Kelley Kitley was sexually assaulted in May 2001 by a stranger. She was walking home from work when a man approached her through a Chicago alley and attacked her on the same street where she lived. She managed to break free and find a public place to report the incident.
Her attacker was never caught, something that happens in the case of 943 out of 1,000 perpetrators.
Kitley is now a licensed therapist who treats sexual assault survivors. She also shares her story in her book, "MY Self."
The following is Kitley's account in her own words and edited for clarity.
I was cocktail waitressing at a neighborhood bar and I was walking home around 9:30 at night on a crisp May evening in Chicago. And as soon as I turned off a main street there was somebody who came after me through the alley and he had closed-pinned me and knocked me onto my back – as I was screaming and fighting for my life.
He eventually got off of me, as I was able to break free and ran back to that main street and found a public place that I ran into and asked for help.
People were looking at me. I was crying and hyperventilating and walked up to the bar and asked if I could use the phone. The bartender gave me a glass of water and a cigarette and told me I needed to calm down and I couldn't get my words out. And I just asked them to call the police.
And as soon as the police came, they walked into the bar and started talking to me and asked me what happened. And I asked if they could take me to a hospital because I knew I wanted to make sure that I was OK. And they told me that they weren't a taxi cab and that they had accused me of drinking and I had not been drinking. I was working. So it was really a negative experience.
I gave the police officer as much as I could at the time. And then went into an exam room and had a rape kit done where they took a swab and took my clothes just in case they were able to find the attacker.
I was just in total panic all the time. I was afraid to go out of the house. I was afraid to go anywhere alone. I couldn't sleep. I didn't change my clothes for a couple of days and I just wanted to be around my family and friends where I felt safe.
And I lived in fear that the attacker was going to come back for me cause it was on the same street that I lived. I kept repeating to myself, well it wasn't rape, there wasn't penetration, maybe he was going to come back for me and so just living in constant fear in my community that I once felt so safe in.
There was something that was taken away from me that night that I worked really hard to get back, and a lot of that is just my freedom and sense of safety.
I had gotten involved in aldermen's meetings to try to make the streets safer and have more lighting on some of the streets.
I was involved in a women's support group for survivors and also saw an individual therapist because I was experiencing pretty chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Shortness of breath, racing thoughts, an inability to sleep, an increase in alcohol use to kind of numb out some of the traumatic feelings I was having, and an inability to concentrate.
I would say those symptoms lasted for about a year, intermittently, but ultimately needed medication.
[My boyfriend and now husband] listened, he was consistent, he had gone to some of the therapy sessions with me to discuss - I mean, our sexual intimacy, life was put on hold, and he was really patient with that.
In my experience, I have been able to heal from telling my story and connecting with other women who’ve had similar experiences.
There are so many women that I work with individually and that I have spoken to in my personal life who haven't healed from a traumatic experience like this, and there is so much shame associated with that.
Really wanting to provide hope that healing can happen and that there is such a better life of hope and optimism and, um, serenity when somebody can work through the trauma, and that it isn't a woman's fault who or a man's fault or anybody's fault who has had any of these experiences with sexual violence.
Sometimes there is a lot of shame behind asking for help because maybe the survivor had been under the influence or had agreed to go back to somebody's apartment and so feeling like they are at blame and not wanting to share that with anybody, so they suffer in silence.
We do know as professionals in this field that the sooner someone seeks help, the easier their recovery can be.
Having a community of people that you can heal with is so important, recognizing that help is available and there are many men and women who have survived and are living really awesome lives.
Seeing somebody who is a living example of healing and being able to continue on in a life that they were no longer afraid was really important for me to see.
There are still some days that, you know, if I am in a new environment I may be more hypersensitive. I don't know if that will ever go away but certainly the progress that I have made from that night 17 years ago in May to now has been… I'm a survivor and I am really proud of that.