I am sometimes asked what inspired me to write a survival guide for women. Was I once the victim of a sexual assault? The answer is No, and I count myself lucky. Because when I think back, I put myself in some risky situations. I left home when I was eighteen, a very trusting girl. I really did believe people were basically good. It took a while for me to learn that trust should be earned, not given away. The inspiration for the book was another girl.
I met Jessica when she was sixteen. There was a very pretty girl standing at my door wearing cut-off shorts and a halter-top. She had big brown eyes, a blonde ponytail, high cheekbones, and a captivating smile. However, it wasn’t her beauty that I noticed first. It was Jessica’s energy. When she walked in, the kitchen grew brighter.
For several summers, Jessica babysat my children. She was a delight to have around—eager to please, quick to laugh, and endlessly inventive. On rainy days, she would devise elaborate treasure hunts for my little boys, writing clues on bits of paper she scattered through the house. She was kind, playful and funny. In one of my favorite photos, she wields a plastic sword and shield. “En garde!” My sons loved her. I loved her. If I’d had a daughter, I would have wanted her to be like Jessica.
We said our final good-byes the day before Jessica left for college. She had always dreamed of an acting career, and now she was about to enter a prestigious theater program. Jessica was excited, but also nervous. In one breath, she described feeling she was on the threshold of making her dreams come true, and in the next breath, she was wondering if she had the requisite talent to be a successful actress. “You’ll find out soon enough!” I joked. She laughed. “I’m sure I will!”
Six weeks later, Jessica’s nude body was found lying in a field. According to police, she had been drugged, raped, and savagely beaten. She was near death. The perpetrator was never identified. Because of the brutality of the crime, police believe that it wasn’t his first rape, nor is it likely to have been his last. Roy Hazelwood, a legendary instructor at the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico, Virginia, firmly believes that “when you’re dealing with rapes against strangers, I don’t think there’s a non-serial rapist. Some get caught before they become serial rapists.
Violence was not the end of Jessica’s story. After a couple of months, she was discharged from the hospital. Determined not to let what happened define her, Jessica cut her ties to the past. She left college. She changed her name, then she moved to another state, where nobody knew her. She found a job. After a few years passed, Jessica fell in love; today, she has children of her own. She seems happy. But she never got the opportunity to pursue her dream of being an actress. Whether it would have worked out or not, who knows? The point is that it wasn’t a dream Jessica decided to surrender. It was a dream that was taken away from her.