‘Take Back the Night' is healing for rape victims
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.
‘Its like live therapy," 30-year old Angelique Perrin said of Wednesday evening's rally held at the University of Florida.
The Alachua County Victims Advocate and Rape Counseling Center collaborated with various UF student groups to host "Take Back the Night," an annual event where survivors of sexual assault and their supporters take to a podium and share their stories of trauma.
"There's something incredibly healing in hearing your experience come from you and speaking it," said Ashley Cortez, a victim advocate counselor from the center.
Cortez is familiar with Perrin, who became involved with the rape counseling center almost immediately after being sexually assaulted. Law enforcement called the center from the hospital the same day Perrin fled her violent rapist, who she believes would have killed her had she not escaped.
ANGELIQUE PERRIN'S STORY
"I remember being so afraid that when I got out of those woods, his car would be the first one I would see," Perrin said of her harrowing experience on July 11, 2011.
"I had lived here exactly one year, one month and one day, and I went to the Copper Monkey (a Gainesville restaurant and bar) and had too much to drink," she recalled. "I was walking to the bus stop, and he approached me and asked me if I wanted a ride, and like an idiot I said yes … And he raped me and beat me, and I got away and crawled through the woods, and someone found me in the road."
A stranger covered the naked and bloodied Perrin, a small-framed woman about 5-foot-1 and weighing slightly more than 100 pounds. But what she lacks in physical size, she makes up for in tenacity.
"Please don't refer to me as a victim," she insisted. "If you guys say rape anything, please say rape survivor. I don't refer to myself as a victim."
As a rape survivor, Perrin has insisted she never wanted the identity protection normally provided by media outlets to rape victims.
Shortly after her release from the hospital, with her bruising still visible, Perrin said she appeared on a televised news program to describe her attacker.
"There was something inside of me that knew that this guy had done this before and was going to do this again, and it's really kind of scary to me that I was right."
Perrin was surprised by the backlash she received through social media, where many commenters blamed her for taking the ride with a stranger and being drunk.
"I think it's disgusting, and it infuriates me that it's easier for people to engage in victim blaming than to acknowledge that there are people walking around like Michael Frye," she said as her eyes filled with water.
"I do blame myself for taking the ride, but everything after that was all him," she said. "I can't tell you how normal this guy seemed. Just like a fat, cheerful type. Almost like a fatherly figure."
In fact, the man police now believe raped Perrin and at least two other women was married at the time and is a father of three daughters.
Authorities suspect Perrin was raped by Michael Alan Frye, who was sentenced last year to seven life terms after being convicted of two subsequent rapes in Marion County.
Cortez says the backlash Perrin received is common and adds to the trauma of being raped. The center helped connect Perrin to Sarah Atkinson, a licensed mental health counselor.
"It's been an amazing ride," Atkinson said. "She came in a really bad place and she wasn't taking very good care of herself. I am so proud of her today. She's truly the person that goes from being victim to survivor to thriver."
The center also teaches area medical personnel and first responders on how to speak to victims.
"If you suggest, well, you should have pushed them off, that's going to be stuck in their mind and that's not going to change," Cortez said in a phone interview with The Sun. "Drinking too much is not a rapeable offense. Cheating on your boyfriend is not a rapeable offense. Being on drugs is not a rapeable offense. Nothing is a rapeable offense."
Although Frye is already likely to spend the rest of his life in prison, Perrin is relentless in her hope for getting her day in court. She said she has a meeting with Assistant State Attorney Sean Brewer scheduled for later this month.
Not only does the Victims Advocate Center help survivors through various forms of counseling services, the center also has a place for survivors who are ready to serve in return.
Jay Herron, 61, sits on the advisory council for the Survivors Art committee, which provides a way for rape victims to express themselves through painting and drawing.
Herron dealt with his trauma alone for more than 30 years and says he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military sexual trauma. He has difficulty being in large groups and so he opted out of Wednesday night's rally.
At 18 years old, a tall and lanky Herron was different from the rest of his military family, he says. In an effort to find his place, he signed up to join the Navy and asked to be stationed with his older brother, Frank Herron, who already was serving.
The brothers' relationship was a contentious one, said Bernice Tripony, the former wife of Frank Herron. She recalled her ex-husband declaring to her that he "was not going to let Jay ruin my career."
Within months of joining, the younger Herron found himself being interrogated by senior military personnel based on an anonymous tip that he'd been involved in drugs and possibly worse.
While no charges ever were filed against Herron, he was thrown into "the brig," a naval jail, for two months. The abuse started almost immediately, he said.
"I was given a mattress and bedding and shoved through a metal gate, and there (were) about 80 men," Herron described in a broken voice. He found an isolated bunk, thinking that maybe guards and everyone else would realize he didn't belong there. He says it was the worst thing he could have done.
A group of men threatened him and then sexually assaulted him after the lights were out for the night when he tried to sneak to the bathroom, Herron said.
The next morning he had an interview with a naval officer.
"He was sitting there looking at me, and he said what happened to you?" Herron remembers like it was yesterday. "I told him what had happened, and he laughed. Told me to get used to it because where I was going, it was going to be a way of life." For the next two months, without ever seeing a lawyer, Herron said he remained in that jail and was victimized.
There are no records of the interview that Herron had with that naval officer, but Herron insists he does not blame the Navy.
"It's not as much anything against the military," he clarified. "The truth is we live in an age where a lot of men, whether in the military or not, experience sexual trauma and it affects a person seriously."
Matthew Hill, a veterans benefits attorney who helped Herron secure 100 percent disability benefits in 2010 on the basis of post traumatic stress disorder caused by military sexual trauma, said male rape is severely under-reported, not just because of the stigma associated with it, but because the process of seeking justice can be equally as traumatic.
"His (Herron's) case is one that will never leave me as far as what he went through," Hill said.
Upon his release from detention, Herron was discharged from the military. While the discharge was technically honorable, Herron had served only a few months and also had a code on his record saying he was unfit for service.
It wasn't until 2005 that Herron ever sought veterans' benefits, despite extreme financial hardship. It was an uphill battle, and the first doctor to see Herron said he scored so high on the post traumatic stress disorder scale that he was malingering and blamed Herron's symptoms largely on his drug use and alcohol use. Herron was denied benefits and had to appeal twice.
After five years, Herron was declared 100 percent disabled — in other words, impaired from being able to work for a living, so he was awarded military veterans benefits.
Today, in conjunction with the Alachua County Victims Advocate Center, Herron speaks out from time to time about male sexual trauma, but he's most comfortable speaking about it through his blog, where he says he receives a lot of support from men who have also never reported their assaults.