When Tricia Shaw, 30, started chatting with a firefighter on a dating site in November 2015, he asked if he could pick her up for their first date.
She remembered the tip she’d read on the Internet: Always meet at a neutral location for the initial meeting.
“But I thought, he’s a firefighter,” Shaw said. “I didn’t really register something bad in my mind.”
They had a lot in common. They both enjoyed science fiction. They loved sushi, so the plan was to go to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. And they both loved cars, so he wanted to pick her up in his new Mustang.
He arrived at Shaw’s house, and she assumed she’d grab her stuff and they’d head out. But instead he walked past her into her apartment.
He saw her cat Lily and followed her into Shaw’s bedroom, where he sat on the floor and began petting the cat.
Shaw said she thought it was odd, but not a big deal. She sat on the floor a couple of feet away and tried to lure her other cat out from under the bed.
However, moments later, he grabbed both of her hands and rammed her into his body. He tried to force her to kiss him.
She said she wasn’t kissing back, and when she protested, he told her to shut up.
At first she thought it was a game, but things progressed with him being forceful while she told him to stop.
And she panicked when she looked in his eyes.
“There was like a brick wall right behind them,” she said. “I didn’t see a soul. It was in that second when I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m about to be raped. This is how I’m going to die.’”
When he left, she locked the door.
Her first thought was that she’d never tell anyone – that no one would believe her.
But hours later, when she saw the bruises on her body, she thought she had evidence. She thought about how he’d probably done this before, and she didn’t know how many times he’d do it again.
Shaw said she went to the police and the detectives began investigating her case. But about three months later, her investigator called her to tell her the case was closed and no charges had been filed.
“It’s really difficult,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll ever stop thinking about it.”
Weeks after the incident, she said she wanted the event to repeat. She wanted him to kill her.
“I was so messed up from what happened that I really wanted that,” she said. “I feel like it’s kind of Stockholm Syndrome-ish, where you just have this connection that doesn’t make sense.”
Little things reminded her of him.
She got rid of her bed; she slept on the floor for a month until she was able to buy a new mattress.
She looked at her cats and thought, “You guys are traitors. You let him pet you. Why didn’t you know what kind of person he was?”
She heard Linkin Park, his favorite band, on the radio. She liked Linkin Park, too, but they became “his” band.
About two months after the incident, she said a psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sometimes, while going about her day, her mind drifts to what happened. She said she had daydreams about revenge or him raping her again.
“It’s really hard for me to let go,” Shaw said. “I don’t have control anymore. Once I fall asleep, I have nightmares, and I can’t do anything when I’m there.”
For months, she could only get one to three hours of sleep a night, always waiting until the sun came up. She found it difficult to sleep in the darkness. She didn’t think about eating and lost about 35 pounds. She felt anger brewing inside of her.
One day, when driving past a gas station, she said she saw him there, pumping gas into his car.
She pictured if she could beat him up, but he looked like he’d gotten stronger since he’d forced himself on her months earlier.
“It makes me feel powerless,” she said, “that I would never be able to overcome him.”
She said she finds it difficult to talk to people about what happened. When she mentions it, she said, people get quiet. They change the subject.
She continues to have thoughts that she considers disturbing, and she doesn’t feel comfortable telling family, friends or her therapist about them. She’s afraid to write things in a journal in case someone found it and read it.
“Some days I think, I’m sick of this all,” Shaw said. “I’m sick of having to be so isolated because I can’t share what’s on my mind all the time. I’d like to get past it, but the reality is that I’m not ready, and that leaves me kind of alone.”
She goes to the psychiatrist every two months and sees a therapist. She takes a sleep aid and medication for anxiety.
After work, she’ll drive for two to three hours a night on the highway, listening to music and getting lost in thought.
“It’s kind of my way to be free,” she said.
If you are in emotional distress, please call 1-800-273-8255.