Justice brings healing: Monika Korra’s journey
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
This is the first of the Rape and Its Consequences series.
Sitting in a corner booth in Cafe Express, Monika Korra sighs and half smiles. "I’m really not looking forward to my U.S. history exam," Korra, a senior at SMU, said.
If you weren’t paying attention, you might miss her. She is a sliver of a woman, though she moves with an athlete’s grace in her black sweater and pants, gold jewelry and cheetah print scarf. That Korra is fretting over a history exam is nothing short of miraculous given what happened two years ago. On Dec. 5, 2009, Korra was leaving a party with her SMU roommates when three men kidnapped her at gunpoint, holding a gun to her head while they gang raped her for more than an hour then left her naked in the frigid night near the intersection of Haskell Avenue and Crosstown Expressway.
Korra, a native of Norway and a member of the SMU cross country team, did not follow the path of most sexual assault victims. She immediately reported the rape to the Dallas Police Department. She worked with police and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to build a strong case against her attackers. Her testimony in court helped convince jurors to convict two of the men of aggravated sexual assault; each was sentenced to life in prison. The third pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After the last man was convicted, Korra allowed reporters to use her name in their stories. “I don’t want to be defined as a victim,” Korra told The Daily Campus. “I want to show that it is possible to heal from this.”
The men convicted of raping Korra were suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, according to Dallas County jail records. One had been convicted of theft of a human corpse in Laredo, records show. Another recently had been arrested for possession of suspected black tar heroin.
Korra said her role in prosecuting her attackers was central to her recovery. She no longer fears them or worries about what they will do to others. She found peace by helping send them to prison.
“That was my goal: to find them, to make sure they would be locked up and never would be able to do that to anyone ever again,” she said.
Prosecuting someone for sexually assaulting an SMU student is rare. SMU Police Chief Richard Shafer, who has been at the university since 1999, said other than Korra he could not recall anyone accused of raping an SMU student whose case went to trial.
According to SMU crime statistics, 40 women — almost all of them students — reported being sexually assaulted since 2006.
Nationally, if a rape is reported, there is a 50 percent probability a suspect will be arrested, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). If a suspect is arrested for sexual assault, RAINN found there is an 80 percent probability of prosecution.
Erin Hendricks served as the lead prosecutor in Korra’s case.
The SMU Law School graduate, who worked in the district attorney’s office from 2002 to 2010, found Korra’s tenacity inspiring.
"She was all mental discipline all the time,” Hendricks said. “She never took her eye off the ball."
The night of Dec. 5, 2009 was cold. Korra and her roommates attended a soccer team house party in Old East Dallas. The three left around 2:10 a.m. A friend was waiting in a car. As they ran through the icy air, a black Ford Expedition hurtled toward them. Korra heard someone screaming in Spanish. She turned to the driver, thinking he needed help.
“Before I knew it, there were two men behind me, and they grabbed my head at gunpoint,” she recalled.
The men dragged Korra into the SUV and drove off. Court testimony would show their leader was Arturo Arevalo, a convicted felon and admitted gang member. Arevalo held Korra at gunpoint, her face pressed against the floor. Arevalo and his companions, Alfonso and Luis Zuniga, threatened to kill Korra if she tried to resist.
“They kept saying, ‘Give us what we want or we’ll shoot,’” Korra recounted.
For 80 minutes, the three men took turns raping her. Korra recalls how Arevalo forced her to sit in his lap, look him in the eyes and kiss him.