Debbie Shaw: A Rape Survivor's Story of Hope
Debbie Shaw is an angel and a friend of mine.
Debbie was brutally raped in 1986 and became suicidal afterwards.
She endured violent emotions and numerous problems as she worked through her healing process; but not only did she heal from her ordeal, she went on to become a victim’s advocate, assisting other survivors of crime, including rape survivors.
Debbie is one of my heroes, and she will soon be one of yours too, after you read her story below.
Debbie describes her experience from beginning to end, including the attack, the severe mood swings, the depression, and the suicidal feelings; and every rape survivor will be able to relate to what Debbie experienced.
Debbie’s story is one of hope. She endured intense emotional pain and wanted to die, but worked through her pain to become the vibrant, intelligent, caring, wonderful person that she is today.
She is an amazing person.
Everyone will find great inspiration and hope in her story.
Founder, Executive Director, Editor-in-Chief
Recovering from Rape: A Celebration of Life
A rape survivor’s true story of pain, suicidal feelings, courage, hope…and healing
by Debbie Shaw and Kevin Caruso
It was a Sunday in June of 1986.
I had just returned home from my mother’s house where I had dropped off my son, Brad. Mom was helping him get ready for a trip to Arkansas to visit my Dad for the summer.
I got home around 9:00 p.m. and decided to call a friend. We talked for about an hour then I prepared for bed.
I had borrowed a .25 caliber handgun from a friend because I had been hearing noises around my duplex that worried me. That night, I retrieved the gun from the top shelf of my closet, but as I held it in my hand I thought, “Why do I need the gun? I’m all alone here with just my dog Annie. I have nothing to worry about.”
But I was still afraid, so I placed the gun under my mattress.
It was really hot that month, and my noisy air conditioner was constantly running to keep me cool. I made a quick temperature adjustment to the unit, closed my bedroom door to keep the cold air in, then turned out the light and went to sleep.
In the middle of the night I was abruptly awakened by an intruder who put his arm under my pillow and grabbed my mouth and held my jaw firmly in his grip.
I was horrified.
I immediately began to scream and he said, “If you don’t stop screaming, I’ll kill you!”
I couldn’t turn my head to see who he was because he was holding my jaw.
He violently shoved my face into the pillow and brutally raped me.
My mind seemed to shut down; I was in a deep state of shock and felt completely numb.
I could not believe it was happening.
After he raped me, he reached for the other pillow and pushed it hard against the back of my head.
”This is it,” I thought to myself. He's going to suffocate me and I’ll never see my son again.”
Next, I heard him pick up my bedroom phone and yank the cord out of the wall.
I remained in bed motionless for a few moments, still in shock, not knowing if the rapist was still in the house.
I slowly got up and walked toward the bedroom door as I trembled in fear. I stopped and listened for any noise, then I saw that the front door was open, so I quickly closed and locked it.
I picked up the phone in the living room, not knowing if there would be a dial tone or not. Thankfully, there was.
Still shaking, I called my older sister Sheri to tell her what happened, but I was so hysterical that she thought I was playing some type of joke on her. So I took a deep breath and told her I had just been raped.
She screamed at me to hang up so she could call the police.
When the police arrived, they asked me some questions and then informed me that they needed to take me to the hospital for a medical exam. As we drove there, the officers engaged me in light conversation about my work -- I knew they were trying to distract me from what had just happened, if only for a little while.
When we arrived at the hospital, my sister accompanied me to the examination room and we talked about who to call at my work to let them know I wouldn’t be in. The doctor came in and performed the exam, then allowed me to go home.
My sister decided to take me to her house, and by now my co-workers had been informed what had happened to me. Friends began calling me to offer their condolences, and I felt like the condolences were for someone who died.
I thought it was odd that I thought of the rape as a type of “death.” But then I thought that maybe I did die, not physically, but emotionally. I thought I would never be the same.
After the detectives finished asking me questions, a calmness came over me that didn’t feel right. I thought, “How can this be? I just experienced every woman’s worst nightmare and I am sitting here calm. I should be crying or hysterical -- maybe both. But I shouldn’t be calm.”
I returned to work and sought counseling from our employees' care services. I told the counselor that it didn’t feel right being this calm. She asked me if I knew what post traumatic stress disorder was. I said, “Sure, some Vietnam vets have it, but how does that apply to me?” She went on to tell me that the mind releases trauma when it is ready, and not before, so this could be a “calm” before the storm.
She also said that I would soon probably experience a grieving process similar to what people feel when they lose a loved one.
I felt better knowing what was going to happen next, and that my reaction was “normal” for someone who had been traumatized.
When we got back to my sister’s house everyone was walking around like a zombie. I thought that maybe if I wasn’t there they could better cope with what happened, because when they saw me they were constantly reminded of the rape. So I tried to stay with some of my friend’s, but they all gave me an excuse as to why I could not stay with them. I realized that they didn’t want to be around me.
But someone did eventually allow me to stay at a boat that was docked at a nearby lake. I was given the keys to the boat and allowed to stay there when I needed.
I vividly remember going to the boat on the Fourth of July. I sat there alone on the dock and thought about “independence” -- that word kept echoing in my mind.
While everyone was celebrating independence, I realized my independence was taken from me by the rapist an unknown criminal who violated me in the middle of the night.
I sat sobbing and repeatedly asked, “Why did this happen to me?
My life was turned upside down; many of my friends abandoned me; and my family was in great pain.
And although I was feeling great pain, I realized that I was at least beginning to release some of the emotions of the trauma.
But I had a long way to go.
My sense of security had been shattered and my sense of trust was destroyed.
When I got back to work, I began looking at my co-workers as if they were strangers. I looked at them and thought, “Can I trust them enough to let them into my personal space?”
But I clung to my job like it was a life preserver, thinking that it was the one thing that hadn’t changed; and I needed to work to keep my mind off of things.
But the rape continued to cause problems at work. I simply could not concentrate. I was responsible for reimbursing co-workers for work-related mileage traveled, but I could not focus well enough to do the job. A manager who knew what had happened to me had to help me with my work.
I also started to feel somewhat paranoid because I didn’t have bruises that people could see, so I thought my co-workers did not believe that I was actually raped. So I brought the police report to work and showed it to one of my bosses.
I was crying as I held it in front of him, but he said he believed me and it wasn’t necessary for him to read the report.
And my plan to stay busy wasn’t working because my emotions were now out of control; one moment I was happy, the next I was angry, the next I was tearfully apologetic.
I felt like I was driving a car that I could not control, and I was on an isolated, hill-laden, tortuous road; but wasn’t going anywhere, just traveling in circles. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get myself under control.
And the out-of-control emotions hit bottom one night when I was at my sister’s house.
She asked me if I would be okay if she went out for the evening with her husband. I said that I would be fine and that that they deserved a night out.
But after they left I decided to go back to my duplex, just to take a look. I hadn’t been back to my home since the rape.
When I walked into the duplex, my heart raced. I turned on the light and the first thing I saw was the bedroom door with fingerprint dust still on it.
I immediately started to cry and began pushing items off of counters and throwing items at walls.
But suddenly I stopped crying. I felt like I needed to protect myself, so I went to the kitchen to get a large butcher knife.
I opened the front door all the way and sat down on the floor. I was in a daze; I just sat there…staring at nothing.
I could not think straight. I thought that someone was going to try to rape me again.
And I was not going to let that happen.
I had the butcher knife in my hand and was going to fight anyone who tried to rape me.
I would NEVER be raped again.
I continued to sit near the open door with that large knife in my hand, staring outside and waiting for an attacker to arrive.
By this time, my sister had returned home, realized I wasn’t there, and quickly drove to the duplex.
She and my brother-in-law, Jerry, walked up and saw me.
“What are you doing with the knife?” Jerry asked.
I told him I was waiting for the rapist to come back and this time I was going to be ready.
“He’s not coming back,” Jerry whispered quietly. “Now, put the knife down and let’s go home.”
As we walked out, I saw my white phone with fingerprint dust all over it at the bottom of the steps next to the walkway. I picked it up and slammed it to the concrete as hard as I could, then dropped to my knees and began to scream and cry.
I needed several sedatves that night to calm my nerves.
The next day, I finally began to express my feelings of frustration to my sister regarding my depression and out-of-control emotions. And I told her that if I became any more depressed that “it would be over.”
We both were silent. She knew what I meant…I would commit suicide.
In the days that followed, I saw many of my friends, but none of them asked how I was doing. They kept the conversation light and then quickly walked away before I could talk about anything that was on my mind. But I wanted to talk. I needed to talk.
I needed to tell them how this emotional pain inside me was growing and getting deeper; how it was killing me.
And I needed to tell them that I was just “going through the motions” of life. I was no longer really living.
I moved closer to my family, thinking that would make me feel better, but I was still in agony.
The trauma that I endured was so great that to this day I actually cannot remember anything that happened in a 3-4 week time frame after I hit rock bottom.
I do remember the last week in August, however. It was after a long struggle to hold things together. And I was completely exhausted, both mentally and physically.
I began to cry at work and went to see my supervisor to talk. She said, “Go home and get well. Your job will be here when you get back.”
On the way home I really felt terrible, and I realized that I could not cope with the emotional pain any longer.
I wanted the pain inside me to stop once and for all.
I was going to commit suicide.
When I got home, I crawled into bed with a notepad and a pen and prepared to write a suicide note.
I hadn’t decided the suicide method yet, although I knew it wouldn’t be a gun because I already returned the handgun I had to its owner.
“I will do pills. It’s less messy and I could take every prescription that I have in the house,” I thought to myself. “That should do it.”
But first, I had to write the suicide note.
How could I describe this overwhelming pain that won't end? How could I tell my loved ones that I need to stop this pain? Would they understand how bad the pain really was? Could they even imagine how my mind constantly replayed what happened that night, over and over, like a horror movie that would end and instantly start all over again? After all, I replayed the rape in my mind every day and every night, seemingly 24 hours a day. Shouldn’t I tell them that?
And I thought about many of my friends who had abandoned me after the rape. They could not cope with it. I felt all alone, completely isolated, left to fight these feeling all by myself. Why didn’t they help me?
I didn’t think that anyone really understand how I felt.
My thoughts and emotions were racing.
I soon thought of my son, and the tears began to flow. I thought about how I wasn’t able to be a good mother to him after the rape; I was in too much pain; and wondered if he would ever forgive me or hate me for committing suicide.
I was crying so hard that I could barely see the paper that I was trying to write the suicide note on.
As I struggled to try to write the suicide note, the phone rang. It was my sister and she asked me what I was doing.
“Nothing,” I said. But my voice was very strained and she knew that something was wrong.
She told me that she called my work and that they told her I went home sick. She asked if I was alright and I began to cry and said “no”. She said she was going to call me right back and not to go anywhere. What I didn’t know is that she had called Jerry and told him to get over to my apartment and watch me so I wouldn’t hurt myself.
He came over and I let him in and went back to my bedroom. He told me to come out into the living room so he could see me. I came out, but I curled up on the floor in a fetal position next to the phone.
My sister had contacted my counselor and asked her to call me. The phone rang and it was her. She asked me, “If I can get you into the psychiatric hospital, would you go?”
I began to cry again and said, “Yes, it’s time”.
It was quiet in the car as my sister drove me to the hospital.
As I stared out the passenger side window, she began to cry and said that she felt that she had failed to help me. I told her that she hadn’t failed me at all; this was more than she had the experience to handle.
After arriving at the psychiatric hospital a psychiatrist entered my room and we talked for awhile. I was a bit nervous about being in the facility, but knew that I needed to be there to get better.
The next morning I was awoken by a male nurse who was standing over me and shaking me. I had forgotten where I was and the experience deeply frightened me. The horrible memories of the rape raced back into my mind and I was so horrified that I could barely speak.
After I got dressed I told the head nurse why I was there and that I had nothing against this man, but I didn’t want him to wake me up again.
Later that morning I began to mingle with some of the other patients and watched TV.
About mid-week I was told about a group therapy session they wanted me to attend.
I went to the session but wasn’t helped by it at all. This group consisted of quite a cross section of people with a myriad of problems, but I couldn’t relate to their problems, so I felt worse.
I went back to my room and began thinking about church and recalling some of the miracles I had seen with my own eyes. I remembered in the Bible that Jesus restored a man to his right mind. I thought about how I never needed a miracle before, but I sure need one now because this situation wasn’t working.
I began to pray and I told God if there was to be anything left of me, He was going to have to take over because I couldn’t go another step. I told Him how exhausted I was and that I surrendered my spirit to be healed.
My pain, anger, and fear seemed to be lifted from me as I prayed.
I was at peace for the first time since that horrible night.
It did feel like a miracle occurred.
But I did know that my ordeal was not over.
Soon, my thought processes were improving enough that I was ready to sign myself out.
I was told that my son was adamant about seeing me, so my mom brought him to the hospital. It was great to hold him in my arms so he could see that I was alright. I assured him I would be coming home soon.
The next day I decided to start the paperwork for my release, but I accidentally signed the wrong form, which made it appear that I was unhappy there.
The next thing I knew I was scheduled for some psychiatric tests.
I was nervous as I took the tests because I felt a hostile air around me, and thought this was their way of keeping me at the facility.
But when I met with my doctor afterwards, he said, “You know, had I not known what happened to you, I would say you were totally unscathed by the whole situation.”
I smiled and said, “When God put me together he knew I was going to need a strong mind, so He gave me one.”
“Your tests came out fine. You’re perfectly normal,” he responded.
What? No neurosis or psychosis?” I said with a smile.
“You seem disappointed! No, you’re completely normal. You were just traumatized,” he said in a reassuring tone.
When I got home I looked in the mirror and I saw the face of a woman at peace.
I hadn’t been home 15 minutes when I got a call from a woman in the previous neighborhood I lived in. She told me how they were starting a neighborhood crime watch and invited me to participate. I explained that I had moved but thanked her for the invitation and wished her luck.
I was happy to hear about the neighborhood watch because after my rape I filed a complaint with a city council member, telling him that there needed to be better protection for women and a better system of alerting women in an area after a rape occurred.
I also received a letter from the city manager who promised to increase police patrols.
I also noticed an increase in the number of announcements made to the public after a woman was raped.
So some good did come out of my horrible ordeal, but now I just wanted to get back to living my life.
As my life continued to improve, I often reflected on something that a therapist told me years ago when he said he that he could teach me how to always have good mental health.
He said that no matter how traumatic a situation was, if I would stop and take the time to deal with it before moving on, I would be fine. People try to suppress things, he said, like stuffing something into a jar till it’s so full the lid keeps popping off. You might eventually get the lid on, but at some point it’s going to pop off again and that’s why people go crazy.
I had no concept of how long this process would take me to deal with, so I put my life on hold for a year. I thought that should be long enough for me.
And I repeated “I will not let this ruin the rest of my life” to myself over and over until I began to believe it.
Next, I didn’t want the things in my house that were there that night. I thought they would be constant reminders of the rape, so little by little I replaced household items, and doing so made me feel even more in control.
It was not long until my home had no traces of bad memories.
When June 30, 1987, came around, I had met all of my goals, and to show my appreciation to all those who helped me, I bought flowers and made small bouquets and wrote a card of thanks detailing what each one had done for me. I asked them to join me in “A Celebration of Life” for the life they helped save.
In 1988, I decided to take an English composition class for college credit. We had to write essays and I chose to write about my assault. It was the first time I had written about my feelings, and it felt good. I titled it “Out Of the Ashes” because I imagined myself like a phoenix that had risen out of destruction.
I finally felt like this assault was behind me and I was proud of myself that I took the time to deal with it.
I was ready to move on.
And “A Celebration of Life” had begun.
In January of 2005, almost 20 years after the rape, DNA evidence allowed investigators to determine who the rapist was.
But the statute of limitations had expired.
Not surprisingly, though, the piece of garbage who raped our angel Debbie was in prison on a different criminal conviction, and he is not set to be released until 2047.
The piece of garbage will come up for parole in 2007, and Debbie and an army of people will be speaking out against his release. I will be one of those people.
God bless you Debbie.
We support you.
And we love you!
Rape is a very serious crime that always causes the victim tremendous emotional pain.
Rape victims frequently suffer from depression.
And depression is the number one cause for suicide.
If you have been raped, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline
It does not matter whether the rape happened recently or long ago, please call. People
want to help you.
And remember that all rapists are cowards, criminals, and losers and belong in prison.
There never is an excuse for rape, and it is always a very serious crime.
Always call the police immediately if you ever are raped.
For additional informaion, please click below.
Rape Victims Prone to Suicide
If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website for immediate help.
I love you.