No words can adequately describe the terror I felt when my attacker grabbed me and started beating me. Another person cannot know that desperate panic--that sense of helplessness--unless he or she has been on the losing end of a violent crime, as I was. Crime can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable. It is equally difficult to express my relief that my alleged attacker has been caught. His arrest not only helps my psychological healing, but, more important, it satisfies me to know that I may have been his last victim.
I always thought it couldn't happen to me. After all, I lived in a "secured" neighborhood. So when I was robbed and assaulted in my Los Angeles home Nov. 10, it wasn't just physically horrifying, it was psychologically traumatizing. I was reading at my dining room table when a man suddenly appeared, grabbed my hair and started beating me with the blunt side of an ax. My first reaction was confusion: What is going on? Can this be happening? His violence, his single-minded focus on getting money from me made me wonder what kind of crazy person I was dealing with. And why me? Can I reason with him? Will he leave me alone if I find money for him? Will I live through this? I truly believed that my attacker would carry out his threats to kill me.
And now my home has been invaded, my peace of mind shaken, my sense of security violated. No longer can I naively think that I am protected from harm. Sure, I'd read the statistics, seen the news accounts of people being robbed, raped, murdered. Crime has long been part of my public concern--my concern for others. But the statistics are now more than numbers. They've been literally brought home for me. They represent real human lives, lives now similar to mine. I have been beaten, dragged through my house by my hair, robbed, threatened to be killed, kicked until I could hardly breathe, terrorized. My life will never be the same.
People have asked me if I plan to move out of my house, or leave Los Angeles. Reporters have asked me if I feel hatred and anger toward my attacker. My answer to all of those questions is no. I can't flee my house, which has far more positive than negative memories. I like Los Angeles, and no city or neighborhood in California is immune from crime. I feel pity toward my attacker and am grateful that he apparently was caught before he could victimize someone else.
When something like this happens, the physical wounds heal rather quickly; it's the emotional scars that can linger. I know from this experience that it helps to talk to counselors trained in dealing with trauma victims. The psychologist who counseled me encouraged me to mentally relive the experience and praise myself for the things I did to stand up for myself or to cooperate. He suggested that when I came home for the first time after the incident, I return in daylight and walk through the house recalling what had been done to me in every room, and then to recognize that it was now safe.
I will not become a recluse; I will not shirk my responsibilities as an elected official to be out in public meeting with constituents. But I will be cautious, and it will take time to feel completely safe in my home again. I've asked myself what I would do if I were again the victim of violence, and how I could have responded differently this time. I tried to reason with my attacker, and I pleaded with him. "Stop, please stop," I said. "I'll give you what you want if you'll please stop hurting me." His response: "Shut up or I'll kill you." And then he'd drag me to another part of the house, demanding cash and hitting me with the ax.
I will, without a doubt, learn more about how to handle these situations--I will talk with police officials, psychologists and sociologists who have studied criminal behavior. I will take advantage of the free courses offered by private organizations and public schools on how to protect myself--and I urge others to do so as well. I'm also studying how to increase the security in my home. Maybe I'll get a watchdog. It's been suggested I keep "decoy" cash available--a bundle of $1 bills wrapped with a $20 bill on the outside. Some suggest keeping alarms, whistles, even weapons constantly at hand.
Yes, this experience has dramatically changed my life. It has heightened my awareness--of my need to be cautious, of the need to solve the drug and crime problems of our nation, of how unfair it is that one person, in the space of five minutes, can so deeply alter one's life and sense of security. I'm actively enlisting as a foot soldier in the war against drugs and crime, because I believe if we are ever going to reduce crime, we have to win the war on drug abuse--it's clear that drugs fuel the criminal machine. If there's a positive benefit that's occurred from this experience, it's that I've renewed my dedication to the fight against crime.