“Michelle” is a television news anchor who was looking forward to her birthday on a bitterly cold winter night. She was coming home from work. Normally, she didn’t park in the garage of her Minot, ND, four-plex. But that night, November 23,1997, it was roughly 20 degrees below zero. So, she parked her car in the garage and got out.
As she left, an unknown figure appeared and pushed her back into the garage. Her keys flew out of her hand. The man attacking her kept demanding to know where her keys were, or he’d cut her “pretty little face” with the knife in his hand.
In the garage, Michelle was raped and sexually assaulted. Eventually, she was able to escape to a neighbor’s, who called 9-1-1. Michelle was taken to the emergency room, and by the next day had told her story to doctors, the police, her boyfriend, her boss, and her parents. She had tremendous support but was emotionally shaken by the experience.
Her mother, Carol, tried to get Michelle into a crisis center but was told she needed a referral. She didn’t know how to navigate the system, who to talk to, or what questions to ask. So, Carol reached out to Michelle’s boss, who was well-connected in town. With his help, they got Michelle in to see a psychiatrist that day. He continued worked with her for more than a year.
The FBI questioned who Michelle knew, who she had ever interacted with, who might have a grievance with her. They believed her rapist had stalked her and that the night of the attack wasn’t the first time he had been near her home. The process made her question her judgment and who her “real” friends were.
Almost a year to the day of Michelle’s attack, another young woman was raped. She was a clerk at a gas station in Minot. She was attacked and cut with a knife. The man also stole money from the store.
Months later, authorities in Idaho pulled over a driver for expired tabs. They felt he was acting suspicious and searched his car. When they did, they found evidence connecting the driver to the attack and robbery at the gas station in Minot.
Eventually, after fighting extradition, the man was brought back to North Dakota to face charges for the rape and robbery at the gas station. He tried to avoid facing charges for Michelle’s rape and demanded his right to a speedy trial. The defense thought perhaps DNA test results would not be back from the state crime lab. However, they were back in time and they were a match.
He pleaded guilty to all of the crimes.
During sentencing, Michelle chose to testify in person. She stated that whenever she went out after the attack, she always wore running shoes. That she always parked by a door, so she could quickly escape if she needed to. She was always second-guessing people’s motives for talking to her, for being her friend, or being around her. The effects of a victimization like this are deep and long-lasting.
Looking back, Michelle firmly believes her road to recovery was smoother than most victims. She worked in television and was a familiar face in the community. People knew who she was and they wanted to help. However, not every victim has those advantages. They don’t always know the questions to ask, who to talk to, or where to go for answers.
The criminal justice system is not easy to navigate for anyone. Not even for people who have help. It is with this in mind that Michelle and her mother, Carol, believe that Marsy’s Law for North Dakota will make a difference for victims.
Notifying victims of their rights through a Marsy’s Card is a significant leg up for people who are unexpectedly thrown into the system in the midst of personal tragedy. No one is prepared to know where to go, what questions to ask, or what rights they can evoke. “It’s like being told to make a cake and you don’t have the ingredients or the recipe. You don’t know what you need,” Carol said. “Where do you begin?”
Victims’ rights are every bit as in need of awareness and protection as the rights of the accused.
For personal safety, for emotional healing, and for information relevant to the case, it is vital that victims understand what rights they can assert and how. Marsy’s Law for North Dakota is the answer.