Natasha Alexenko tells her story as a sexual assault survivor and advocate. Building from her presentation at the National Sexual Assault Policy Symposium in September 2016, she also speaks about the need for a multidisciplinary approach to improve sexual assault response and highlights NIJ’s role in supporting these efforts.
My name is Natasha Alexenko. I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I also founded my own organization, Natasha's Justice Project, which is dedicated to empowering survivors of sexual assault around the country by making sure we get their kits tested. As a college student in 1993, I was raped, robbed, and sodomized at gunpoint by an unknown assailant, and it was life altering. I don't know what else to say, I mean I can, you know — they never found the man that raped me, it had been 9 years and I had just assumed that we exhausted all leads, and I did a lot of self-blame. I said, "Maybe I didn't describe him correctly. Maybe I didn't work with law enforcement well enough. Maybe they didn't believe me."
And, it turns out, that my rape kit just hadn't been tested. Nine and a half years it — it sat on a shelf collecting dust in New York City, along with 17,000 other rape kits. You know, that number's really daunting when you think that each rape kit represents a human being whose body was a crime scene. Each rape kit is a person who went through a horrible crime, and of course, just like me, their family and friends were also affected by the crime. And of course, each rape kit is — contains a perpetrator who is likely going around and committing additional crimes.
So, in 2003, what we did was a John Doe indictment. So we were nearing the statute of limitations, so, in order to stop the clock on the statute of limitations, I testified before the grand jury and we did something called a John Doe indictment, and it really just stopped the clock on the statute so that we'd eventually — when we did find him — he would still be able to be charged for the crime. So — and then I just kind of went home and went back on with my life. We didn't find a "hit," and maybe my expectations weren't necessarily that we were going to. I just felt really happy that they still cared after 9-1/2 years. They were like, "We're going to do our best and see what we can do."
And then there was a day I will never forget — and that is finding a plain-clothed detective waiting for me at my house, who very sheepishly walked up to me and said, "You know that really bad thing that happened to you in 1993?" and I was like, "Yep." — like there was no pausing — and he said, "Well, uh, you gotta call the D.A. in Manhattan, she has some news for you." And so, we had indeed found the man that raped me at gunpoint, and I think the most empowering moment was finding out his name, and it's Victor Rondon, and I faced him in court, and it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was also the most empowering thing I ever got to do. I fainted when I saw him in court, it was that intense, it was that response, my body was just responding to seeing him there, and it just froze, for lack of a better word. And, you know, he's presently serving time behind bars till 2057.
You know, everybody that was a part of the team that put Victor Rondon in jail team, the prosecutors, the detectives, the sexual assault nurse examiners, everybody — the jury in that trial — it just became such an important thing. And as a — aside from being a survivor — but as an American citizen, to see the system of justice work in that manner and to see kind of how all of the pieces connect with each other, it was just a really great feeling. And I just said, you know, "What can I do to make sure other women out there, and men out there, get the justice that I did? I don't want to be an anomaly. I don't want to be the only one." And the prosecutor in the Manhattan D. A.'s office said to me, she said, "Well, if you could come forward as a sexual assault survivor, if you could share your story with others, that would be really helpful, because, unfortunately, the crime is so under-reported, and the more light we shed, the more, you know, we can take the stigma away and maybe make some change." So I went back and thought about it for about five minutes and I said "I'll do it."
And, you know, it was one of the best decisions I've made on a personal level from a healing perspective, and I'm just so very grateful to be in this space, to be at a conference with these amazing people who are now my colleagues. I am just humbled and honored and grateful.
It's so wonderful to see that we now, at symposiums such as this one, you have so many different disciplines here. So we have, of course, myself as a survivor of sexual assault. We've got the NIJ working on board, we've got the DOJ here, we've got the OVW — all the acronyms are here — and we have, you know, law enforcement, we have prosecutors, advocates, I spoke with some sexual assault nurse examiners. I mean, this is a community. The whole community is here to talk about this. And the only way that we're going to solve the problem of untested rape kits is if every part of that chain is involved. And they are, they're here.
That's the way it has to work —it's as a team. Law enforcement has to work with the sexual assault nurse examiners, the advocates, the victim, the prosecutor's office. This team needs to be rich and diverse and come from different backgrounds, and just be able to communicate openly and honestly with each other. That's how it works. Any time you see these massive amounts of backlogged rape kits, you go and find out that these are teams that are disjointed, they're not coming together like you see here.
So again, I feel like if we could just replicate the people at this conference and just toss them everywhere around the country — you know, problem solved. We'd probably solve a lot of problems with this group.