Lori Robinson: A Rape Survivor Takes Back her Life
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 4/25/2005
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Lori Robinson was relieved to find a parking space right across the street from her apartment building in Northeast Washington, D.C., near the Catholic University of America.
She walked towards the building near mid-night, thinking of the dishes in the sink and a work out video. A little startled when she saw two men, she reminded herself there is no need to fear just because they were Black. She dismissed the thought of them until suddenly she heard a threatening voice behind her and turned to face the barrel of a gun.
“You better not look at me,” said the gunman.
She was weak with fear as they ordered her to open the door of her apartment. She struggled with the key until the door finally opened. After answering their questions about whether she lived alone, whether anyone else had a key, and whether she was supposed to call anyone when she got home, they led her to her bedroom, still asking questions and demanding that she speaks softly.
“Then I was ordered to lie facedown on my full-size bed. They tied my feet to the bottom corners of the bed, and my right arm to the upper right corner,” she wrote in Emerge magazine. “When one asked me for something else to use to tie my left hand, I told him where my belts were. Then they wrapped thick duct tape around my head, covering my eyes and mouth.
“‘Are they doing this so they can shoot me? Maybe they just want to make sure they have plenty of getaway time.’ My thoughts raced. What was about to happen hadn’t occurred to me. Then, with a knife from my kitchen, one of them spliced up the back of the right leg of my Black stretch pants. Then it became clear. I’m about to be raped.”
They both raped her. After that, they stole all of her electronic equipment from her one-bedroom apartment. An hour later, they were gone, never seen again by her, never arrested for the crime.
That horrific evening 10 years ago is still vivid in the memory of Lori Robinson.
“I really do feel like I’m a walking miracle. I’m so deeply healed. I feel very detached from that incident,” Robinson says in an interview. She quickly clarifies, “That’s not to say that I don’t ever think about it. If I were to meditate about it, it would make me sad.”
An associate editor at Emerge magazine at the time of her assault, Robinson turned to her spiritual faith for healing. “From the very beginning, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how I can feel better, but I believe God can make it happen.’”
Gradually, with counseling, her healing deepened and the sadness began to recede.
Sadness is the same emotion that she has tried to help eliminate from the lives of other Black women who are victims of sexual assault. Robinson, now a freelance journalist, has used her writings to help with her own healing and the healing of others. Her life has taken a new turn since she wrote the Emerge story in 1997, two years after her assault.
Now, her book, “I Will Survive, The African-American Guide to Healing from Sexual Assault,” published three years ago, has led to nearly 100 book-signings and speaking engagements in 20 states.
“The positive side is that it’s been very fulfilling for me to feel that I am helping people. And just based on things that people have said to me after my talks, that this is really helpful to have a survivor to be able to share this kind of information,” she says. “A lot of what I talk about is the intersection of racism and sexism.”
By this, she means racist, gender-based stereotypes associated with African-Americans.
The 357-page book covers how African-American women and men suffer from sexual stereotypes dating as far back as slavery, such as Black women being loose and oversexed Black men.
The book also offers safety tips for rape prevention, other stories of healing after sexual assaults, and reasons that Black women are believed to be sexually assaulted more often than Whites, but are not as likely to report it.
One in six women is sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, according to a 2004 survey of the National Violence Against Women.
The U. S. Department of Justice estimates that only 37 percent of all rapes are reported. Black women make up only 18 percent of those reporting the attacks.
“For a lot of these Black women, it’s just in our culture that idea that we’re supposed to take care of everybody else first, the stigma in the Black community about getting professional help, just not having enough time, not having enough money,” Robinson explains. “As difficult as it is, it has been completely fulfilling to feel that in this unique situation, as a rape survivor who is a journalist. I don’t know if I’ve taken myself too seriously, but it feels very fulfilling,” she says.
As the 10th anniversary of the rape approaches on May 19, Robinson is beginning to think it’s time for her to take a new approach to her life. Her post-rape life has been fulfilling and physically draining.
“It’s changing now. I’m speaking less,” she says. “It’s kind of been emotionally overwhelming. The hardest part for me, I think, was generally when I speak, people want to tell me their stories … I think that because they see a healing in me, they want to be able to talk with me and share with me…I have taken in too much of other people’s stuff, I guess. That’s been the hardest part.”
She speaks two to three times a week and as any frequent traveler can testify, even 5-star hotels are no substitute for your bed back home. And it can be even more taxing when someone is home waiting, as is the case with Robinson.
She is happy to return to her husband, Ollie Johnson, who was her boyfriend at the time of the assault.
“Right after I was raped, I don’t know what I thought they would possibly do, but just the idea that these people knew what I looked like and I didn’t know what they looked like and I couldn’t see them, well that just petrified me,” she recalls. “In the years after the rape, I was scared a lot. I would park my car, look around me a lot and sprint to the door.”
Ollie Johnson helped anchor Robinson then and now.
“I remember I couldn’t wait ‘til the weekend would come so I could go and just spend the weekend with him. I remember I just couldn’t wait to get in the door for just the comfort of him hugging me,” she says.
Johnson is an Africana Studies professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“I got angry. I’m still angry and definitely have to try to balance that anger out while thinking about working with healing and recovery and being stronger and better,” he says. “But, I was outraged then. And I’m outraged now that this type of thing happens, that it happened to my loved one. But, I agree with Lori and that’s why I love and respect Lori so much, because she took this tragedy and turned it into a positive, healthy, healing experience for herself and our people. Even in her pain, she helped with his healing.
“I think, in part, I got the strength from her and how she handled the whole situation,” he recalls. “She was unbelievable in terms of her refusal to let this defeat her or even sidetrack her, so I definitely got a lot of inspiration from her from the very beginning.”
Her former Emerge colleagues are equally impressed.
“I think in order to do what she’s done, one has to have a tremendous fighting spirit,” says Marcia Davis, a former senior editor at Emerge and now an assignment editor at the Washington Post. “Anyone who reads her story has to find inspiration in her example,” she says. “This is a chosen path. She has said, ‘I want to share my story.’ Not to say, ‘Look at this horrible thing that happened to me.’ But, ‘I want to share my story because in it, there might be some light.’”
Meanwhile, Robinson, now 36, is still finding her way to complete healing. She says she still feels challenged and not as free and healed in her intimacy as she would like to be.
Looking ahead, she is thinking of writing another book unrelated to the rape. “I don’t want it to be the primary or the single subject matter that I focus on anymore,” she says. She has a strong interest in people of African decent in Latin America.
But she is pleased with the contribution that her book will continue to make to the healing of others.
“When I started the book there were no books that I knew of that I could find that were about Black women and rape,” she says. Now, her book – as well as her life - will continue to inspire Black women with what she considers the most crucial advice besides getting professional help: “Repeating over and over again that it’s not your fault and believing that healing is possible. “