Wendy's Story

“I wanted women to see me and know they could be strong and face their nightmares—and also go on to build a happy life.”

It was typical night out for Wendy, who was taking a break from her college classes and spending time with friends and classmates. She and a friend eventually got into the car to leave. They hadn’t driven very far when a stranger, who had been hiding in the back, threatened Wendy at knifepoint. He made her drive to a secluded area and raped her.

Sexual assault survivor Wendy portrait. She shares her experience with the rape kit backlog.

Shaken from the night’s events, Wendy immediately reported the assault to the police and received a sexual assault forensic exam, a process through which DNA and other evidence can be collected and stored in a rape kit. That was in 1992.

Wendy’s rape kit became part of the rape kit backlog, a term that refers to the hundreds of thousands of rape kits in the United States that were never sent to a crime lab, or were sent to a lab but never tested. Finally, in 2012, her kit was tested.

“It’s quite a shock to get a phone call after 20 years, clear out of the blue, and hear that my rape kit had found a match,” she said of learning that the DNA testing had identified the perpetrator.

A detective who had worked on Wendy’s case in the 90’s re-opened the case and had the kit tested, hoping to tie up loose ends before retiring from the force. There was a match. The perpetrator was already serving time in prison for the rape of another woman seven years after he assaulted Wendy.

“My kit should have been tested years ago, and they would have had the match much earlier,” said Wendy. “It took 20 years to solve my case. I want women to start calling in and asking questions about their own kits.”

Wendy went through the criminal justice process and delivered a victim impact statement in court against the perpetrator, who eventually plead guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. The courtroom processes were challenging for Wendy, but she doesn’t regret her decision. “My court case was my only way to fight back. It was important to me to tell him that he took something so precious from me—but that I have been determined to never let his actions define me.”

Attending a criminal trial can be challenging for victims of sexual assault, but there are concrete steps you can take to feel more grounded and prepared. Some steps are as simple as packing a water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day, while others involve learning more about courtroom logistics and the order in which events may take place.

Today, Wendy is adamant about sharing her story and speaking up about the realities that survivors face in pursuing justice. “I joined RAINN's Speakers Bureau right after my court case was settled because I knew there were many [victims] just like myself, and I was shocked to find out about all the untested rape kits,” she said. “It is a scary but also empowering thing to put yourself out there for so many to see and read. I always say if it helps just one person, then the scary, nervous part was worth it!”

Recently, Wendy teamed up with RAINN, Change.org, and MTV as part of MTV’s Elect This campaign to encourage support for the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016. This legislation will improve the way we use DNA evidence to achieve justice in sexual violence cases. Join RAINN and Wendy in signing the petition.

Learn more about RAINN’s partnership with MTV.

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