I write a lot of stories involving scary things on here, and especially since it is October people are watching and reading scary stories. Two Octobers ago though, I met the subject of many nightmares I’d have for the two years since then.
In October of 2016, a man followed me into an elevator at my law school and assaulted me. Today, I felt like writing it all down. It was mid morning, sunny and in the middle of a school building- not exactly a time where I felt like I needed to put my keys through my knuckles like a weapon. The man was arrested, but only after a camera got a view of him assaulting another woman a block away a couple of hours later. I remain very thankful that the City of Charleston’s officers worked quickly and that he was arrested the same night of the incident.
When he was sentenced, I learned that Bob Drayton, Jr. was a schizophrenic, homeless man who had suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. Every time I think of this happening, I try to remind myself of those facts about him so that I am slow to anger. I try instead to think about if he had not been born into the conditions he was clearly born in, that maybe he would have had a chance to turn out differently. It’s not an excuse for him, but rather an attempt at understanding how a human being could be formed into what I can only describe as hollow.
Without going through every movement and every detail of the assault itself, the best way I can describe this was that it was mind altering. I grew up in a small town where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I was never in a situation that I was worried for my safety, and I never wondered if I would be harmed or overpowered by a man. I understand how rare that feeling is, and how lucky I am to have lived in that bubble for so long.
Physically, I was fine after this. I was shaken, but as far as physical injuries go, there weren’t any thankfully. Mentally though, since that day I have not been the same person. I am a skeptical person now. I do not see the best in people initially like I once did, and I frankly don’t like being around new people who I don’t know in settings without other people around. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and I feel like I constantly have to keep my guard up. He shattered my trusting nature that had always come so naturally to me.
I do not go on elevators with men I do not know anymore. If someone isn’t with me that I know, I will wait until the next elevator comes or I will take the stairs. I’m not sure that this is something I will ever stop doing at this point.
For a long time I was angry at myself that I did not hit him or kick him or do something to stop him, so that at least he wouldn’t have done it to the next girl. I always thought that if I was ever in a situation like that, I would fight hard and that I would be able to defend myself. In actuality I froze, and I was unable to protect myself. My first instinct was flight, and as soon as the elevator doors opened, I ran. He got away because of me, or at least that’s what I told myself in the months following it. You truly don’t know what you’ll do in a situation like that. After learning about all of his mental illnesses, I started to forgive myself slowly, realizing that had I attacked him it was not out of the question he could have had a knife or any other weapon on him that he could have pulled on me.
My anger shifted more into just being thankful that it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The anger came back when he was sentenced. I wasn’t angry at the judge, or really even him- I was angry at the laws we have in place in South Carolina.
Ultimately, he was sentenced to three years in state prison, with credit for time served. When he was sentenced, he had been in custody for almost a year. When I spoke at his sentencing, where he plead guilty, I told the judge what happened and I asked that he be sentenced to the maximum amount he could be. The judge did sentence him to the maximum of three years, but first he expressed his annoyance that there was only a three-year maximum for this offense, when minor drug offenses carried much harsher minimum sentences. He implored me to try to make a change one day after I became a lawyer.
I have subsequently been pissed off since then at the lack of common sense sentencing guidelines. It is a slap in the face knowing that someone can steal your peace of mind and alter your view of the world you thought you lived in, and only have to serve two years of his three-year sentence. Our state needs to fix not only its mental health system, but many outdated laws and sentencing guidelines in our prison system.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to change the laws to make a physical/sexual assault worth more jail time. It seems like common sense to me, but quite frankly this isn’t an issue that men are prioritizing, because for them it doesn’t have to be a priority.
He is out roaming the streets of Charleston again now, because there is nothing to stop him from doing so. Since he had a record that was pages long before my incident, I assume there is no one helping him try to get his life in order by giving him the medicine he needs or keeping him out of trouble. He recently entered a store downtown that someone I know owns, and even though he isn’t allowed near the school again, I have no doubt that he frequents the bus stop right beside it. I also have no doubt that he will do this again to someone else.
Maybe one day I will get on an elevator again without immediately side-eyeing the person next to me, and maybe one day criminals in our state will at least serve their full sentence out, even if the sentence isn’t what it should be.