On Thursday, June 25, 2015, I went to karaoke night at a local bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with my upstairs neighbor; my roommate, Emily*; and the guy she was dating, Szymon Chodakowski. I was celebrating the night before my last day of work, before I headed off to law school in a month. I knew Szymon well; my roommate had been dating him for about a month. He had met Branden, the guy I'd been seeing.
We got home around midnight and I was falling asleep on the couch when Szymon put his hand up my skirt. My roommate was in the other room getting ready for bed. He asked if I'd have a threesome with them and I rejected him. Stunned, I excused myself, closed my bedroom door, and went to sleep. I woke up later to him inside me. I told him no, but he didn't listen. He just told me how sexy I was. He is about 6-foot-6 and I am 5-foot-1. I escaped by telling him I was going to be sick and hid in the bathroom until I heard him leave my room. I saw my pajamas and underwear lying by the foot of my bed. I later learned he had been in the middle of having sex with my roommate when he came into my room. I sat on my bed in complete shock and called Branden for help, and then called my roommate into the room and told her what happened. Together, we called her dad in Boston, who called the police. They came to our apartment around 4 a.m. on June 26 and arrested Szymon. I was taken to the hospital where I spent the next 12 hours having medical exams and a rape kit taken, and speaking with detectives. I missed my last day of work.
I testified on July 23, 2015, and Szymon was indicted by a grand jury on two felony counts. After rejecting his plea deals for over a year, we finally went to trial Nov. 2, 2016. At trial, he changed his defense from saying it was a consensual threesome to claiming intoxication. On Nov. 10, the jury, made up of 11 men and one woman, brought back a guilty verdict on both felony counts: one of rape and one of sex abuse.
Today, Szymon was sentenced to five years on both counts, to be served concurrently, and another five years of probation. He will have to register as a sex offender for life. The judge told me he understood that a sentence would never provide consolation for what had happened, and he hoped that in time, I would heal and find happiness again. This is a discouraging time for sexual assault survivors, but I hope my story of fighting for and receiving justice - a year and a half-long battle - can provide something for other women to hold on to in those often dark times.
At the sentencing, I had the opportunity to give a statement about how this crime has impacted me. This is what I said to my rapist.
For the majority of this statement, I will address the defendant. As a first-year law student, I had pictured my first court address quite differently. A night of celebration in accomplishing my dream of becoming a lawyer turned into a horrific tragedy when I woke up to you inside me.
Last year, instead of sitting in a criminal law class, I was facing 20 strangers at a grand jury detailing the most private and sensitive information. In a wave of shock, grief, and sleepless nights, I made the painful decision to ask for a deferral. You jeopardized my chance at continuing to attend law school, as I almost lost my substantial merit–based scholarship to Boston College. It is normally not their policy to defer financial awards but they made an exception. I will forever be grateful for the law school’s support and kindness throughout this entire ordeal.
The reason I put off school was because I had fallen apart. Unlike the impacts you will face which will be more overt, the impact on my life might not be as readily apparent. I might feel like I walk around with a label you placed on me that reads: “Damaged: Rape Victim," but that’s only true when I look in the mirror. No one else can see the tears or the scars or the millions of pieces still not back together. So in order for you and the court to know the impact you have had on my life, you would have to know who I was before.
As many of you saw in the video at the bar, I was confident. I was bubbly. I always held my head up high. I never doubted my abilities. I valued myself. I prided myself on being fiercely independent. By society’s standards, I was accomplished: I was a proud Wellesley woman, I worked at a prestigious public policy firm, and by the time I met you when I was 27, I had already published two well-received books.
You assaulted me in the place I considered the safest: my own room, my own bed.
My whole world crumbled from the moment you entered me. I found a poem entitled “Broken” that I wrote a month after the assault which read:
“Something inside me has died
He left an emptiness I can't hide
I no longer feel like me
And the girl that laughed is just a memory.”
One of the most gut-wrenching moments of this whole experience was being made to watch footage after footage at trial of a girl laughing, dancing, and smiling, a girl who I no longer identify with, a girl who no longer exists.
While mourning that loss has taken countless hours of therapy, the impact of the assault was immediate. I cried to Branden on the phone before stepping into the ambulance that I was now completely damaged and destroyed. I felt beyond disgusting when I learned that you had just been having sex with my friend when you decided to rape me. I cried not knowing if you even used a condom. I feared no one would want me anymore. I didn’t even get to shower until 16 hours later, when all I wanted to do was wash any trace of you off my skin. When I later hugged my dad and brother who flew in to be with me, I didn’t want them to see how broken I already was, so I tried to smile.
In the days, weeks and months after the assault I drifted through life, trying to hold together a shell of a person. I felt so numb that some days, I would continuously pinch myself to make me feel something. I couldn’t eat and could no longer sleep. I would stay up every night until I saw the sun rise and then sleep an hour or two because anything too long felt unsafe. You assaulted me in the place everyone would consider to be the safest and most comfortable: in their own room, and their own bed. To this day, at 29, I still barely sleep and only with a nightlight. As I mentioned at trial, I suffer from PTSD and when my mind plays tricks on me, I have horrifying flashbacks of your face looming over me.
And if you think living this way is exhausting and not normal, you would be right. It’s completely isolating, and makes me feel more like an outcast and less of person. Since I knew you, I didn’t just lose a sense of trust in others; I lost trust in myself, and in feeling safe and secure in the world. I felt like a failure for having to acknowledge I was struggling and move home with my parents. One of the lowest points I experienced was after a conversation with the DA a year ago, when they mentioned they needed to consider how each plea option would impact your life. I was shocked: Does the impact on my life not count as much as yours? For a terrifying moment I questioned my place in the world. It took reaching deep down to relearn that a man like you will never decide my worth.
It has astonished me that you have continuously denied accepting responsibility for or shown a shred of remorse for your actions. You even went so far to first enter a plea of a consensual threesome. I am still trying to work out how that happens when all three people are not in the same room, and one of them is sleeping. As you well know, I’ve never had one, nor want to, but I am guessing that’s not how it works. You fought settlement after settlement deal until I got that fateful call that we were going to trial because you wouldn’t accept jail time. I always hoped that maybe you would let us all move on with our lives. But you never did. Each time I had to recount the story, you made me reopen wounds I was desperately trying to heal.
It took reaching deep down to relearn that a man like you will never decide my worth.
Unlike countless other women who are put in my position, I never questioned pursuing justice. I finally understand why so many women choose not take this course. It is the single most traumatizing and even at times degrading experience. My fear in heading to trial is one most victims can relate to: “When they hear me, will they believe me?” I never have to wonder that question again. I will be forever grateful to the 11 men and one woman that unequivocally found you guilty on ALL counts of rape and sex abuse: a verdict fit for the crime.
I hope this clears up for you that alcohol did not rape me. You chose to rape me. Alcohol did not assault me on the couch and put its hand up my skirt, you assaulted me. It is encouraging that 12 people did not buy the disgusting insinuation made at trial that not only did you rape me because you were intoxicated but it was because I got you drunk. I will not accept that blame. I will also not accept that your attorney had the audacity to call what happened to me "sex." I was completely stunned on the stand when he suggested that the rape was almost OK because when I woke up and said “no” and “I was going to be sick," you let me escape. Nor will I accept the victim-shaming that occurred when your attorney alleged that, because I once agreed with my best friend that the guy she was dating was attractive, I somehow came onto you. That would never make up for you opening my door, undressing me, and forcing yourself on me. As I enter the legal profession, I hope how we treat victims at trial changes.
Syzmon, we are here today to provide a just sentence for your crime. The law places emphasis on leniency for first time offenders. We overlook the fact that we will never know if this is truly your first offense or the first time you are being held accountable. Based on your past brazen behavior, you assaulting me twice in one night, your complete lack of respect for women, and lack of remorse, I lean toward the latter. My question is: What kind of cut back do I get for being a first-time victim? You have irreversibly affected multiple lives. I have listened to my sister cry because she no longer recognizes her sister. I have held my brother, as he cried when I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was still lovable. I watched my mom and dad struggle because they can’t take away my pain. I have held my beautiful friend, Emily, as she once asked me through tears to forgive her for bringing you into our lives. None of us should carry this burden.
So when I was asked my opinion of how much time you should be sentenced to, all I could think about was how arbitrary the number on the scale from five to 25 years is to rectify a wrong that can never be made right. It is a legal fiction to try to weigh the impact of this sentence on your life and future against the impact on my life because it will never measure up.
You can abuse my body, you can shatter my heart, but know you will never destroy my soul.
Your honor, that is not in any way to suggest the lightest sentence. If anything, this is to impress upon the court that his crime is indelibly printed on my body. Rape is social stigma for the victim. I have hidden for the last year and a half from my friends and from the world because I was too ashamed to speak about what happened. I still feel the fear of people thinking less of me when they do find out. It has taken an immense amount of time and energy to rebuild my self-worth and learn that not all that is broken is less beautiful or valuable. That is why, today, I am reclaiming my voice to say you can abuse my body, you can shatter my heart, but know you will never destroy my soul. So hear me when I tell you that the only part of me that you will ever be allowed to take is my guilt, my shame, and my embarrassment, which is rightfully yours.
I wouldn’t be here without the most wonderful people, many of which are here today, who have showered me with support through this process. I would like to first thank Erin, and the New York DA department for believing in and advocating for me. To the New York police officers who handled a delicate situation with the utmost professionalism and care. To the doctors and nurses, especially my SAFE nurse, thank you for treating me with dignity and making my hospital stay as comfortable as possible. To my therapist, Julia, you have held my hand from the hospital 'til now and I don’t have the right words to thank you. You forever changed my life for the better. Emily, your strength, bravery and loyalty inspired me to keep fighting for both of us. You never faltered or left my side even when you were breaking too. I couldn’t ask for a better friend. And to my friends and especially my incredible family, thank you for holding me up, your unconditional love and making me feel as whole as possible. And to the women that came before me, thank you for the courage to say what happened to me is not OK.
I leave today optimistic as this verdict and minimum five-year sentence restores my faith in the justice system working for survivors. I hope this case stands as a lesson, not just for you, Syzmon, but for all the men out there that think women’s bodies are theirs to use, and abuse. Hear me loud and clear: the women of the world will hold you accountable. By coming forward today, I raise my voice for all women: for those who fell silent, those who felt ashamed, and to those who don’t feel strong. I stand for you and with you. I hope my story of justice indicates the tide is changing and provides some comfort by reminding you that you are not alone and you are undeniably powerful. You hold all the magic you need within you. No one can take that away from you.
Believe that we no longer have to be merely survivors. Women of the world, we are so much more: know you can be warriors.
*Name has been changed for privacy
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