PRICE — The woman had been asleep for about two hours when she was awakened by the thunderous boom. It was the sound of her front door being kicked in by the intruder now inside her apartment.
"He was standing in my room with a clown mask, gloves and a knife, and came over, threw me on my bed and was yelling at me to shut up," said the woman, who asked the Deseret News to identify her by the initials M.L.
It was 3 a.m. on Jan. 13 — Friday the 13th — and M.L. couldn't figure out if someone was really in her bedroom or if she was just dreaming. Then the masked man ordered her to touch the large, Bowie-style knife he was brandishing.
"I knew at that point that it wasn't a dream," M.L. said, recounting her horrific ordeal to give strength to other crime victims still trying to put fear behind them.
The man demanded money, jewelry and the woman's cellphone. She gave him what she had, but he wasn't finished with her. He ordered her to undress at knife point, then raped her.
"He was telling me, 'This is fun, isn't it? Isn't this exciting? Don't you like it?'" M.L. recalled.
She said she had already talked the man out of binding her with duct tape, but she still feared he was going to kill her. She began trying to convince him to put down his knife. When he did, she started looking for a way out.
"His eyes were closed or something, I can't remember, and I saw my keys right there, so I thought, 'You know what? If I'm going to die, I'm going to at least try. I'm going to at least try getting away,'" M.L. said.
Badly bruised and naked, M.L. managed to break free, make her escape and contact police.
A backlog at the Utah State Crime Lab, however, meant it would be four more months before a DNA match identified Dwaine Stacey Shaw as the man behind the clown mask.
Shaw, 22, lived in the same apartment complex.
M.L. said she met him once, and after that he began badgering her, through Facebook messages, for a date. "The last thing I remember him saying (on Facebook) was, 'So what? You think you're better than everyone else? You won't even give me a chance?'" she said.
Shaw pleaded guilty in October to aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, rape and forcible sodomy. The charges are all first-degree felonies.
But during those months before his arrest, M.L. said she lived in fear. She contemplated suicide. She considered committing herself to a mental health facility. She lived with her aunt and uncle, sleeping on their bedroom floor or walking around their house all night, checking the locks on all the doors and windows.
"I was just so scared all the time," M.L. said. "I can't even describe how scared I was."
As if the fear wasn't bad enough, she also had to deal with backlash in the community and on social media. Because of the bizarre details of the attack — the fact that it took place on Friday the 13th, and that police didn't immediately have a suspect in custody — M.L. said she was labeled a liar by some and ridiculed by others.
"There were people on Facebook making fun of it, saying, 'Well, I'm here with the clown rapist. We're going to go out and rape everyone,'" she said.
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, said being doubted and even mocked is something victims of sexual assault experience far too often.
"People want to look for an easy answer," she said. "Well, if only … 'If only, she hadn't been there. If only she hadn't gone out with that guy. If only, on and on.' Then it's sort of easier to understand it, although it's a misunderstanding and a myth."
Instead of blame, Mullen said, those who have been sexually assaulted need sympathy from those around them, including the community at-large.
"We need to start believing and trusting victims, and supporting them through their journey because this is a very difficult trauma to get through," she said.
M.L. said she found the support she needed from family, close friends, the Carbon County victim advocate, police and prosecutors.
"You always will have help, always," she said. "They can keep you safe. They can help you put the person away."
M.L. faced Shaw when he was sentenced to prison last week, describing her ordeal to the judge and referring to her attacker as "sick" and "pathetic."
Shaw was ordered to serve at least 15 years in prison for the kidnapping charge, and given concurrent sentences of five years to life in prison for the rape, sodomy and burglary charges. Prosecutors expect him to serve 24 years before he gets his first chance at parole.
M.L. plans to be at all of Shaw's parole hearings to ensure "he never gets out to do this to anyone else." In the meantime, she plans to pursue recovery in her own way.
"I think the best way for me to heal is to help other people," she said, "so that's what I'm going to start doing. I'm going to start helping classes at (Utah State University Eastern), telling my story and helping other people."
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