ABOUT THE COLUMNIST
Gracie Bonds Staples is a senior enterprise writer for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She joined the AJC in July 2000 after stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sacramento Bee, Raleigh Times and two Mississippi dailies. Gracie graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in journalism in 1979. She and her husband, Jimmy Staples, have two daughters, Jamila and Asha.
Let’s begin today with the fact that Jenny Lynn Anderson was raped.
Nearly 25 years after that fact, we still don’t know who did it, but it doesn’t change what happened.
On Nov. 28, 1990, Anderson was on her way to meet her boss when a man put a knife to her throat, walked her back to her hotel room and sodomized her.
There are some who’ve done their best to politicize sexual abuse, who might question whether this qualifies as a “legitimate rape,” but there’s no other way to look at what happened that night in Room 939. It certainly should never be viewed through a political prism. There’s nothing political about rape.
Rape is a tragedy pure and simple, no matter when, where or how it happens.
Drunk girl. Drugged Girl. Bad girl.
Jenny Lynn was none of these. She was a wife and public relations executive with a special gift of matching people with the right story. Her resume was spot on.
When she rushed back to her hotel room to brush her teeth and freshen her makeup that night, her feet hurt after a day of standing in 2 ½-inch heels, but her head was as clear as her dreams and aspirations to one day become a mother.
She was excited about what lie ahead. Hopeful the trade magazine editor she was rushing to meet would like the story she planned to pitch to him.
It was close to 8 p.m. when she stepped out of her room, flung her purse over her shoulder and headed down the hall to the elevator.
Two doors down, a man crossed the hall in front of her and grabbed her. She screamed but he put a knife to her throat and ordered her to shut up, turn and walk back to her room.
I will kill you, he told her. Put the card in the door.
The door closed behind them. Jenny Lynn knew she was in trouble.
The man ordered her to take her clothes off. He went to the wall and pulled the phone from the jack. Give me your money. Your jewelry.
Jenny Lynn managed to turn the diamond on her wedding ring to the inside of her hand. She clinched her fist and prayed the man wouldn’t notice.
“I was so scared he was going to take my ring,” she recalled.
Her ring was safe but Jenny Lynn wasn’t.
Lay on the bed. He kneeled down and sodomized her.
As she lay there, crying and scared, the man got up, went into the bathroom and quickly returned with a washcloth.
Jenny Lynn demanded her brain to produce a way of escape. Think because he’s going to kill you.
That’s when she told the man her boss was on his way to her room. “He’s going to find you.”
The man hesitated then went to the door. Through the crack, Jenny Lynn locked eyes with a hotel maid and screamed.
“Help me. He’s raping me. He’s going to kill me.”
The man ran past the housekeeper, down the emergency staircase and out onto the streets of Atlanta, never to be seen again.
We tell our daughters to be careful, to never leave their drink unattended and pick it up again. You never know when someone might drug and take advantage of you, we tell them. It’s time we talked to our boys, too. Ask them how would they feel if it were their mother or their sister.
Jenny Lynn was 27 when it happened to her. It has taken her more than 20 years to find some measure of peace, to restore the intimacy lost from her marriage, to feel whole again. If you ever wondered what becomes of a sexual victim, this is it. It steals your self-esteem and leaves you empty. It robs you of your dignity. Locks you in a prison no rapist could ever fathom.
Jenny Lynn sued the hotel and settled out of court in 1993.
The rapist, she said, “stole my joy and my belief that the world was good.”
It looked like he might get away with it, but in 2011, Jenny Lynn released the secret she’d kept from everyone but her husband and immediate family. She wrote a book and started sharing her story on college campuses, and that’s when she began to heal.
These days she believes she should be doing something “awesome,” but breaking the silence around rape, in my mind, is more than awesome. It’s powerful and life-changing.
God, she said, gets the credit for that.
“I called out to God that night and didn’t even have a relationship with him,” she said. “If you will save me, I will do anything you want. Just get me out of Room 939. He sent a housekeeper, an angel.”
The next Sunday, Jenny Lynn was in church, where she learned forgiveness wasn’t just for her, but her rapist, too.
“When I forgave him, it allowed me to be a little bit lighter in my step,” she said. “I think deep down he was a hurt and abused person so he needed to hurt someone and it happened to be me.”
She wonders sometimes if he’s dead or alive. If maybe that night changed him the way it changed her into a woman who lives not for herself but for others.
This is what can happen when God causes all things to work together for good in the lives of those who love him.
About the Author