My Story by Jan Pfost
When recent allegations of sexual abuse and rape regarding Bill Cosby became daily news, I remembered similar claims from years ago. As more and more women came forward, it bothered me how they were vilified by the media. About the time the seventeenth woman came forward, I became aware how angry I was — and my anger was growing. Each new report, increased my anger until it was approaching rage. Then I realized the fashion in which these women were being crucified had stirred up all I went through when I was sexually assaulted 10 years ago.
It became as if it happened yesterday. I started having difficulty sleeping. I had bad dreams that left me upset for hours after waking. I felt like I was on the edge of tears all the time.
It came to a head after I read the recent Rolling Stone article about the University of Virginia’s cover-up of an appalling number of incidents in which women were drugged, raped, even gang raped. I started crying as I read it and my heart went out to these women. I just couldn’t keep quiet anymore and posted this comment:
When I was sexually assaulted, I was able to stop it and wasn’t raped; I came away with no visible injuries. It wasn’t until I told a friend about it several hours later that I acknowledged what had happened and reported it. I was chastised and told I could “be in trouble” for not reporting it immediately. One person said I had asked for it. A former aunt heard about it, called me and laughingly said she had heard I had had some “fun and games”. After telling a counselor about the assault, she asked why I had waited to report it; her scorn was yet another slap in the face. I was forced by my supervisor into pressing charges which I didn’t want to do. After testifying in court, which was an awful experience, the prosecutor couldn’t understand why I was in tears. Not one person was there to support me. I was far luckier than these women in regard to the outcome of the incident and I don’t presume to understand all they have endured. I dealt with this assault long ago but to this day, I still get emotional when I consider how I was treated by others and their comments at the time are burned into my brain. Be assured, I didn’t ask for it and it definitely was not fun and games. Given the way victims are treated, I understand the reluctance to report such crimes.
I wasn’t comfortable giving more details. But within a few days, I saw another post by a friend and I became bolder. And I realized I wasn’t “over it”. This is my story:
I was an RN, working in a male prison. The clinic where I saw prisoners was on the second floor in a remote area and although other staff came to this floor on business, visits were short and I was alone in the clinic the vast majority of the day.
I believe the prisoner, convicted of Unarmed Robbery and Assault with Intent to Rob while Armed, was cognizant of this isolation when I saw him for a shoulder complaint. An important step in any nursing assessment is inspection, so I asked him to remove his shirt. I compared one shoulder against the other, looked for swelling and palpated his shoulder for areas of tenderness. As I supported his arm, I guided it to assess his range of motion, pain and crepitus — which I always preferred because helped me to control the path of a prisoner’s arm during this portion of the exam.
But he exerted pressure and brushed his hand across my breasts as I guided it. At first, I thought it might be accidental but took a firmer grip on his arm and made sure there was more room between his arm and my torso. As I guided his forearm, again, I felt feel him push against my hold more forcefully, pressing his hand firmly against my breasts as he rubbed across them. Then, using the same shoulder/arm, the one he said was injured and so painful, he reached around me and grabbed my buttocks. I was shocked and said, “You get you hand off my ass right now!” and he complied. Should I have hit him? No – it would have been considered excessive use of force.
Nurses and medical staff do have to touch a prisoner in the course of an exam but any other physical contact is strictly forbidden between an employee and prisoner. Something as seemingly innocent as giving a prisoner a touch on the arm is a fireable offense. Likewise, a prisoner touching a staff member is considered assault.
I had a packed schedule of appointments and pushed thoughts of what had happened away. My focus was on arranging an orthopedic consult for another prisoner who had sustained a traumatic amputation of a finger the previous day, when it was caught between two ten pound weights. I was also arranging for x-rays for another prisoner with a suspected fracture.
Several hours later, an officer dropped off medical records and I asked him what he knew of the prisoner. I told him what had happened and it wasn’t until I actually said the words out loud that I realized that I had been sexually assaulted. I reported it. It was near the end of my shift but before I could leave, I was required to write a Misconduct Ticket for Sexual Assault, including all the embarrassing details. I made several unsuccessful attempts to inform my supervisor, but was unable to locate her and finally gave an account to her secretary to pass on.
She did not get my message before the prison warden asked her about me. She called me at home and was livid; it made her look bad that she didn’t know about the assault before the warden told her. Her voice was clipped and harsh. She repeatedly demanded that I explain why I waited so long to report it and told me I “could be in trouble” because of that. Clearly, she didn’t believe me. She never asked me how I was doing or how I felt about the assault. The way I was treated by this supervisor was cold and vindictive– her main concern was to verbally punish me for this incident making its way to the warden before she was aware of it. It was all about how she looked in the eyes of the warden. I spent the rest of the night crying.
I sucked it up and went to work the next day. My supervisor, a supposedly educated, enlightened woman, came to the clinic and was insistent that the prisoner had intended to rape me. She insisted that I press legal charges and would not let up, even though I kept telling her I did not want to. Then, she said the warden and she would meet with me about pursuing charges. I felt bullied and beat up and eventually caved in. She reminded me again that I could be in trouble for not reporting it promptly and left without asking how I was doing.
Since I was the only RN at the prison, there was not even a feeble attempt to protect my identity and within two days, details of the assault was common knowledge among staff and prisoners at that prison, as well as the two adjacent prisons. In that short time, over 2,500 people knew. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I was afforded no privacy at such a painful time.
The librarian at one of the adjacent prisons called me at work and was laughing when she said she’d heard I’d had some “fun and games”. This woman used to be married to my uncle! She too never asked how I was. I am sure the sole reason for her call was to get more details. I am also certain that she showed no discretion in retelling those deeply painful details.
One officer suggested to others that I was “asking for it” because I was “too nice to prisoners”. He said this in front of several people and one of them told me about it. How could he have such a twisted view of my professional conduct? I provided over the counter medications and other interventions that I felt were medically indicated, based upon my nursing assessments. Even though they were in prison, they still deserved to be treated humanely.
Soon I was crying more and more and broke a cardinal rule: never let a prisoner see you cry. I was having trouble concentrating, it was difficult to chart logically and thoroughly, and my work suffered. Each day it got more difficult. The personnel director tried to help me. She set me up in a private room and arranged a call to a counselor from Employee Services. After telling this counselor about the assault, she asked why I had waited to report it; her words and the scorn in her voice were yet another slap in the face. I felt even worse than before. Ultimately, I chose to see a therapist of my choosing, on my own and at my own expense.
Months later, I testified at the pre-trial hearing. The prisoner’s attorney stated that, if the prisoner touched me, it was unavoidable because I was “such a large woman”. The judge did not bind the prisoner over for trial and charges were dropped, stating it was a matter of “he said-she said”. This was the first time I’d ever testified or been in court and it was intimidating. I clasped my hands together to control the shaking. No one was there to support me. The prisoner glared at me the entire time I was on the witness stand. As I left the courtroom with the prosecutor, I was in tears and he seemed surprised and just shrugged his shoulders.
I felt like I hadn’t been believed and I was angry. Why would I lie and put myself through all this? On the other hand, I was relieved that I would not have to testify again. I was a jumble of emotions.
Before the prisoner had his internal prison hearing for sexually assaulting me, he was allowed to submit a number of questions that I was required to answer in writing and a couple of these focused on the fact that I had him remove shirt during the exam. They were phrased in such a way, that I felt he was insinuating that this was inappropriate, as if I were coming on to him and that it gave him permission to violate me. I found comfort when he was found guilty of sexual assault and I was told he lost his parole because of it. I also knew he would not be placed in any prison where I worked.
I retired four years ago and when all these old feelings rose to the surface recently, I was concerned that he might be out of prison; that someday he would seek revenge. I searched the Offender Registry and found that he is still in prison. I recognized his face in the mug shot the instant I saw it.
Now, I am trying to channel my anger in a positive way. I submitted a Victim Notification Application and, if approved, I will be notified of his location and any parole hearings. I will submit a Victim Impact Statement to the Parole Board, each and every time he comes up for parole, until he is either paroled or maxes out in 2030.
Writing about my experience in such public way is another big step for me. I realize that the pain resulting from the assault will be with me the rest of my life, along with the horrible memories of the abhorrent treatment that I received from the prison and judicial system. Yet, the simple act of filling out the Victim Notification Application did indeed give me some peace, along with hopes that my voice will be heard by the parole board.