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Rape victim speaks out for those who don't

Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 16:03


Keelan Stewart

Kelly Bridget

On June 21, 2002, an assailant kicked in the door of Bridget Kelly's apartment in Killeen, Texas. With a gun shoved against her chest, the stranger kidnapped Kelly and drove to a field where he raped and shot her three times and left her for dead. Determined to see her family and friends again, she staggered to her feet and found help on the doorstep of a retired Army veteran. What could have been the last day of her life has inspired Kelly to speak up for those who don't speak out for themselves.

Kelly now teaches reading to kindergarten and first grade students who have a difficult time learning to read in a regular classroom, in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Omaha native has become an advocate in the fight against the social stigma of sexual assault that leaves most victims feeling guilty or blaming themselves for the attack.

"Whether or not you know your attacker doesn't change the violence of the crime," Kelly said. "Women should never feel like it was their fault."

News stories printed following her attack did not disclose her rape. Kelly, the daughter of an Omaha World-Herald columnist, found the paper's decision to withhold the names of sexual assault victims unacceptable. The fact it was considered more shameful to be a rape victim than a gunshot victim didn't make sense, Kelly said.

"In my case, it was never in terms that I 'asked for it,' but so often people say, 'well if she didn't dress like that or act like that it wouldn't have happened,'" Kelly said.

So Kelly told her story, the entire story, and it was heard across the country--from the column series Mike Kelly wrote for Omaha World-Herald to an ABC "Primetime Special." Police arrested the assailant the day after the attack when he returned to the field where he left Kelly for dead. He is now serving a life sentence plus 40 years in prison. Six months after his conviction, Kelly took part in a public awareness campaign by recording radio and television ads sponsored by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Kelly said the strong support from her family, friends and the feedback she got from the public, including other survivors provided her inspiration to share her story.

"The person I was and am helped me get through," Kelly said. "The fact that I'm the kind of person who would want to fight back and speak up comes from the way I grew up. I'm proud to come out of this situation and back into the light."

In the eight years since her attack, Kelly sees some progress against the stigma of rape. More victims are more willing to come forward and are better understood

However, much more public awareness is needed to move forward. Kelly said the public needs to fight against the derogatory and demeaning language used casually to describe women. Vulgar terms like "bitch, slut and whore" can't be tolerated anymore and until people start to take these terms seriously the stigma will remain.

Kelly said she still deals with anxiety and always worries about personal safety.

"I need to feel in control of where I am physically," she said.

As time has passed, she has become more aware of the signals her body gives her when she's in a situation where she gets uncomfortable or feels unsafe. Kelly said she listens and removes herself before the anxiety becomes uncontrollable.

Kelly has continued her advocacy by working as a volunteer for the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program, which offers hope and guidance to victims.

"The best thing I can do for other survivors is to live a normal, productive life," she said.

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