By Jordy Yager - 02/23/10 12:23 AM EST
The year before her husband was elected to the House, Rosemary Trible was raped at gunpoint by a masked assailant in a Virginia hotel.
That was nearly 35 years ago. In the decades since, Trible has transformed that “night of sheer terror” into a life of helping abused women move past their fears and open themselves to the possibility of forgiving their attackers, as she explains publicly for the first time in her book Fear to Freedom, released earlier this month.
“It’s amazing that what was meant for evil has been used for good,” Trible said in a telephone interview from her home in Newport, Va. “I have come to know that I would not be the woman that I am today if I had not had this experience.”
Prior to moving to Washington, Trible hosted a live television talk show in Richmond, Va., called “Rosemary’s Guestbook.” It addressed local and state political and cultural issues. In December 1975, Trible, then 25, decided to tape several episodes of the show so she could return to her family’s home 50 miles outside of Richmond to be with them for the holidays.
After an evening of taping, she retired to a hotel across the street from the studio instead of making the hourlong drive home. Trible began working on the next day’s script. At about 11 p.m. she felt tired, so she went downstairs for a cup of coffee.
She returned to her room and sat down at her typewriter.
“It was then that I heard the curtains part, and to my shock there was a man who had been hiding there,” Trible said. “He came forward and put his gloved hand around my neck and put the cold steel of a gun to my head and said, ‘OK, cute talk show host, what do you do with a gun to your head?’
“It was a night of great horror, and I fought and I prayed and I pled and I did everything I could. I remember saying over and over again the Lord’s Prayer to keep myself from going into shock,” she said. “And just before he left — after quite some time — he was going back to the window, and again with the gun to my head, he said, ‘I know who you are, I know where you live, and I will kill you if you tell.’
“And as soon as he was out that window, I called downstairs to security. The police went after him and he was never found.”
In recent weeks, Trible, now 60, has been recounting the experience publicly for the first time after spending the past year writing about the attack.
Trible returned to the familiar corridors of Capitol Hill earlier this month on invitation by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) advocacy group. She gave an intimate talk to a roomful of staffers and lawmakers, where, with a steady voice, she described the powerlessness she felt in the hours, weeks and years following the crime.
“I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but a man who rapes you, he doesn’t want to destroy you for a night, he wants to destroy you for a lifetime,” Trible told the group in the Cannon House Office Building meeting room, using nearly the same words from her book.
“And he had planted that dagger of fear deep into my soul and my heart so that it would always be there, and that fear would begin to control my life,” she said.
Trible has found a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, such as Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), who back her push for more aid to rape-recovery legislation, like the Debbie Smith Act and the Violence Against Women Act.
Edwards spoke with Trible at the recent Capitol Hill event, saying she herself had been a victim of a sexual aggressor in college and could relate with women throughout the world who go through the pain and healing process afterward.
“I understood that circumstance that women, young women, all of us, feel when we think we’re not being heard and the damage that can do to you for a really, really long time, questioning yourself, questioning whether it was something that you did, or you said, that brought on that kind of response,” Edwards told the group. “So I really do join you in the fight for all women for our dignity and for our ability to say no, and then when something horrible happens, that we get the kind of support and services that we need through all of our systems.”
In the year following her attack, the feeling of “brokenness” in Trible was made more difficult when her husband launched the family into the national spotlight, undertaking his first congressional campaign. But that period in her life would come with a silver lining.
“Here I was bleeding on the inside and trying to be the smiling wife of a candidate at 25 years old,” she said. “And really what saved my life was that I got pregnant with our first child, Mary Katherine. And that gave me a reason to live, and somehow we won that race, but the road back was a really difficult one.”
Trible said she and her family debated whether to make her attack public during the campaign, but ultimately decided against it.
During the Tribles’ 12 years on Capitol Hill, Rosemary forged a bipartisan women’s religious fellowship group, which she says helped her with the healing process.
But it was one year after her husband’s election that she says her faith was put to the test. She was invited to dinner by several Washington pastors who had been working in local prisons to reform inmates.
The trip into inner-city Washington was enough to make Trible nervous, but at the dinner, she was seated next to the one person she didn’t want to be near.
“He was a huge African-American muscular man of the similar stature of the man who had raped me,” Trible said. “And my heart was pounding.”
Trible swallowed her fear and introduced herself. The man, Pat Patterson, had just been released two weeks ago after 12 years in prison — five of those years on Alcatraz.
Patterson described to Trible how the pastors taught him the power of repentance and helped transform his life. Patterson had begun working to lower the city’s crime and poverty rates.
“Suddenly a light went on for me,” Trible said. “This man, who initially I was afraid of … was a sweet creature, and I didn’t need to be afraid of him anymore. It was amazing to me, that suddenly I saw he had been set free by his forgiveness.”
Trible excused herself to the bathroom and got down on her knees and said, “Lord, I forgive the man who raped me. And I will pray every day for the rest of my life that someone will tell him about Jesus and that I’ll spend eternity with him.
“And this incredible burden just came off of me,” she said.
She and Patterson would turn out to be lifelong friends, with Trible even delivering the eulogy at his funeral.
In the subsequent years, Trible privately shared her journey of healing with friends and women who had been abused. Some of Trible’s friends suggested that she write about her experiences, but she always put the idea on the “back burner” because she never considered herself an author, she said.
Then one day at church, her pastor asked the congregation the questions: “What if you did not have to be so afraid?” and “What if you could help someone else not have to be so afraid?”
On her way out of church, she turned and asked her husband what he thought about writing a book. “ ‘I think it is time,’ ” she recalled him saying. “ ‘And I think there is so much need out there, and you should start this summer.’ And he’s such a real encourager.”
Trible said it was at that moment that she knew she needed to tell her story publicly to help other women in their struggles to regain their lives after being abused.
“I want women to know that they can be empowered, that the cycle of fear can be broken and the lost joy can be found again, as I found it in my own life,” she said. “I learned a lot about the power of forgiveness and the power of love in the process.”