody, I want to know what's happening behind my back at all times. He had his arms around me and I kept hearing a clicking noise and I thought it was a cigarette lighter. I thought he was burning my hair," she said.

Longstreth sympathized with Morrey's situation and stated how fortunate people within this community are to have certain recourses available to them. "We have places like the Children's Center that does a child friendly physical exam, as well as a child friendly interview, forensic interview. The person who is interviewing the child knows what there doing they've been trained, they know what questions to ask. They know what not to ask. I think law enforcement officers are more trained to be more compassionate when they're doing the interviews. It's easy to be compassionate with somebody who's bleeding in front of you, but it's hard to get past that when there's no obvious evidence there's no blatant physical injury."

Now, more than 30 years after her attack and new beginning within Vernon County, Morrey says she still feels some fears but gains more comfort regarding crime committed against her every day. She said, "I think my closure comes everyday. Today will be another healing experience for me -- you know, when I can talk about it."