JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Brooke Army Medical Center invited sexual assault survivor Monika Korra to speak during a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month event here April 15 in the San Antonio Military Medical Center auditorium.
"As you hear Ms. Korra's story and you listen to what happened please think about family, friends, acquaintances, people you know that may have had this happen to them," said Army Col. Jennifer Bedick, chief nursing officer. "What Ms. Korra went though was something that shouldn't happen to anyone."
The 5-foot-2 girl with blonde hair, blue eyes stood in front of the auditorium to share her story of horror and triumph.
"I always like to start off by saying I am a happy, healthy girl today," she said.
Growing up in Norway, Korra's life was centered around sports, and she was an avid runner. She jumped at the chance to come to the United States when she was offered a track scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
She said, at first, it was hard being away from home, but by her Freshman year she had made friends with another student from Norway, she had a boyfriend, and things were looking up.
"Life was just good," she said. "No worries, no concerns."
I remember one evening my boyfriend tried to talk to me about the sexual assault of a fellow student and athlete on campus, she said.
"I didn't want to think about it or talk about it," Korra said. "I didn't want to realize that could happen there in that perfect little world we lived in -- in that college bubble."
Instead, she joked about the fact that she was a runner. "I told him you don't have to worry about me I would just run. You know that I'm a runner, right?"
Her boyfriend followed her home that night to make sure she got home safely. Two weeks later after leaving a party with her friend, she was kidnapped at gunpoint and repeatedly raped by three men.
"I wish when I share my story I could say I was the only rape victim in the United States that night, but if that night was like any other average night, I was only one of 1,871 rape victims in the United States alone," she said. "And, we know that this happens in every city, in every country in the world."
The men were caught quickly, but the event still haunted her thoughts and dreams.
"Even though I felt safe again. I knew I would have to go through a healing process," she said.
"At first I didn't want help. I wanted to be strong; I'm an athlete," Korra said. "It didn't take me many days to realize that it's ok to ask for help."
The college provided counseling for her, but the hardest thing she had to do was tell her parents what happened to her. She called her parents and they were very supportive.
Her mother told her, "Monika, I can hear strength in your voice. No matter how long it will take, no matter how much effort it will take, we are in this together."
That was the first time she realized she could do it, and she wasn't alone. She needed her teammates and friends more than ever.
"No matter what we experience it's ok to lean on each other. We all need that at times," she said.
Korra said there were five elements that helped her get through -- openness, hope, closure, passion and forgiveness.
People asked her why she wanted to testify at the trials.
"I knew that I had to do it, I had to do it for myself and for everyone else," she said. "I was there and I heard the words that I needed to hear and I saw what I needed to see," she explained. That did so much for me in my healing process."
Two of the three men were convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison. The third took a plea agreement and was sentenced to a 25-year prison term.
She turned to her passion for running.
"After this happened it became even more important to me," she said. "It was about reminding myself of who I really am. I believe we all are defined by our passion."
She said she felt anger and hate, but she realized that wasn't who she was.
"I had so many questions and I just didn't understand how they could do this to me," she said. "I realized that I had to understand to be able to let go."
She signed up for victim/offender mediation and met with one of the men who had raped her.
"At first he just looked down, he couldn't look at me. He was crying and crying, not able to look at me," she said.
He began by reading her an apology letter then she asked him questions about his past and what he had been through.
"I learned so much that day," she said. "I knew walking out that day I could let it go. This belonged to my past."
Korra finished by saying, "It is possible to heal, it is possible to take back what is yours. So I want to stand here today as a symbol that it is possible to heal. I am happy and I am a healthy girl again."
Bedick and BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Albert Crews thanked Korra for sharing her story.
"We all need to know our part and do our part to stop sexual assault and harassment," Bedick said.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the Joint Base San Antonio Sexual Assault Hotline at 808-SARC (7272) or the DOD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.