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How I Escaped My Rapist

On the last night of her Italian vacation, ESPN exec Keri Potts went for a drink with a handsome artist. What could be the harm? She was about to find out. As told to Erin Zammett Ruddy.

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The next day, I spent 10 hours with the police and an interpreter, filing a report. At one point, we stood outside of the building where the man had helped me, and I tried to explain how I'd gotten away. The investigators were getting frustrated because I couldn't remember the balcony in question. Just then a woman walked up. "Are you American?" she asked. "I think my husband let you into our apartment last night." She let the police into the building and directed them to her balcony. (She and her husband also went to the police station to give a statement.) While she spoke to the police inside, I walked up and down the street crying, talking to myself and to God, even though I'm not a churchgoer. But I have to say, I felt a presence when that man let me in off the balcony, and I felt it again when his wife happened upon us in the street.

When the police were finished piecing together the escape route, the lead investigator looked at me and said, "You are Wonder Woman." Marco was interrogated that day and later charged with attempted sexual assault.

Lynn and I flew home, but the fight was far from over. I hired a legal team in Italy to follow through on the case, and I returned to Rome six months later for an interview with the public prosecutor. I wanted Marco to be punished for what he had done; I thought about how many other women he may have tried this with, and it made me feel sick. So I researched Italian criminal law to better understand the court system. I talked to the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice about my case. I stayed in constant contact with my attorney, filling out court documents and visiting Italian Embassies in the U.S. to get papers stamped. Fortunately, my coworkers at ESPN were incredibly supportive, giving me the flexibility to finish my mission.

After a yearlong investigation, the public prosecutor decided to boost the charge from attempted sexual assault to sexual assault. She also added a charge of assault, which meant that instead of looking at five years in jail, Marco had the potential to get 12. Ultimately, he plea-bargained, and on April 22, 2010, he received a suspended sentence of 11 months, 10 days, which means he didn't go to jail. However, he is on probation for the next five years, and if he commits another crime of any kind during that time, he will go straight to prison. He was also ordered to pay all my legal fees, which amounted to about $10,000.

At first I felt disappointed that Marco wouldn't be jailed, but now I feel proud of my efforts; I never gave up. A day doesn't go by when I don't think of that night. I have a small scar on my stomach where Marco gouged his fingernails into me, and I look at it often. I alternately love and hate that scar. I hate it because it reminds me of what happened, and I love it for the same reason.

For more on Keri Potts' story and for additional information on overseas prosecution of sexual assault, please visit afightbackwoman.com.

Erin Zammett Ruddy is a freelance writer living on Long Island, New York. She is the author of the memoir My So-Called Normal Life.

Originally published on November  9, 2010

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