Alexandria Clarke stood in the middle of a Chicago park on a chilly Sunday and tried to sort out her thoughts before the news conference began.
But Clarke couldn't decide what to say. So she tightly grabbed her mother's and best friend's hands before walking toward a horde of reporters and camera crews, all there to ask about her daytime rape just one month earlier.
"I guess I don't care if people know," the soft-spoken 22-year-old said of her decision to come forward publicly. "I'm not ashamed. A crime is a crime."
Sexual assault victims tell their stories in all kinds of ways — to police, relatives or counselors — but it's rare that they do so in the media, advocates said.
Often, the survivors are dealing with shame and guilt. They fear society will blame them in some way, asking what they did wrong or why they were alone, the advocates added.
"I think when they do (come forward publicly), it's often motivated by their hope to prevent it from happening to someone else," said Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates.
For Clarke, the decision helped her advocate for awareness and continue her quest to find her assailant. She spoke in Schreiber Park to the media before the start of a rape-awareness class organized by her family in the city's Rogers Park neighborhood, about a block from where the assault took place.
At the event, she and her family also announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the man's arrest.
On May 2, Clarke was sitting at a CTA bus shelter at North Clark Street and West Devon Avenue about 2 p.m. when a man took the seat next to her, authorities said. Suddenly, he grabbed her throat and told her to take a walk with him, she said.
He threatened to kill her if she didn't follow his orders, Clarke said. As they walked, the man put his arm around her and gave her directions to a nearby alley, where the attack took place on the steps of a building, she said. The attack occurred about a block from the Rogers Park police district station at 6464 N. Clark.
"Half of my brain kind of wanted to remember as much as I could, as many details as I could," said Clarke, a Loyola University graduate who is applying to medical school this summer. "The other half is like, just block it out and let it go."
Clarke said she was in such shock when the attack happened, she didn't think to yell.
Authorities said they continue to investigate the incident, but Clarke's family expressed frustration with police and the little movement in the case.
A few days after the attack, Clarke's mother spoke to the media, but Clarke stayed away, saying she didn't want to deal with it.
But after a few weeks, her mother encouraged her to speak out as a way to raise community awareness, Clarke said.
"What do you do in the meantime?" said her mother, Renee Touchton, 50. "We just want to do anything we can."
At the rape-awareness class, roughly 40 people watched the Guardian Angels, a volunteer security patrol, teach self-defense moves on worn blue mats while advocates for rape victims passed out fliers. Clarke's assailant is described as black, 35 to 40 years old, 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11 and weighing 300 pounds.
Sometimes, speaking publicly is part of the healing process and a way for survivors to take back power, advocates said.
"And even if nothing really comes of this, in terms of catching him, at least she knows that she has a huge support network," said Lyzanne Trevino, a rape crisis counselor with Rape Victim Advocates and the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline.
As she watched the demonstration, Clarke stood toward the back of the crowd, still holding her best friend's hand. But after a few minutes, she moved forward to get a better view. A light smile graced her face when a group of women practiced self-defense, shouting "No!"
Anyone with information is asked to call Area North detectives at 312-744-8261.
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