By Lisa R. RhodesApril 17, 2014
In the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 2009, Monika Korra, then a college freshman in Dallas, was kidnapped at gunpoint by three men in a black van as she walked home with friends after a soccer team party.
For more than an hour, Korra was raped by the three assailants. After the attack, she was pushed out of the van, naked, along with her dress.
Today, Korra is a survivor.
She shared her story -- and of how she found the courage to build a new life -- with an audience of service members and garrison civilian workers during a presentation Friday at McGill Training Center.
The nearly 90-minute event, held in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, was sponsored by the Joint Force Headquarters-National Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
The Army's 2014 theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is "Speak Up! A Voice Unheard Is An Army Defeated."
The colors were presented by The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The National Anthem was performed by the United States Army Band.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters-National Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, called sexual assaults "a terrible set of crimes" that erode every one of the Army's values.
"I think courage and the ability to speak up shows itself in an intervention," Buchanan said. "Speak up when you know a victim who needs help."
During her talk, a video of Korra's life before and after the incident played as she recalled her thoughts on that cold winter morning.
"Take whatever you want from me. I want to live. I want to survive," she said.
Korra said that during the assault, she saw a pair of women's shoes on the floor of the van. She realized then that she was not the first victim.
Standing at only 5'2'', Korra is an avid long-distance runner and came to Southern Methodist University from Loten, Norway on a running scholarship.
"I moved to Dallas to follow a dream to become a professional runner," she said.
After adjusting to her new life in the U.S. and at college, Korra was studying hard, making new friends, and had fallen in love.
"Life was smiling at me," she said.
When Korra had heard reports on campus that a girl had been raped, she said the incident didn't register an alarm for her.
"I heard about it. ... It was something that happened far, far away -- not here in the perfect world we lived in," she said.
But her life would later be changed forever.
Almost an hour after Korra was pushed out the van, a Dallas police officer found her and took her to a local hospital. She endured a rape exam and was given an anti-HIV medication that made her vomit for several days.
After calling her parents in Norway the morning after the assault, Korra began writing in a journal to express the flood of emotions she was experiencing.
"I made the decision right away to fight back," she said. "I knew I had just been given a chance to get my life back. I told myself, 'one step at a time' until I could cross the finish line. .. It is possible to start over. It is possible to go on."
Korra said there were four key elements to her ability to heal: openness, hope, passion and forgiveness.
She said it was important to her to be open about everything that had happened to her, and to ask people for help.
Telling her parents about the assault, said Korra, was the hardest thing she ever had to do, but it was the first step in her healing, along with receiving professional help.
"Whatever you do, hold on to hope," she said. "No matter how dark it may seem, the future is still there in front of us, if we just hold on and don't give up hope."
Korra said although she pushed herself too hard as a runner after the assault to prove to others she could still perform at the top of her game, she later realized that it was important not to give up on her passion in life.
"Once a runner, always a runner," she said.
The last element toward healing was forgiveness.
"It's not becoming friends with offenders or liking them," Korra said. "It's letting go and not wasting any more time or energy."
Korra said she worked closely with the police and prosecutors to bring her three attackers to trial a year after the assault. She testified against them in court.
Two of the men were convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison. The third man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years.
Korra said that after the trials she could live her life in freedom.
In the years after the assault, Korra has rebuilt her life and now resides in Norway where she works as a personal trainer and running coach. She created a foundation in her name to help survivors of abuse, and frequently shares her story.
Korra also is the author of the forthcoming book "Kill the Silence."
After the presentation, Korra answered questions from the audience and received a gift from Buchanan.
Maj. Jeff Nicholson, executive officer for the 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, said Korra's message is an important one.
"I know that there are some tragic [incidents] here at Fort Meade [of people who] definitely need to hear her story," he said. "It is a message of courage."
Capt. Wendy Stull, a company commander with the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade, said it was helpful for Korra to share the healing and legal process that occurred after the assault.
She said many sexual assault survivors do not know what to expect in the aftermath of an attack.
Korra's example shows others "they can find it within themselves to overcome," Stull said.
Editor's note: Some information for this story was taken from articles published in the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.