Looking forward to a night out with my friend Chrissy, I was so proud of how far I’d come.
Growing up, I’d been painfully shy. But aged 19, and two years into a psychology degree, I’d finally broken out of my shell.
I’d made good friends, landed a casual job and was living life to the fullest.
Now, I was driving home after dropping Chrissy at work, and that night we were going out dancing.
A baking hot day, I stopped at a car wash to give mine a scrub. As I was rinsing off the suds, a man suddenly appeared behind me.
Covering my mouth with his hand, he held a knife to my throat.
Was a friend playing a sick joke on me?
But hearing his deep, husky voice, I realised he was a stranger. That’s when he dragged me to his car, which was parked close to mine.
Shoving me onto the floor of the back seat, he forced handcuffs onto my wrists behind my back.
‘Stay down or I’ll kill you,’ he barked, setting off.
I desperately tried to think of a way out, but I knew I was trapped.
Memorising corners as he turned, I tried to work out where we were, but it was impossible to keep up.
Hearing gravel under the wheels, I realised we were in the middle of nowhere.
Finally, the car stopped.
The man walked around to the back and pulled me upright on the back seat.
‘If you try to run, I’ll cut your head off,’ he warned.
‘I promise I won’t,’ I said, terrified.
He forced a beanie over my head and eyes, but I could still partially see through the thin blindfold.
From what I could make out, it looked like we were on farmland.
Taking off the handcuffs, he ordered me to remove my clothes.
With trembling hands, I did as he said.
Then I was repeatedly attacked and raped.
He also forced me to perform oral sex on him.
If I hesitated, he’d beat me.
In agony, my traumatised brain seemed to switch off. It was like watching this happen to someone else.
I just hope I make it out of here alive, I told myself.
Thankfully, after hours of torture inside and outside the car, a man saw us.
Not realising I wasn’t consenting, he ordered us off the property. Panicked, my attacker frantically drove us away.
He’d forgotten to handcuff me, though, and I was able to start dressing myself.
As we drove, I began to feel less detached from my body and wondered if I could escape if the car stopped.
Then the car started to slow down. This was it.
If I don’t leave now, I could die, I thought.
As it stopped, I flung open the back door and threw myself out. Leaping to my feet, I ripped off the beanie and, half-dressed, I took off down the road as fast as I could.
‘Stop!’ my attacker screamed behind me as I ran for my life.
Just then, a set of headlights appeared.
I jumped into the middle of the road to get the driver’s attention, and he stopped and let me in.
‘Just go,’ I urged, breaking down in tears as I told him I’d been abducted from the car wash and attacked.
The kind stranger phoned the police, who met us at another servo.
Taking me back to where I’d been found, the attacker’s car was still there, abandoned.
Then the police took me to hospital.
Shortly after, officers caught the rapist in the shower of his home, trying to wash off my DNA from his body.
Horrifyingly, he’d already served 12 years in jail for raping another woman.
How could he be free to do it again? I wondered, feeling broken.
After identifying him, I was free to leave. But I felt anything but free.
Back home with my parents, I was afraid to be alone and scared by my own shadow.
Suffering from flashbacks, panic attacks and PTSD, I was a shell of my old self.
Fourteen months after the attack, in September 1999, truck driver Lloyd Calvin Cooksey, then 45, appeared in court.
Charged with 15 offences, including kidnapping, rape, forced sodomy and sexual battery, a jury found him guilty on all counts. He was locked up for the rest of his life.
He’ll never harm a woman again, I cried in relief.
Despite my PTSD, with determination I managed to graduate from university and pursued a career in law to help others get justice.
Now, 23 years after the horrific attack, I still have bouts of PTSD, but I’m so much better.
Married to Mike and with two beautiful daughters, Kennedy and Sydney, I speak about my experience and share it on my Instagram – @my
beautyfromashes – to give hope to other survivors.
Every year, I even throw a party to celebrate my survival on the anniversary of the attack.
After going to hell and back, I’ve learned there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving.