Sunday morning. Early. Not too hot yet.
Connie Ericsson ignored the few other joggers on the path as she worked up to speed. Five miles. Not much of a workout for the 29-year-old fitness freak who ran more than 50 miles a week.
CC Revival shifted into the second verse of Proud Mary on her Walkman as she started the third mile and came over a slight rise. She never saw the shadowy figure who came out of the bushes and slammed her to the ground.
Ericsson gasped for air as she was dragged behind the bushes. She tried to cry out, but the arm around her throat choked off all sound. She tried to kick at her attacker but another smash into her solar plexus forced the remaining air out of her lungs and her body went limp.
Her attacker pinned her to the ground with his legs and ripped her t-shirt and bra off and then jammed his hand down the front of her shorts. She didn’t have the breath to scream when he yanked the shorts down and pulled out a patch of her pubic hair with them.
She tried to bite the hand that covered her mouth, but the slap that followed left her dazed. By the time he pried her legs apart, she had neither the breath nor strength to resist. Finally, mercifully, she lost consciousness.
Sometime later, Ericsson remembers a form bending over her and her naked and bruised body being covered by something, a jacket or coat. She heard the sound of a siren before going under again.
Connie Ericsson remembers every detail of that Sunday morning, along with the humiliation that followed: the examination, the “rape kit,” the endless questioning, the boyfriend that left her because she was now damaged goods and the rapist who was never caught.
She wasn’t the first person raped in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. She wasn’t the last. Many other rapes have occurred there since Connie Ericsson was attacked – 22 years ago this month. Many others will occur in the future.
And it’s another Sunday morning as Connie Ericsson walks into the hospital emergency room to counsel another woman who was attacked by a stranger who will probably never be caught.
connieeyes.jpg (3560 bytes)The first thing you notice about Ericsson are her eyes – dark, smoldering, intense eyes that seem to burn a hole into anything they focus on. These are eyes that have seen too much, suffered too long, and that long ago lost patience with a society that wreaks violence on women.
She walks into the emergency room just as a D.C. detective starts questioning a young rape victim. She knows the cop. She doesn’t like him.
She looks at the woman. Her face is bruised, eyes almost swollen shut. She tries to speak through puffy lips. She looks at the cop and jerks her head towards the door. He shuts his notebook and follows. When they get outside, she turns the piercing eyes on high.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Bullshit! We had you taken off rape cases.”
“No one else available.”
“Crap. Get outta here. You’re not talking to this woman.”
“Listen Connie, you don’t have the right.”
“The hell I don’t. Get outta here before I cut your goddamned balls off.”
The cop backs away. Ericsson whips out a cell phone and punches a speed dial number. It’s the cop’s precinct.
“Let me talk to whatever asshole is in charge there today.”
She waits. Whoever gets the call gets an earfull.
“This is Connie Ericsson. You know who I am? Good. Listen, I don’t know what brain damaged moron is making assignments, but you get a rapecase qualified cop down here right now and get this asshole out before he needs a hospital bed. Don’t give me that load of crap! Do you want me to roust your boss out of bed?”
She hands the cell phone to the cop. He starts to argue, then says nothing. He hands the phone back to Ericsson.
“You win this time bitch, but there will be others.” He leaves.
Ericsson turns her attention to the medical staff, barking orders about what to do with the woman’s clothes, who can and can’t see her and what will and will not be done to her. No one argues.
A short time later, a female cop arrives. Ericsson talks to her and then goes into the hospital room and sits through the interview. Afterwards, she talks to the victim and then just sits by the bed, holding her hand, leaving only when the woman falls asleep. More than 12 hours have passed. It is now night.
Afterwards, Ericsson sits in a nearby diner and drinks coffee, talking about a system that she says doesn’t know the difference between a victim and a criminal.
“If someone like me doesn’t step in, the cops will make the woman feel like shit and have her convinced the whole thing was her fault. Most of these creeps don’t have any training in dealing with victims. They’re crude, accusing and insensitive. So I give them a taste of their own medicine.”
She talks bluntly about her rape.
“This son-of-a-bitch wrapped his fingers up in my pubes and pulled them out by the roots. He loosened five of my teeth with his slaps. He rammed into me when I was so dry that I was ripped and bleeding. Then he pulled out and sprayed his come all over my stomach.”
“Then, at the hospital, a cop looked me in the eye and said: ‘Do you think you dressed in any way or acted in any way to invite this?’ Then the bastard wanted to know if I had ever fantasized about being raped. Yeah, liked I dreamed about getting my teeth knocked out and my vagina ripped to shreds. In this city you get raped twice – once by the rapist and then by the shitheads we call cops.”
After the rape, Ericsson sought treatment for depression. She drank too much and worked up to an addiction to antidepressants. Finally, she tossed out the pills and the booze and decided to work the system.
“Connie knows what the system can do to a woman because she was been raped as much by the system as by her attacker,” says Lonnie Blankenship, a psychiatrist who works with rape victims. “She’s intense and passionate, but that intensity and passion are what makes her good as her work.”
Cops who face Ericsson’s wrath call her a pain in the ass who gets in the way of the investigation.
“When she gets involved, our access to the victim is often cut off right when we can get the most information from her,” says one cop who says using his name would get him in trouble with the brass. “There are times when our questions may seem insensitive, but we have to ask hard questions to get hard information.”
“What an incredible crock of bullshit,” says Ericsson. “You don’t get necessary information by making a rape victim feel like a whore.”
Ericsson finishes her coffee and gets ready to leave. It’s late and she still jogs every morning.
Only now, she jogs with a straight razor in one hand and a can of pepper spray in the other.
“The next bastard who tried to attack me will scream, but that scream will be in soprano,” she says.
She laughs when she says that.
For a second or two, the dark eyes lighten and almost twinkle.
Then they go black.