Nearly 25 years after she was raped at gunpoint, a Bay Shore woman has written a memoir about her trauma, recovery and resulting activism.
In “A Survivor’s Journey: From Victim to Advocate,” published by Amazon Publishing on Tuesday, Natasha Alexenko recounts her sexual assault, an experience that cleaved her life into “before and after,” she said, and how it inspired her to fight for other victims.
“I’m hoping that writing this will take a lot of the stigma away,” said Alexenko, now 45. “I really want to share with people that it’s a lifelong struggle. You don’t just one day wake up and say, ‘I’ve done my therapy, I’m cured.’”
Alexenko was a student at New York Institute of Technology in 1993, pursuing a degree in film, when she was raped in her Upper West Side apartment building. Nurses later performed a “rape kit exam” collecting evidence that could be used to prosecute her unknown assailant.
But her rape kit went untested for nearly a decade. When it was finally tested, the DNA collected helped lead to her rapist’s 2008 conviction. He was sentenced to 44 to 107 years in prison.
Alexenko learned her experience was not unique. Her rape kit was one of 17,000 that had gone unprocessed in New York City, and she was determined after sentencing to do “everything I could to ensure others received the same justice.”
She went on to quit her job as executive director of the Long Island Maritime Museum, and in 2011 she founded Natasha’s Justice Project, a nonprofit she operates out of West Sayville that aims to work with legislators and local police departments to establish policies on the counting and testing of rape kits.
Mark Murray, an Oakdale attorney, was an early volunteer with the nonprofit. He said when they first got started in 2011, Alexenko was like “a single voice in the darkness” speaking out about the backlog of untested rape kits.
Since then more rape kit laws have been passed throughout the country. In 2015, Alexenko was invited to speak alongside then Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan to announce a grant of $80 million from the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice to process 70,000 rape kits.
The following year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill that would expedite rape kit analysis. One year after the law went into effect, the number of untested kits dropped by more than 95 percent, a Cuomo spokesman said.
As rape kit legislation expands, Murray said the focus of Natasha’s Justice Project has shifted to providing a voice for sexual assault victims.
“Once she became known, a lot of survivors reached out to her,” Murray said. “She’s kind of become a voice for survivors who can’t or won’t speak for themselves.”
Alexenko began working on her memoir about a year ago, after she was urged on by friends, family and other advocates.
“The more I was out there, speaking about this, the more people started telling me that it’d be helpful if I wrote something — not only to share my story of what happened but also how it affected me after.”
She’s spoken openly about the attack for years and even appeared in a 2011 HBO documentary “Sex Crimes Unit” about the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s effort to prosecute sexual assault cases. But she found it painful and difficult to put the particulars on paper — details like the sickly green color of her attacker’s jeans and how she diverted herself during the assault by imagining herself at her favorite jazz bar.
“It’s hard to go back into your past and think about the mistakes and things you should change or have said,” Alexenko said. “This really came from the heart.”