Marla Hanson's lawyer once gave her a custom-made button to wear at a press conference. It read: "Yes, I am the model."
Hanson, whose face bears the scars of her New York nightmare, says it was a long-overdue response to people who would stop her on the street to ask: "Are you the model who was slashed?"
"It's such a violent word," Hanson said, a shudder in her voice as she spoke by telephone from San Francisco. She had just completed a television appearance focusing on tenant-landlord relationships, was about to address students at the University of San Francisco on victims' rights and then catch a flight to Los Angeles for more talk-show appearances.
Tired of Hearing About It
"I didn't need to hear 10 times a day that I'd been slashed," said Hanson, who made headlines last year after assailants hired by her former landlord attacked her with razor blades. "I don't think people (on the street) meant to be mean. And I wanted to be nice to everybody, but it was so draining."
Now that the legal battles are over, the petite (5-feet, 4-inch) honey-haired model speaks out vigorously for victims of crime, and she is trying to resume her career. She landed her first significant job--spokesperson for Dermablend Corrective Cosmetics--in September.
She knew the company before it knew her: A Dallas dermatologist, she says, recommended the waterproof leg cover to hide small broken veins when she was modeling. After her "accident," she began using the cover cream to conceal her facial scars.
(The $10-to-$15 product line, designed to camouflage a number of skin conditions, including port-wine syndrome and vitiligo, is available at Nordstrom, the Broadway, Buffums, May Co. and Robinson's.)
Hanson's new role, which will eventually include work with patients in burn centers, is providing her a much-needed financial and psychological boost.
"I'm not getting the kind of modeling jobs I used to," the 26-year-old explains without a trace of anger. "People look at my face and are apprehensive about the scar. But they also see the trial and the publicity, and they feel that will take away from the clothing."
Equally damaging to her career, she says, was her courtroom appearance. "I didn't wear makeup because I wanted people to see what they (her assailants) had done. I have great, fun clothes, but I couldn't wear them.
"I had to dress conservatively. The defendants' lawyer had already accused me of a lot of things because I was wearing a miniskirt when I was attacked. It's sad, but I had to create an image to get people to believe me. Fashion people saw me without any makeup on, looking like a waif."
No longer looking like a waif, Hanson still has inner scars to heal. She sought damages from her attackers and was awarded a record, symbolic $78 million. She and her lawyer, who worked for free, filed the suit, says Hanson, "so I could tell my story my way," adding that media reports after the attack were more traumatic than the event itself.
She said she was hurt worst by a story in a national fashion magazine: "I felt betrayed; I had modeled for them," she says.
On the positive side, she has received 2,000 supportive letters. Strapped for both time and money (to employ a part-time secretary or even buy the necessary stationery), she says she regrets having answered only half of them.
Gift From Executive
One of the most memorable letters was from a couple in London who offered to adopt her. And while she was still in the hospital, Milton Petrie, the 83-year-old owner of an East Coast clothing chain, sent her a check for $20,000. The money "saved my life," she said.
"I started to cry. It was so wonderful, and in another way it was very humbling to accept something like that."
Even the magazine piece had an upside: "I got about 200 letters, mostly from people who have been in accidents or have scars or have been harassed by their landlords. And the magazine did a survey afterward and found that because of the article, more women were standing up for themselves."
The future holds an NBC version of her story and a part for her, Hanson says. "It's a small part, not the major role, which is fine with me. It's Hollywood's version of what happened to me. It's not really the truth that I had hoped it would be."
Looking for truth to include in her university lectures, Hanson has contacted the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime. "I wanted to back up my experiences with something about changes. In the name of justice," she says with passion, "we leave a huge trail of victims."