By Julia LeDouxApril 21, 2014
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Once held at gunpoint and repeatedly gang raped, 24-year-old Monika Korra says the incident that occurred five years ago in Dallas does not define her.
"I will not let my rape define me," she said emphatically April 11 as she stood before a crowd of Joint Force Headquarters -- National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington service members and civilians at Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. "The night of the rape, they took all my things from me, but not my spirit. It is possible to get back up. It is possible to come back."
A native of Norway, Korra was one of her country's promising high school distance runners when she was recruited by Southern Methodist University to run cross-country track. The evening of Dec. 5, 2009, she and friends were walking home from a gathering when the attack occurred.
"Five years ago when I was on my way home with a friend, I was kidnapped and gang raped by three men," she said. "I promised myself to get back up, to fight and to get my life back."
Korra's presentation was part of the Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault Response Program's professional development training and helped mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Army's theme for the month is "Speak up! A voice unheard is an Army defeated."
"If you think about sexual assault in the military, that's a crime within the family," said JFHQ-NCR MDW commanding general Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan. "Sexual assaults break down the bonds of trust within the family. If we cannot trust one another, we cannot get the job done."
Buchanan acknowledged that it takes personal courage to speak up, intervene and prevent a sexual assault.
"One must have courage to speak up and help others who have been the victim of this terrible crime," he said. "One must have the courage to speak up and come forward if you are a victim."
Introducing Korra to the crowd, Buchanan said Korra had the courage to speak up and confront her attackers.
"My greatest hope is that the courage she demonstrates every single day helps inspire you, to give you additional courage to do the kinds of things we need to do to prevent sexual assaults," he said.
Korra spoke openly and candidly about the assault and her continuing recovery from the experience.
"I called my friends and family the next day, and they all said, 'We will get through this together,'" she said. "I never felt as though I was alone, and that was very important to me."
Korra's three attackers were arrested within days of the attack. One of them received a 25-year prison sentence and the other two received life sentences, thanks in large part to her testimony.
"My attackers are spending the rest of their lives in prison, and because of that, I'm able to live my life in freedom," she said.
Korra graduated from SMU in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science degree in applied physiology and a minor in psychology. That same year she became a rape victim advocate through the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center's volunteer training program. She is a certified ACISM health and fitness specialist who currently works as a personal trainer and running coach. She is also the founder and chief executive officer of the Monika Korra Foundation. She is currently finishing work on a book about her ordeal that will be published next year.
Following Korra's presentation, Buchanan called sexual assault a "heinous crime" and said that tremendous progress has been made inside the military to ensure that justice is done.
"In the last two years, the Army has tried 79 sexual assault cases that civilian authorities would not even try," he said. "Of those 79, we got a 78 percent conviction rate."