Grasping on to hope

Rape survivor speaks out, and encourages others to be courageous


photo illustration by Emilee Slayton

Story by Emilee Slayton, staff writer

The drive was infinite. She had no clue who this man was, or where she was going. The little girl tried to focus on what was outside of the truck. The towering trees. The absence of light. The fear overpowered her. She looked forward and saw that they pulled into a worn down parking lot, a veil of darkness surrounding her. She knew she couldn’t escape.

In an instant, he pulled her out of the truck.

She begged to go home, begged for her life. As she was being pulled deeper into the woods there was a mattress, stained with blood and sweat. She looked out to where there was light in the darkness and saw a lake, glistening like diamonds. Seeing the lake, she knew she was going to die, wishing she could have told her mom she loved her. Wishing her mom was there to save her. He threw her down on the mattress, told her to shut up and if she screamed, she would die.

He choked her, and then he raped her.    

Stevi Willis, 14-years-old at the time, was abducted and raped in Grand Prairie, Texas. The rapist instantly left the crime scene and was un-locatable. It wasn’t until 2001, when Willis was at the police station looking at the sex offender registry, that she recognized the perpetrator that raped her. After many years, Willis now has a family, is an advocate for children, works for Child Protective Services (CPS) and fights hard for children who have been sexually assaulted or abused.

She begged to go home, begged for her life. As she was being pulled deeper into the woods there was a mattress, stained with blood and sweat.

“After I was sexually assaulted, I woke up in the woods alone and started walking down the road. While I was walking, I was getting lightheaded and stumbled into the middle of the road,” Willis said. “A car almost hit me and came to a stop. In the car was a group of teenagers who were coming back from a youth group meeting. They asked me if I needed help and I kept saying for them to take me home because I was in shock.”

The teenagers drove Willis to a gas station, once they arrived, they called 911 and Willis’ parents.

“I sat in the gas station throwing up until the ambulance got there,” Willis said. “The ambulance and police followed the teenagers to the place where they found me. The police found some of my clothes and the mattress in the woods. They took it for evidence and then I went to the hospital.”

Willis’ case was the first in Grand Prairie that someone had been looking through the sex offender database, and found someone who violated them. The investigators who earlier found Willis’ DNA from her clothing in the woods were able to match the DNA to her assaulter, which was a 99.9 percent match.

It took three years to finally catch the predator that abducted and raped Willis.

“The investigators were confident when they got the DNA results,” Willis said. “A district attorney lady told me that she was reading the newspaper years before and said that she wished she could represent me, and was happy when the case came to the district attorney office.”

Willis’ family was very supportive of her during the tragic events that happened.   

“Before I was raped I used to walk everywhere or ride my bike. My mom believed in walking because she walked everywhere as a child too,” Willis said. “My mom was a hard worker, she grew up in poverty and always wanted to keep the house spotless and cook dinner every night. We ate dinner at the table as a family every night. My mom was easy to talk to and took every opportunity to teach me things about life and people.”

Every 98 seconds, an individual is sexually assaulted. Annually, this results in 321,000 Americans who are exploited and neglected; in Texas alone, there were 18,636 sexual assaults in 2015. Sexual assault is an epidemic that plagues women, children and men worldwide, and devastatingly they are often left to assemble their mental and physical state alone. Willis wants to give advice and encourage victims to share their stories of sexual assault so they can spread awareness.

“I relate to them and I understand them, I feel like I fight harder for these certain cases because of my past tragedies,”  Willis said. “I’m very supportive of them without pushing them to talk about what happened, because I know how hard it is to talk when you’re not ready.”

Willis is 32-years-old now, and works for CPS, so she can be an advocate for children who are vulnerable and cannot speak up for themselves or protect themselves. Willis has a close connection to the children who have to deal with these tragedies and wants to help them.

“Remain hopeful, it took me three years to find my attacker,” Willis said. “Be courageous when you go to court. It gets easier with time, the more you share your story, the more it helps heal you and heal others.”      

If you would like to speak to someone or reach out, call this number: 1-800-656-HOPE