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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
<p>This digital composite depicts the suspect.</p>

This digital composite depicts the suspect.

Editor's note: The names of the victim and her boyfriend have been changed to protect their identities.

Christine, a petite 20-year-old, slips her white karate jacket over her loose pink tank top. She ties her hair that frizzes in the summer into a ponytail, slips her red-painted toes into plastic flip-flops and ties her orange belt around her waist.

She walks down a hallway that smells of dust and ammonia - her shoes going clop, clop, clop - and joins her karate group. She bows to her instructor. Her groomed eyebrows narrow as her brow furrows in concentration. She knows what to do. She's been doing this for two years.

The way she barks back instructions makes her sound like anything other than a woman who is recovering from rape.

Six months ago, a man forced himself into her apartment and onto her. Since then, she's managed to keep her life together - she stayed in college, didn't get depressed and kept a strong relationship with her long-time boyfriend - but small reminders haunt her.

Christine's story is not a new one in the Gainesville area.

Gainesville Police reported 60 cases of sexual battery so far this year, including Christine's attack. In 2010, there were 77.

The University Police Department reported 11 cases of forcible sex offenses - a classification that includes rape - in 2010, according to the department's safety report for 2011. Three of those were on campus. Eight of them were off campus. The 2011 statistics were not reported.

Christine tightens her belt.

Here, she feels normal. She isn't a victim anymore. She tries not to let the memory resurface.

But when she dodges through a migrating herd of UF students on the way to class, she looks from male face to male face for a flicker of recognition. The memory hits enough of a nerve to make her lose her appetite when she sees red sneakers like the ones her attacker wore. She grips her purse tighter now. She hasn't walked across campus alone at night yet.

"It's always going to be something that happened to me," Christine said. "I don't feel much like a victim, I guess."

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Here come pushups, leg lifts, squats, crunches. Repeat.

She practices her waist-high kicks and chest-level punches, just like she had for more than a year before the attack.

She walks from karate with her friends or her boyfriend, Jim, back to her place with its modest laptop-sized television, floral bedspread and cluttered desk.

She flips through her language book, eventually setting it next to her boyfriend's dried, folded T-shirts - he can't do laundry to save his life. She slings her backpack on and marches to her next lecture, blending into the hive of busy students.

Her boyfriend has stepped up to the role of protector since the incident. He walks with her whenever he can, after karate practice, classes and dinner. He's the type of guy who likes to spend hours tinkering with cars, but he'll put that off until she's safe at home.

Jim doesn't want her to leave his side if he can help it. It's not that he's obsessive. It's just, Christine said, he can't bear to let anything happen to her again. The way he looks at her, with careful concern, gives it away.

Christine and Jim met in a beginner math class two years ago. She got there early and claimed her seat - not too close to the front but not all the way in the back. Then she sat and listened to the hum of the auditorium, expecting the day to be relatively quiet.

Five minutes before class, the back door slammed open and a frazzled underclassman sprinted toward the front of the room. He jerked his head left to right, looking for a place to sit. Scrambling toward the back of the room, he sat in the seat next to Christine. He was gasping in deep breaths, and beads of sweat were sliding down his forehead.

"Is this seat taken?" Jim wheezed.

She laughed. Looking back on it, Christine said she can't remember who gave the other his or her number, but she doesn't care. Before a week had passed, they were dating.

He was the first one she ran to after she was raped.

It was almost the end of the Spring semester. Christine said she'd spent the night watching mind-numbing movies to relax: "Twilight" and "New Moon."

Around 4 a.m., she went to bed and curled up with a worn toy tiger Jim had given her.

A knock shook her from her half-asleep state around 4:30 a.m. Jim had forgotten to show up the night before to pick up sunscreen. Christine thought it was him, so she stumbled out of bed and called his cellphone. No answer.

She walked across her empty, third-floor studio apartment and opened the door.

A roughly 5-foot-10-inch man shoved her through the door frame and rushed inside, slamming the door behind him. He held a silver, four-inch blade.

When Christine saw the knife, she said, she knew it was over. She's barely 5 feet tall. It was an unfair fight.

"Every time someone tries to fight back, they end up dying," she said as she told the story. "Skin and knives, it just doesn't work. ... Had it been a fair fight - Yeah, I would've decked him in the face."

He ordered her to take her clothes off.

"Are you serious?" she said to the man, according to the police report.

He swung the knife side to side.

He raped her twice.

Other details in the police report are too graphic to print.

At some point, her Samsung cellphone rang and rang. It was Jim.

The man grabbed her phone and texted, "My phone is acting up." Christine is a creature of habit, and this wasn't her usual response to her finicky phone. Jim started to worry.

The attacker ordered her to take a shower. When she went back into the main room, he was leaving. Just like that.

"Close the door after me," Christine recalled him saying.

And he was gone.

Christine scrambled to put on her Victoria's Secret pajamas and ran to her car.

She drove the few blocks to Jim's dorm and, since her phone had been stolen, screamed at his window until he rushed outside.

She broke down in his arms.

She cried for a few days after that, but she hasn't cried much since. She said she doesn't see the point in it. She said she isn't depressed or furious anymore.

She just wants to let it go.

No, they haven't caught him. Yes, there could be a court case one day. Sure, she may have to see his face and tell this story to the jury, the judge and the lawyers.

"It would just be a madhouse. It'd just be terrible," she said. "I don't want to have to look at his mother."

As strange as it is, Christine admitted, the rape actually made her relationship with Jim stronger. She said she supposes it was a make-it-or-break-it situation.

Since the attack, she said, Jim has made it clear he wants a future with her. He's helped her keep her life together, even though there seems to be roadblocks around every turn.

Christine's dad canceled her lease at her Southwest Second Avenue apartment near campus.

GPD officers initially acted like they suspected Jim, which Christine said made her furious.

She said GPD officers kept pestering her, asking her if she was sure her attacker was African-American and not another minority. Police still have a swab of Jim's saliva for possible evidence.

"It just seemed like they didn't want to find anyone," she said. "They just wanted to close it as soon as possible. I think that somebody, somewhere probably knows who this guy is. ... I wish they would focus on this a little more. Because the next [victim], she's not going to get away."

Sgt. Tscharna Senn of the Gainesville Police Department said forensic evidence usually solves cases that have run cold.

"It is a horrible crime," Senn said. "If it happens, we are 100 percent committed to finding the person who did it."

Christine's academic adviser was one of the most understanding people about the incident, Christine said. She told her adviser what classes she wanted, and it was taken care of.

Jim has been there through it all, but he doesn't like talking about the incident, at least not with anyone except his closest friends.

After it happened, Christine said, a sense of guilt clawed at him because he wasn't there to protect her. So they drove to South Florida to enjoy a weekend with Jim's family and cook dinner together.

It's the little things like that, she said, and the big things like Jim's love that got her through the rough times. She said she can carry herself the rest of the way.

"If I keep letting it bother me, it's going to drive me insane," she said. "It happened, and it sucks a lot, but I can't change it."

This digital composite depicts the suspect.

Christine, who is pictured here but wishes to remain anonymous, says she feels normal when practicing karate.

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