Thompson: A rape survivor opens up

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Detroiter Ardelia Ali was only 18 when she encountered the worst kind of sexual violence and trauma any woman could undergo. After the end of a day’s shift at Burger King, she was walking to catch a bus near Hoyt and Seven Mile on the evening of Nov. 18, 1995, when she felt a knife on her back. Forced to a nearby vacant land, she was raped.

Ali waited 20 years — June 24 of this year — to get justice against the culprit, Marshall White, after a DNA match tied him to her attack. According to the Office of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, White, a serial rapist, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Aug. 13 to serve 15-30 years, has a long rap sheet that includes auto theft and armed robbery. Ali was his third victim.

Her case is one of many examples of the need to end the outrageous impunity accorded sexual crimes in Wayne County. Ali’s rape kit was among the more than 10,000 found in 2009 abandoned in a Detroit police storage facility. Their discovery led Worthy to launch a public crusade to raise awareness and funds to get the kits tested. That campaign and the resulting lab tests have already led to several DNA matches and the identification of several suspects.

Sitting on the couch in her east-side Detroit home last week Ali, 38, opened up about the crime that she said took her innocence two decades ago, and how it changed her life.

“I was 18 years old. I was a virgin when I was raped. I’m the oldest of seven children in our family and my life changed,” Ali said.

“When I was raped and after I was taken to (then) Saratoga Hospital, no one called me to follow up. It is sad that it took 20 years for me to get my justice. All we (victims of rape) want is justice so we could put this behind us.”

Recounting the experience, Ali said she submitted to her attacker’s demands.

“I wanted a second chance so I did what he told me. I stood up (standing) while he raped me. He could have killed me or stabbed me with the knife,” Ali said. “He left me with an STD but it was not something that could not be cured. Thank God, it was not HIV/AIDS. Anything could have happened.”

Asked would she have done had she gotten pregnant, Ali paused and sat back, pondering the question.

“I would have committed an abortion,” said Ali, now a mother of three. “I could not have kept that pregnancy. Because looking at that pregnancy would mean me looking at him every day, and it would continue to remind me of the incident.”

During the weeks leading up to the trial and subsequent sentencing of White, Ali said she cried often because she was having flashbacks of an experience that has now made her overprotective of her children: two boys and a girl. She thinks if not protected her daughter could one day be a victim, too.

“I have my daughter who is eight and I could not imagine that happening to her,” she said. “And now boys are also getting raped.”

But when White was about to face justice and be punished for his crime, Ali said, strangely enough, she could not cry.

“Even though the most hurtful thing he did was to take away my innocence, I could not cry on the day he was sentenced,” Ali said. “But amazingly, he apologized to me. I told him he made me stronger and all I want to do now is strive for kids to be somebody tomorrow.”

Nearly 70 percent of rapes are not reported, making sexual assault one of the nation’s most underreported crimes, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN).

“Women need to come out and speak up. Some of these women need to know that it is not their fault and there is nothing to be ashamed about,” Ali said. “Some women don’t want to come forward because they are ashamed ... and it is never reported.”

RAINN reported that 44 percent of rape victims are under age 18 and 80 percent are under 30, while the culprits hardly spend time in jail.

Last March, Worthy’s campaign received some star power when Mariska Hargitay, who stars in NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which supports victims of sexual violence, joined the prosecutor in announcing legislation in Lansing that would identify and prosecute suspects in sexual assault cases.

In January, Worthy announced collaboration between the Detroit Crime Commission and the Michigan Women’s Foundation called Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit).

“The overwhelming majority of these cases have been tested. It has been a long, six-year journey,” Worthy said.

She added, “We cannot afford to sit and wait. We must move forward every day. These survivors have waited long enough. I am so grateful for all of our supporters and contributors.”

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays.