Rape survivor talks to bring healing

KENMARE It’s time to talk, says sexual assault survivor Sandy Madsen.

Silence creates victims, but healing comes in being heard, according to Madsen, who has been a voice for rape survivors since her own assault nearly 20 years ago.

Madsen, of Brentwood, Tenn., spoke to social workers, other professionals and community members Tuesday at a conference sponsored by the Kenmare Safe Community Coalition in cooperation with Kenmare City Health Tax, Northwest Healthcare Foundation, Kenmare Dental, and Thrivent Financial.

Madsen will speak again today to area students at Kenmare High School at 2 p.m. The event is open to the public. Madsen also will be speaking to Minot State University students and social workers in Mountrail County later this week.

Rape victims who don’t seek therapy and don’t talk are at increased risk of suicide, Madsen said.

“My message is to get out and to help people who don’t talk. Somebody has to be out there to help them and let them know, ‘You are a survivor. You are no longer a victim. You no longer need to be curled up in a hole,'” she said. “Every survivor needs help. I don’t care if you have the best family in the world. You need help, and it’s professional help.”

It’s not too late even if the event happened years ago, she added.

“Even if you think you are well, there’s always something,” Madsen said, noting that often funding is available to cover at least initial therapy.

Her husband went through therapy as did Madsen after her rape.

“He raped my whole family,” Madsen said of her attacker. “This person didn’t just rape one person. It hurts a lot of lives.”

Madsen was planting

purple mums around her home in the Chicago area on Aug. 31, 1994, when she re-entered her house to find a masked intruder. Before she could out-run him, she was attacked, blind-folded with duct tape and viciously beaten and raped by the intruder, who wielded a knife from her kitchen and threatened to kill her.

After the intruder left, Madsen locked up her house and called a neighbor because her 911 calls would not go through. With her neighbor’s assistance, several police officers soon were on scene.

“I was treated with a lot of respect, and I know there are many out there who are not,” said Madsen, both during the conference and in an interview. “A victim pretty much is in shock and how you treat that person, even in the first minute, it makes such an impression.”

She couldn’t bring her head up, and instead of speaking down at her, the officer knelt to look up at her. He didn’t ask about what happened, but wanted to know if she was all right. He asked if she wanted the duct tape removed and then gingerly removed it as she requested. The officer offered to cover her face as she walked to the ambulance past the crowd gathered on her lawn.

In the ambulance, the crew was quiet, which was important because her senses were heightened due to the shock, she said. Her positive experience bolstered the strength that was in her, and she knew before she reached the hospital that she was going to fight back.

She could not return to her Chicago home, though. She and her husband moved back to the Nashville, Tenn., area to be closer to family and receive therapy.

Her therapist asked her to speak to hospital staff about her experience, which she later also shared with the board of the sexual assault center to help them better understand the work of the center.

It took a box of Kleenex to get through the first speech, and Madsen said she gets emotional still in recalling the events of that day. But it also feels good to share her story.

“Once I started, I couldn’t be quiet,” said Madsen, who has won awards for her advocacy and fund-raising for therapy programs. In addition to multiple public speaking events, Madsen wrote a book, “Purple Mums,” about her experience.

The trauma has left a mark. Madsen no longer can tolerate noise. She feels uncomfortable when in a room with multiple conversations because of the sense of not being in control in that environment.

“I have a great husband, great kids, but I have lost my safety, and I will never get it back,” she said.

Madsen’s rape was a cold case for 17 years until detectives alleged an imprisoned, serial rapist matched the DNA at the scene. Due to the statute of limitations and other reasons, charges are for crimes other than rape in connection with the incident. The case remains before the court.

Meanwhile, Madsen plans to continue speaking out.

“I always say there’s someone else to save so I am not going to stop talking,” she said. “It’s time to talk about it, because it can hit anybody’s life at any time.”

Madsen’s visit to North Dakota was coordinated by a childhood friend, Ruth Ganes of Kenmare. Both grew up in northern Iowa.

Ganes said she arranged to bring Madsen to North Dakota because she feels there is a need locally to hear her message.

“This is something we need to get out and talk about,” Ganes said. “We need to be more aware. We need to be safe. We need to try to protect ourselves and to help those that are victims become survivors.”