In 2009, Monika Kørra, a student athlete at SMU, was abducted by three men while leaving a party in Old East Dallas. She was robbed, raped, and dumped in Fair Park. But Monika refused to be a victim; she went public with her story in order to eradicate the silence and shame often associated with rape. Her book, Kill the Silence: A Survivor’s Life Reclaimed, comes out this month. In this excerpt, she writes about what happened immediately after the attack.
Two policemen escorted me down a dimly lit hallway.
A few chairs sat in rows facing a television set that dangled from the ceiling. The screen’s illumination puddled on the worn floor. Even at that hour, several people sat in the waiting room. Their eyes grew wide at the sight of me. I tried to turn my back to them. I smelled something sharp and ammonia-like, and it stirred in me some distant and indistinct memory. I couldn’t identify the source of that new anxiety. I’d always had good doctors back at home and had little fear of needles or anything like that.
A lone woman sat behind a high counter. She looked at me briefly before turning away. She slid a clipboard to me across the counter. A pen slithered along with it, then leaped over the edge, held in midair by its tiny ball chain.
“Fill these out. Make sure you check both sides. Sign here and here.” She slashed an X on each of the pages.
The pen swung back and forth. I clumsily grabbed at it, my muscles still numb from the cold and exhausted by my exertions and sleep deprivation.
One of the officers led me through a set of swinging doors and into a long hallway. A pair of chairs sat side by side. I pulled the coat as tight around me as possible and set the clipboard in my lap. I wondered if something was wrong with my eyes. The printing on the pages was blurred. I realized then that my legs were twitching involuntarily. I watched almost fascinated as my quadriceps rippled like tiny waves.
The patient intake form asked for the usual information. Name. Address. Phone number. I knew the answers, but I felt like I was trying to write them down with the handle of a broom. I could barely sense the feel of the pen against my skin, and I watched as its top spun and staggered while I scrawled my answers in a script that was unfamiliar to my own eyes. Then I reached the question asking the reason for my visit to the ER, and it was as if no language I spoke could help me. Somehow, writing down the word “rape” made everything that I’d fought so hard to that point to survive inescapable, permanent. I don’t know if it would have been any easier to speak that word to someone else than to write it down, or if it was just my frozen clumsiness, but of all the words I had to write, that one came out the least legible.
I stopped looking at the forms to ask what I’d asked of the police.
“Can you please call my friends? I need to see them.”
The officer who’d been with me had been replaced by a man in plainclothes, a detective.
“Not just yet. We’ll get them here. They have some work to do, too.”
I wondered at that; what work would they be doing? And was what I was doing now some kind of work as well? Was that all this was for everyone, some kind of job?
I took a deep breath to compose myself. I did, in fact, have a job to do. I had to get this form filled out. Then, I hoped, I would be taken to some place where I could warm myself and clean myself up. Along with wanting to see my friends again, I was overwhelmed by the desire to brush my teeth. The thought of having that man in my mouth sickened me. I leaned over to rest my elbows on my thighs and tackle the rest of the questions. I looked past the form and saw my feet. They weren’t quite as bone-pale as the rest of me; they had become splotched with red, as if because I had developed some kind of rash and not just because my blood was only now able to leave my core to heat my limbs. As I finished the forms, I could feel the pinprick sensation of my fingers and toes thawing. The familiar sensations reminded me of home.
“Did you notice any distinguishing scars or marks on the man—”
The detective stopped. I thought maybe he recognized my look of frustration.
I didn’t want to answer any questions at that point. I wanted someone to be with me and comfort me.
I was wrong. The detective looked at his notebook and continued, “… the man you called ‘the Boss.’ ”
“They called him the Boss.”
“The Boss, then. Anything striking about him?”
It took me a moment to fully understand what he meant by “striking.” I sat with my elbow on the chair’s armrest and closed my eyes trying to picture the Boss; instead all I could do was feel the frozen tips of my fingers against my temple, how my hand shook and vibrated my skull. “I didn’t really see him. The other two kept telling me not to look at him.”
This pattern continued. I tried to fill out the forms, wondering what I could possibly put in place of a Social Security number. How could I explain in that little blank that I wasn’t from the U.S., didn’t have that number, and had now lost whatever sense of security I might have once possessed?
I needed someone’s assurance that I was safe, that I was going to be okay, that someone understood at least a little bit what I was going through. I’d just finished the paperwork and handed it to an officer when I heard a woman’s voice. “Are you cold?”
I looked up. A woman in a blue nurse’s uniform stood in front of me. Her eyes were kind and framed by blond hair the color of my own. She didn’t smile at me, but her expression revealed her concern.
My lip quivered and I tried to speak, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead I just dropped my eyes to my lap and sat there with my fingers working as if they could form the words my mouth could not.
“How about if I get you a blanket?”
“Please. Yes,” I said, watching as she strode away from me, alternately brightening and dimming as she passed beneath the fluorescent light fixtures. I sat in silence, the hum of the bulbs above me a raspy static.
The woman reappeared. Instead of just handing the blankets to me—she’d brought two—she held them spread open to me. Like a small child stepping out of the bath into her mother’s swaddling arms, I stepped into the blankets and the woman’s embrace. She closed her arms around me, and the two of us stood there entangled in something that we both understood was needed, if we hadn’t said exactly why. I started to cry then, sobbing spasms that tore at my throat, tears of sadness, gratitude, and fear. Her arms stayed wrapped around me, offering me the first real bit of comfort I’d experienced since the man had offered me his coat. Then I experienced a moment of panic.
“This coat,” I said. The woman released me, and I stepped back. “How will I get it back to him?”
Confusion flickered briefly across her face.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” she said. She lifted the edge of the blankets like a bride’s train so that I could sit again. I brought my feet up onto the chair and sat hugging my legs, trying to restore some warmth and feeling.
“It’s not mine. The jacket—”
I managed to speak those words calmly, but then it was as if I were back in that SUV going through it all again. Words and tears came out of me in a torrent. I had no idea if I was making sense. It was as if I were vomiting up the entire experience, trying to purge myself of any of its foul poisons. The nurse sat with me, alternately holding my hand and leaning in to squeeze my shoulders. In the absence of my friends, this woman helped me hold myself together until they could arrive.
The nurse, whose name I forgot almost as soon as she told me, listened until I had calmed myself again. My breathing returned to normal and my crying stopped.
I felt as if I was a package that had arrived damaged, partially torn open, and visual evidence was necessary to be granted a refund of some kind.
“Listen, Monika, you’re going to be all right.” She held my hand and knelt in front of me, nodding, her eyes locked on mine. “I know it. I can see how strong you are. I have other patients that I have to see. But I’ll be back.” I knew it was my mind playing tricks on my body, but as soon as she left, shivers again overtook me.
I felt as if I was a package that had arrived damaged, partially torn open, and visual evidence was necessary to be granted a refund of some kind.
Someone from the hospital, another person in quiet shoes, stepped around the corner, and indicated that we should follow. I shuffled along in my blanket cocoon. The room the person led us to was windowless and cramped. Two men, strangers to me, resumed asking me questions about what the three men had done to me, their voices indifferent, clinical, asking me where and how and how many times. They used textbook words and the tone I’d imagine someone taking inventory at a clothing store might use to come up with a tally. I just wanted the voices to stop, so I answered the questions, though it seemed to me that I’d already told them everything so many times before. A moment later, a doctor stepped into the room.
She introduced herself, but it was just syllables and sounds to me. She began an explanation of what she was going to be doing with me. She pointed to the examination bed and said that I could lie down. I did, wrapping myself up in a blanket, finally feeling some warmth. She’d only just started when a knock at the door stopped her. Another investigator sidestepped into the room. He held a camera out. I shed the blankets and stood as he took photographs of me from various angles, stepping toward and away from me, standing, squatting. The flashes jabbed at my eyes, and I flinched each time.
It seemed as if he paid particular attention to the duct tape that still clung to my neck and hair. I felt as if I was a package that had arrived damaged, partially torn open, and visual evidence was necessary to be granted a refund of some kind.
When he was done, the woman picked up where she had left off. Finally she asked me, “May I begin the examination now?”
I stood on a section of examination table paper and awaited further instructions. After removing my dress, I was asked to place it in a paper bag. I was told that would avoid contamination. I knew what the word meant but didn’t fully grasp how it applied in this case. I hadn’t thought at all about potentially being exposed to disease. I was so out of it, I wasn’t even thinking clearly about it being used as evidence.
Once I was outfitted with a paper gown, the general examination began. The woman’s voice led me through the process, but I wasn’t hearing much or even feeling much at all as she checked each of my limbs. She startled me a bit when her face popped up in front of mine, and I watched her gaze narrow as she stared at my mouth and face. I flinched when she asked me to spread my thighs and shined a light there. She swabbed across my genitals and anus with some liquid that had me back shivering from cold or fear or both.
I tried to picture myself back home, running through the woods, the smell of pine and grass and the feel of sunshine on my face. Every time I was just about there, something invaded—the tug of a comb through my pubic hair, the speculum inserted into me, questions asked about ejaculation, terms like “motility” and “staining.”
When I sensed that she was just about through with me, I finally said what was most on my mind at that point: “I need to take a shower. Please, can I take a shower?” I felt so dirty. My skin crawled with the feeling of the sweat and smells and fluids of these men all over me. It was a deep disgust that I was desperate to rid myself of. They were still on me.
“Not yet,” the examiner said. “There’s still more testing to do. You can take a shower when you get home.”
“Please,” I begged, clasping my hands together. “I feel so sick.”
“It won’t be too long,” she said.
I wasn’t allowed to leave, not allowed to wash off, not allowed to make a phone call, forced to fill out an endless array of paperwork that I didn’t understand, forced to wait around in a cold room for hours so I could be poked and prodded and questioned some more. I couldn’t stop shaking.
When the doctors stepped out and left me alone in the room, I heard several of the policemen in the hallway laughing. At first I was furious, wondering how anyone in that circumstance could find anything funny at all. Logically, I knew that these men were doing their jobs, that they were at work, but still I felt my cheeks and ears burning with anger. I told myself that that response wasn’t going to do me any good. Instead, I had to use that anger to get through this thing. I needed focus and energy, and being upset was something I could use to my advantage. I’d been in shock for hours, if not physically then at least emotionally. I took it as a good sign that something had awakened me from that state.
Eventually, someone from the Physical Evidence Unit came to “collect” the duct tape from my hair. I’m normally not particularly vain, but at that point, with every other humiliation and frustration that I’d suffered, each snip of the scissors and the sound of my hair being placed in a plastic bag nearly made me lose my composure completely. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes while my legs twitched and bounced, wanting to carry me away. I had to remind myself that in the end, this was all going to be worth it. I’d be able to go back to doing what I loved, running and competing, hanging out with my friends, being a part of the team. This was like a workout. Painful but necessary. All part of attaining a larger goal. I had to dig deep. I had to tap into who I was at my core, keep my eyes fixed on those points near and far. That’s how I was raised.
I started running at the age of 15, and I didn’t like it at first. I felt clumsy and awkward. I competed in races over the summer just as a way to train and stay in shape for ski season, but I soon fell in love with running for its own sake. My high school in Norway was a special school for students who hoped to become professional athletes. We studied all the basic academic subjects, but with a sports angle wherever possible, and with plenty of time during the day to train in our respective sports and to learn more about how to train. Because I hoped to make the Olympic team one day, I took my sport very seriously.
I hadn’t really considered going to the U.S. on a scholarship before. After the first phone call with the coaches at SMU, I looked up the school’s website. I regretted not studying my English more diligently, but the photos on the site told me all that I needed to know. I saw a mix of old and new architecture, some buildings that looked like they could have been the capitol, their columns and facades reminding me of the National Theatre or the university in Oslo. What made me absolutely certain I wanted to go were the photos of the athletic facilities there—the amazing track, the enormous weight rooms, trails to run on at White Rock Lake.
Dave Wollman, the head coach of SMU’s track-and-field team, called a few days later to confirm the offer: 100 percent tuition coverage for all four years. I could barely contain my excitement. I have no idea what Dave thought of me on that first phone call; I imagine he was thinking that I might be a good runner, but not the smartest young woman ever to attend the school. I had no way to respond when he told me that he was glad that I was going to be a Mustang, other than to say, “Yes. You also.”
In mid-August, I had a farewell party with my friends, and then, on the last day before I left, I just wanted to be with my family. It had suddenly become real that I was about to fly to another country; I wouldn’t be able to come home on weekends whenever I wanted.
The track coach sent along one of my new teammates to pick us up from the airport. As we drove away, I was amazed by the streams of cars traveling in both directions, the tall buildings, and the absence of ranches and cows. Our driver was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and what seemed like winter boots—fur-lined and clunky. I thought I’d be able to fit in, though I didn’t think that kind of footwear was for me. I couldn’t believe that the campus was more like a city than I’d imagined, and when I saw other students climbing out of what seemed to me to be incredibly expensive cars, I was shocked to see that no one was dropping them off—those were their cars. They were college kids, and they had cars.
When I got to my room, I hung up a Norwegian flag and tried to make the other photos I had of family and friends cover as much of the rest of the space as possible. As more and more students arrived, I saw just how little I had been able to squeeze into that single suitcase. Students had television sets, microwaves, and they decorated their rooms to look like smaller versions of what their homes must have been like. Mine looked like what it was: a small and modest place where a young woman was staying temporarily until she figured out if she fit in and if the reality matched her expectations.
I couldn’t help but think of the hospital room I was in now in connection with my first dormitory space. They were both relatively drab and confining.
At the conclusion of my exam, the doctor said I could get changed—but I had nothing to change into. My dress had been seized as evidence, and I didn’t even have underwear or shoes to put on.
What am I going to do? Walk out of here in my hospital gown?
I added that to my list of unasked questions.
I couldn’t be sure if I had fallen asleep during my exam, but there was another man in the room. Short and dark-skinned, he spoke with an accent that I couldn’t identify. He flipped through a series of papers and looked at me, his eyes seemingly sliced in half by a pair of frameless lenses. I had the sense that he was picking up mid-sentence when he said, “… liver function normal.”
He took a pad out of the pocket of his lab coat. “Levonorgestrel. Point-seven-five milligrams twice 12 hours apart. Wait no more than three days.” He went on, but the only words that I paid real attention to were “emergency” and “contraceptive.” He paused and cocked his head to one side. At that angle, the ceiling lights reflected off his glasses, the glare hiding his eyes.
“You understand?” He followed that up with something that sounded like “Marnafta.”
My heart skipped a beat when he said something about a failure rate. Before I could ask him to repeat himself, he was scribbling another note, and I very clearly heard him say the letters “HIV.” I vaguely recalled filling out a consent form. It seemed that the good news was that their initial test showed that I was HIV negative, but that I’d still need to take an antiviral medication for quite a while and be periodically retested. I couldn’t remember if he’d said that the chances of contracting the disease were 10 to 15 percent or that I’d need to take the drugs for 10 to 15 weeks. The doctor asked me if I had any questions, and I just shook my head. He handed me the second slip of paper and left.
I lay there on the bed, my mind racing, with images of that night flashing through it. I kept seeing the gun and that other woman’s shoe. The sound and the smell of the duct tape, the horrifying thought that they were going to tape my nose and mouth shut so that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. I had never thought before about how I might die. I’d never had any close calls that I knew of, except for those times when a car crosses the yellow line and then gets back in place a moment before you nearly collide. I’d heard a professor say once that in the strictest sense there was no such thing as an accident, that even if you hadn’t intended to be in an intersection when another car came through a signal and hit you, you’d made all kinds of choices that day that put you in that place at that exactly wrong instant. Maybe you left something in the house before you got in your car and that delay put you there. Maybe if you’d brushed your teeth for just two seconds longer and delayed your departure, that car might have gone through without hitting you. Maybe if you’d stayed at a party longer, had decided to leave sooner, hadn’t gone at all …
I didn’t like thinking that way, about whether choices I’d made had led me to that moment when the men grabbed me. I had to focus on something else besides my desire to go home. Every time someone came in, one of the policemen, or someone from the hospital staff, the good nurse who checked on me a few more times—they all said the same thing. I was so sick of being told “not yet” that I never wanted to hear those words again in my life.
The clock, a large round-faced one like the ones in some of the classrooms at SMU, seemed frozen. Occasionally the hands would thaw and twitch ahead a few minutes. At 7 am I heard loud footsteps in the hall. Those weren’t the soft-soled sounds of anyone from the hospital. Those had to be high heels, and only someone who’d been out late the night before would still be wearing them. Just as I was reaching for the handle, the door opened and Kristine, Viktoria, and George all rushed in. I only got a quick glimpse of Kristine’s face before she smothered me in a hug. She looked like hell, pale and drawn, her eyeliner and mascara smeared.
Kristine squeezed me tighter and her sobs shook me. My face was pressed against her wool coat and I could feel my own hot breath steaming against my face. I began to feel faint, but I didn’t care.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry!” Kristine and I both said to each other. I knew that she was in agony after having the gun pointed at her and having to let go of me. I wished that I could take that pain from her.
While my friends were all there, the kindhearted nurse who had originally spotted me in the hall poked her head into the room. She was holding a folded stack of clothes on which sat a pair of shoes.
“These are extras I keep in my locker,” she said. She must have realized that I didn’t have any clothes to wear home.
Then she handed me a garbage bag.
“When you’re home, you can change into your own clothes, and then just throw these away. You shouldn’t keep anything around that reminds you of this night.”
I went to the restroom next door to get dressed. I pumped handfuls of soap from the dispenser, washing my face and then gargling with pure water over and over again. When I was done, I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
“Hold on a minute,” a different nurse said. “Come with me.”
Back inside the room, she handed me a bag full of medicine and explained what I was to take, when, and for how long. And she told me about what side effects to expect. I could barely pay attention to a word she was saying. Headaches. Nausea. Sleeplessness. Dizziness. Unexpected bleeding. All I wanted to do was go home, and I finally said so.
I was partly out the door when she stopped me.
“Wait! You have to go to the pharmacy to get your medicine!”
I was holding the big bag she had just given me. She had to be joking.
“We don’t have it all here. You have to bring this prescription, and they’ll have the rest for you.”
We all went to the hospital’s pharmacy, following the green line on the floor in a maze of turns. Though I probably shouldn’t have been, I was surprised when the person behind the desk handed me a mound of paperwork to fill out. It was so overwhelming that the tears began stinging in my throat.
“How are you going to pay for this today?” the woman behind the counter asked. “Cash or credit?”
“Can’t you send me a bill?”
“No,” she said. “You have to pay now in order to get your medication now.”
I suppose I could have told her that, just a few hours earlier, I’d been kidnapped at gunpoint, gang-raped, and had everything stolen from me, including most of my clothing, but I just said, “I don’t have any money to pay right now. Everything is at home.”
The two of us stood there staring at each other.
“I’ve got this.” George stepped next to me, reaching into his back pocket as he did so. I looked up at him, and he was already handing a credit card to the woman.
I felt George’s hand take mine. “Let’s go home now, Monika.”
Adapted from Kill the Silence: A Survivor’s Life Reclaimed, Copyright © 2015 by Monika Kørra. To be published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on August 25.