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What Happens After Rape? A survivor of sexual assault has her say 

Kami Calevro still doesn’t remember being raped one cold night last year. The vicious, random attack near downtown Burlington left her with a fractured skull — a trauma resulting in memory loss and sensory impairment to this day. What Calevro does remember is everything else since she “woke up” after the assault. She can tell you the date and details of every hearing, every emotional nosedive, every victory — including the sentencing of her assailant, Craig Yandow, to 20-38 years in prison earlier this month.

Through it all — “long periods of waiting with occasional freakouts,” is how she describes it — Calevro played the faceless victim: unnamed in the media, even absent in court prior to her deposition in the state’s case against Yandow. The anonymity was especially excruciating in contrast to the glare of national publicity when Arthur and Geneva Yandow spent 41 days in jail for refusing to testify against their son — they were released when he was arrested May 8, 1996.

Burlington detective Tim Charland, the lead investigator in Calevro’s case, says her assault was the worst he’d seen in nine years on the force. And Calevro’s memory loss — although common with head injuries — is unusual for rape victims, who typically harbor vivid impressions of their attack, and attacker, the rest of their lives. The other significant difference in this case: Kami Calevro has chosen not to stay faceless. She revealed her identity to news reporters for the first time last March when 26-year-old Craig Yandow changed his plea to guilty.

Now she’s ready to share the rest of the story — about the crime and its physical and emotional aftermath, the seemingly torpid machinations of the legal system and its final dramatic outcome, the family and community support so critical to her recovery. Three weeks after her assailant met his future in a prison cell, Calevro is facing hers — in public.

“From my point of view, all I saw for months was Yandow, Yandow, Yandow,” Calevro says. Now that it’s all over, she wants to remind her community, "There were two people in this case.”

It’s been a long 15 months since Valentine’s night, 1996, when the 23-year-old Burlington woman was found — half naked in sub-freezing temperatures — on North Champlain Street. A nearby resident had let her dog out for a last-call jaunt around 10:30 p.m. When she heard the dog barking she went out to investigate, and found her pet sitting on the feet of the motionless woman. “At first, I think, she thought I was a homeless person and she was going to call a shelter,” says Calevro. “But when she approached me she realized ... I can’t imagine finding anyone in that state.”

Pictures of Calevro following the attack were gruesome enough to make her wince when they were shown in Vermont District Court this month. Yandow had smashed her head repeatedly against the frozen ground, and there were other abrasions over her body. But when she’d first examined herself in the hospital, it was “the ultimate denial,” she says. “While I was checking out my bruises and showing my friends ... I couldn’t believe I’d been raped. So from day one, it was an intro into the nameless, faceless victim."

When a family friend told her he’d read all about the attack and didn’t realize it was her, it sank in that, “for the rest of the community, the victim is barely there.” When she read the news accounts later, Calevro says, she couldn’t place herself there, either.

“I can only imagine what [reading] it was like for anyone else. Society reads about crimes like that and, yes, they are horrified, but they’re mysterious — the sex crimes, the ‘bad’ crimes,” she says. “It’s great that the press gives me anonymity, but what does this mean? Does it mean that I should feel ashamed that it happened? No. Women’s groups say no, it’s not the victim’s fault, she didn’t ask for it, blah blah blah. But it felt almost worse for me that the victim wasn’t identified.”

In truth, Calevro could have spoken out at any time. Any victim of a crime can choose not to be anonymous — a statement to the daily paper or local television station would surely have been welcome; it is news, after all. And contrary to popular belief, this uncharacteristic restraint of news media is not law; it’s self-imposed. Furthermore, the names of victims of all crimes — except murder — are typically kept out of the news, adds Therese Surdek, a victim’s advocate at the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations (CUSI) who also works with the state’s attorney’s office.

Clearly there are well-intentioned and justifiable reasons for protecting the identity of a victim of violent crime — for one, to give that person the choice to come forward or not. And to prevent retribution. “The last thing we want to do,” says Charland, “is put out the name of a victim if the perpetrator hasn’t been apprehended.”

The trauma alone leaves a woman — anyone — ill-prepared to deal with the additional burden of inquisitive media. Not that Calevro didn’t get her offers — national talk shows, TV movies, even the local daily and television stations, who promised continued anonymity for her story. She turned them all down, ignoring the insensitive admonition from one, “This won’t be news forever.”

But even with the advantages of privacy, facelessness exacts its own peculiar toll. So when Calevro decided to speak, no one who knows her was surprised. State’s Attorney Scot Kline and Surdek both describe her as “an exceptionally strong individual.” Charland concurs: “She’s unbelievable; compared to other victims — I was flabbergasted.”

Charland credits Calevro’s family and friends as well, noting their “overwhelming support” throughout the ordeal. “I guess when it happens to your daughter, it happens to you,” her father Mike puts it. “It wasn’t just this guy did it to her; he did it to all of us.” Recalling her determined athletic endeavors in high school in Barre, Mike Calevro points with pride to Kami’s strength. “I think she’s held up as good as anyone could; she thought what she did would help in this case and help others.”

But if the public officials involved were universally impressed with Calevro, she and her family return the admiration. “I can’t say enough about the Burlington City Police, the community, the hospital, the state’s attorney, they were just fantastic, so excellent from start to finish,” lauds Mike Calevro. “I don’t even know how to thank them.”

For her part, Calevro is acutely aware that not all victims of rape have the same experience in terms of emotional and legal support — nor the outcome. After all, statistics indicate that in the majority of cases women know their attacker — as with domestic violence and so-called “date rape” — and often do not even report the crime, much less prosecute it. The numbers tell the story: Out of 92 reported adult sexual assaults in fiscal year 1996 in Chittenden County, only 52 have so far led to arrests, according to information released by CUSI.

If Kami Calevro was initially in denial about being raped, she spent even more time resisting professional help. It was victim’s advocate Surdek who stuck by her throughout — even though the case officially belonged to the Burlington Police Department, not CUSI. Surdek connected her with Vermont’s victim compensation program — which awards victims of violent crime up to $10,000 for their recovery expenses — translated legalese, attended all the hearings and convinced her reluctant client to see a therapist.

“At first I was, like, whatever, I didn’t feel that I really needed it,” Calevro recalls. “But she found a private therapist through the Women’s Rape Crisis Center, and kept at it for months simply because others told her she should. “I was saying, ‘It doesn’t really bother me, I don’t really care.’” Asked now if this were true, she responds, “I don’t know ... People were giving me all this attention because I got raped? How was I supposed to feel? I didn’t even remember.”

At this point Calevro is seriously considering hypnotism to try to get that memory back, but she’s aware of the risks. “There was a time I thought, ‘I don’t want to have this person’s face in my memory for the rest of my life. I’m glad I don’t remember.’ Then there’s the part of me that says, ‘If I’m so strong, why don’t I remember?”’

During the sentencing this month, a Massachusetts psychiatrist testified that Yandow had told him Calevro “must have been pretty inebriated herself — she didn’t fight back.” The recollection makes her recoil with horror. Calevro was found the night of the assault with dirt under her fingernails, and her assailant had scratch marks; when she was taken to the hospital, she was still clawing at the air. “I need to know,” she says, “that I fought back.”

If the conscious memory returns, Calevro knows it may set her “back to square one.” On the other hand, a friend gently suggested, “Kami, are you prepared for the possibility that you’ll never remember?”

Meanwhile, Calevro deals with the physical legacy of her head injury — dizziness and headaches have subsided somewhat, but her hearing is low, her sense of smell and taste are severely damaged. She also contends with the more typical symptoms of a rape victim — similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome — including hypervigilance. She is uncomfortable with people walking or standing in lines behind her. Worse, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever walk home alone again. “I get very angry that I have to think about it, that I have to be watchful at all times,” Calevro says. “I’ve always prided myself on my freedom. But recently I was talking with a friend and she said, ‘You always thought you had that freedom; you never really did.'"

Her trust in men in general? Calevro pauses, admitting to a current “sort-of” boyfriend. Men she knew before the assault are no problem, she says. “But it’s weird with men in the street ... I don’t want it to be like this, but how can I look at a man and not consider him a potential rapist?”

Kami Calevro spent the last year “living from court date to court date.” Along the way there were bad days and good days, contingent upon breakthroughs in the case or headlines in the papers. When she learned May 8 of Yandow’s arrest, it was a good day. It was not a good day when Paul Volk, the attorney for Arthur and Geneva Yandow, called it a “grotesque display of injustice” that his clients were being forced to comment on their son’s activities the night of February 14, 1996. Calevro remembers “flipping out” and yelling to Surdek, “This isn’t a grotesque display of injustice! Walking home at night to go to work the next day and waking up in the hospital is a grotesque display of injustice!”

Even so, Calevro concedes she initially “almost had sympathy” for Yandow’s parents. “These poor people. Who wants to have this going on? This really sucks,” she says. But then the first story came out.

“They talked about how horrible it was for the parents to have to do this, but they never talked about why it was so important to get the parents’ testimony,” says Calevro. “For all those people who thought they shouldn’t talk, well, the reason we need their testimony is because I don’t remember a thing.”

News accounts virtually disappeared over the summer while the defense and prosecution prepared their cases. Calevro spent much of the time relaxing at her family’s camp in West Danville, anticipating a hearing before the season was out. But “the big summer crash was when I was told by Scot Kline that the defense said they’d be ready by mid-winter," Calevro recalls with a groan. “That set me back big-time.”

In the end, Calevro’s final day in court this month was victorious: The sentence of 20-38 years was what she and Scot Kline had pushed for — after some “haggling” with the defense that Calevro found frustrating. Remarkably, she admits to an inkling of compassion for her attacker. During his testimony, Yandow sounded truly remorseful, she reports. “This guy really, really feels bad and he’s going to jail for a really long time, until at least 2010,” she recalls thinking. “Because of me. But in reality it wasn’t because of me; it was because of him and what he did to me.”

But when Calevro looked Yandow in the eye in the courtroom, it was not sympathy she felt. “Yes, I have harsh words for him,” she says. “The fact that he left me — he could have walked away with murder. That is even more important than the fact that he raped me. Obviously that’s a biggie, too, but this person had no regard for human life — for my life.”

Certainly her brutal assault was the most horrific incident of Calevro’s young life, and the long recovery process continues to unfold. What surprised her was the relative shock of winning — and the public’s lack of reaction. “When I woke up in the hospital, I woke up to presents, cards, flowers I couldn’t smell, the whole thing. I got a few calls when the guilty plea came in. But for me this was it, the biggest, the scariest.” Calevro admits to a little disappointment that many of those supporters in the beginning didn’t understand the trauma of the end. And Hallmark has yet to come up with a card saying, “Congratulations on your rapist’s jail term!”

The victory, after all, is not exactly a happy ending. Even Kline refuses to call it that. “It was an appropriate resolution to the case,” he grants — “a satisfying sentence.”

What’s next for Kami Calevro? A Burlington College student, she’s been studying human services and women’s studies. With her new-found knowledge of the court system — and inside understanding of the psychology of the victim — she thinks she might find a way to make things easier for others. “I’m starting to think,” she muses, “that maybe this event has a lot to do with what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”


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Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

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Pamela Polston is the cofounder, coeditor and associate publisher of Seven Days.

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