I was really fortunate to have been so close to death and was given a second chance and I’m not going to waste this time. I want to leave a legacy of healing and continue the work with our policy makers and our government administration to help build understanding around trauma and how it affects people.

The final stage of healing begins when you are able to make a conscious effort to do something positive with that dark cloud that’s been hanging over you.

We offered to give them everything to leave us alone,but they said they were going to kill us.

Instead, Cornet and an unidentified associate pummeled them. Cornet bit down on Luest’s arm, piercing the muscle.

I apppeared on “Tourist Trap,” the Forensic Files episode that told the story of the early-1990s South Florida crime wave that shocked the world. At the time, nightly newscasts were reporting story after story about brazen thieves ambushing travelers in daylight, smashing the windows of their rental cars, and occasionally killing those who resisted and some who didn’t.

Today, I am senior manager at research and consulting firm Abt Associates.  I am also President & CEO of Witness Justice which advocates for people living with the effects of trauma.

Tourists were specifically targeted because they were less likely to come back to prosecute. The theory was that tourists were targeted because they would be so traumatized that they would go back home and stay there.

It’s very unusual for a victim to be bitten during a crime, so that made the link to our robbery stronger. They flew me to Florida to do an in-person ID of photographs, and I identified Stanley Cornet. With the bite mark evidence, it was more difficult for him to claim he didn’t do this and to be believed by the jury.

Then a TV Producer, my career changed completely after this attack. First because of my physical injuries because I could no longer carry gear in the field when I was producing news stories — so I knew I had to make a change. I came to see my life’s work as helping to prevent violence wherever possible and making sure victims have the support they need to heal and live well again.

What happened gives me insight into the nature and impact of trauma and how trauma affects whole health. When someone is traumatized, the effects are not just physical and mental but also spiritual and economic. It can lead to workplace presenteeism [difficulty focusing because of the trauma, so your productivity is affected].

I believe the final stage of the healing process is when you can take the dark cloud of what happened to you and make it something positive. I’m serving on the Governor’s Family Violence Council in Maryland. I use my experience to try to better inform programs and use what I know as a survivor to inform and help other people. What was once a senseless incident that happened to me became something I could turn into actions with a positive purpose.

I  manage two groups, on Linkedin and Facebook. The Facebook “Trauma Informed” group has more than 1,300 members (with 3 to 5 new members daily) and is more conversation-oriented. It includes people from as far away as China and Australia. The LinkedIn group has more than 700 members.

Everyone heals differently. Sometimes after a year a two, it can seem that everything is back to normal, but then a life change — like getting married, losing a parent, starting a new new job, having an illness — can unearth pieces of healing that you weren’t ready to explore earlier. People heal along their lifespans and in their own time and in their own way. I believe counseling can be good, but victims also benefit from connecting with other trauma victims and those who can relate to their experience.

When I was attacked, there really weren’t any groups for crime victims. Now with social media, it’s easier. Sometimes a victim can use a different name to protect privacy. We now have a deeper understanding of the nature of trauma. I see more state and grass-roots level opportunities to have discussions on crime and trauma in the community, so that heightens awareness.

What’s the most common effect of trauma on victims? The feeling that so much is out of their control. When an assailant is caught, he has Miranda Rights. But you as a victim don’t have a right to a speedy trial. No one tells you how long the process is or when VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) is going to contact you. It really is a long-term commitment.

The forensic dental expert lost the photo of the bite wounds I sustained [from Stanley Cornet]. And I called every week for years to ask where the photos were, if they’d been found. Also, Cornet’s cap came off in the attack, and I gave it to police but it was never registered into evidence. I’m wondering: Will this ever go to trial? Will this ever be over? These are things you would never know until you have experienced it.

Forensic Files also didn’t show that Cornet found a loophole in the prosecution process. In 2001, I got a call from VINE notifying me that he was transferred back to Miami for a hearing. They resentenced the case, so I went back down to Florida and testified again.

Stanley Cornet sat there and smiled at me during proceedings — now, for a second time — as he heard what I went through physically and emotionally.  The court saw that he was not remorseful. This judge sentenced him to life in jail without parole.

I don’t have feeling on one side of my face. I’ve had chronic back issues, although now I’m back to running — and now I’m running marathons. I also have scars, but I’ve become more comfortable with them as part of my body.

The US is in an unusual place where violence and threats of violence are increasing. I work with the National Bullying Prevention Initiative and have been tuned into news reports of increased bullying and hate crimes in school. The NEA recently said these incidents are rising. We’re seeing more bullying in schools. We need to set the right example, build empathy, and pay attention to what can cause kids lifelong problems.♣

Note: More people regret not reporting a crime than reporting it.

In June of 2018 launches my Campaign for Maryland Delegate in District 18I’ve been working on federal and state policy issues for more than 20 years, and I’m ready to use that experience, my leadership skills, and knowledge to make a difference. 

I’m far from your typical candidate: I’m a single mother and a survivor of attempted murder and domestic abuse. It’s those experiences that led to my advocacy work on behalf of other trauma victims and compelled me to fight for positive social change

Helga shares a harrowing story about a traumatic experience she had in 1993 
Find out more about Helga by visiting her Website or following her on Facebook, LInkedIn, Twitter & Witness Justice

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