Heidi Wilke left the hospital 11 years ago in her doctor's scrubs, a friend's coat and her daughter's shoes. Everything she wore into the exam room became police property the minute she took it off.
Wilke, now 55, survived a rape on Jan. 30, 2002. It was her mom's birthday. A Wednesday.
She left a board meeting shortly after 6 p.m. and walked through the parking lot in downtown Omaha. She brushed the snow off the windshield and unlocked the doors of her SUV. She called her husband, Jeff, to tell him she was one her way to dinner – a small celebration for one of her daughters who had recently been accepted to college – and started the car.
When she pulled up to a stop sign, a man in a black coat opened the passenger-side door. He didn't have a weapon. “He was the weapon,” Wilke said.
He took her wallet, checkbook, wedding ring and a necklace Jeff had given her for Valentine's Day. He forced her in the backseat while he drove through the city, stopping at an ATM for more of Wilke's cash. Eventually he parked the car and made her take off her clothes. He raped her while she stared out the window.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I wasn't really there.”
When he finally left, Wilke locked herself in the SUV and searched for her cell phone. It wasn't there. She pressed the OnStar button to call for help. It didn't work because she needed the keys. They weren't there either.
He had dropped them inside a glove and left them in the snow nearby. So she ran outside, into the cold, and raced back to the car.
“Someone else was running,” she said. “There's no way I could have done that myself.”
Rather than go home, she went to the hospital right away. It is important to seek help immediately following an attack, or within 72 hours, in order to collect physical evidence that could be used in court as well as prevent pregnancy and some sexually transmitted diseases.
Doctors examined her that night. The police took her shoes and clothes. Her favorite leather jacket.
Police found her attacker, a crack dealer named Donnell King, two days later with a woman wearing Wilke's jewelry. After an 18-month court process, the judge ordered King to serve 30 to 75 years behind bars for his crimes: kidnapping, robbery and rape.
Once he was found guilty, she and her husband, Jeff, spearheaded an initiative to raise $1.7 million. It funded the first SANE/SART program in Omaha at Methodist Hospital. SANEs, or sexual assault nurse examiners, and the SART, or sexual assault response team, have seen more than 1,000 people since the program was created in 2003. The staff is trained to treat survivors with care, comfort and dignity – what Wilke says you need most after an attack.
They perform the exams, refer women to counseling services and can put them in contact with law enforcement, among other things. There are clothes on hand for survivors – ones that suit the season. There's also a shower, although you shouldn't use one until after you've been examined.
If you need prescriptions filled, you can do it on site, rather than make another trip to the drugstore.
Wilke has been very open about her experience.
“I wasn't really afraid to talk about it because I didn't do anything wrong,” she said. “It was him, not me.” She wants those who are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted to feel empowered and to be treated as survivors, not victims.
“A victim sounds like you're dead...Helpless. You're not,” she said. “People have to know that you can overcome. It's hard, but it can be done.”
Education is key. Nearly one in five women are raped in the United States, according to 2012 data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Knowing that the SANE/SART program exists locally is critical to receiving care, moving forward and holding attackers responsible.
To further that goal, professionals from the Methodist Health System, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Omaha Police Department and the Women's Center for Advancement are teaming up for a Twitter chat about sexual assault awareness at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Join the conversation by using the hashtag #BeAwareOutThere or send a private message to @MethodistHealth.
Wilke said it's important to reach out to women through all channels, including social media, to affect change.
"Rape is rape. It's out there, and it happens every day. Things have to change,” Wilke said, “and they're not changing fast enough for me.”
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