Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Michelle Theriault Boots: Assault Was Only the Beginning of Her Trauma

Everything Mary Savage did in the hours after the attack was dissected on the witness stand, an experience so upsetting she vomited. But years later, she finds comfort knowing her testimony led to his conviction.

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation, nearly four times the national average. Read Propublica’s collection of stories from survivors choosing to speak.

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It happened early on a Friday in June, the kind of summer night where darkness barely settles on Anchorage. The downtown bars had closed, and Mary Savage was headed home, unaware that a stranger would change her life before she reached her front door.

The 30-year-old was drunk on vodka and cranberry juice and eager to get into the Mountain View apartment she shared with her boyfriend. Her ride dropped her off a block away.

She’d always felt safe there: A police substation was located nearby.

A man approached. He looked so young she didn’t worry right away. When she tried to walk away, the stranger blocked her path.

Suddenly he was groping her, putting his hands all over her body. She yelled at him to stop; he punched her in the head.

Savage weighed around 100 pounds, so small she shopped for clothes in the children’s section.

As she lay crumpled on the ground the man stomped her head, back and stomach. He grabbed her waist-long hair and began dragging her toward a secluded clump of bushes.

“If he takes me anywhere, I’m not gonna survive it,” she thought.

Her screams caught the attention of neighbors. Two men came running, tackling 24-year-old Yosbany Moore, a North Carolina transplant with a record of drug and property crimes.

By the time the struggle ended, Moore had dragged Savage 26 feet by her hair.

The violent assault was over. In some ways, the hard part was just beginning: In that moment Mary Savage became a victim of a sexual crime, triggering a criminal investigation and a series of legal proceedings all meant to seek justice for her, but which nevertheless felt, at times, as traumatic as the assault itself.

Read More

Unheard

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation. Yet it is a secret so steeped into everyday life that discussing it disrupts the norm. These women and men did not choose to be violated, but they now choose to speak about what happened.

Police arrived at 3 a.m. and asked Savage the same questions over and over. It felt as if she were the one who had done something wrong.

“I didn’t realize they were trying to make sure they had very solid answers, that it was for my benefit,” she said.

She went home to her apartment, where her boyfriend comforted her. The couple had sex. Around 6 a.m., she got high on meth. Then she went to an exam by a SART nurse to document the injuries from the assault.

She didn’t realize everything she did in the hours before and after the attack would later be dissected in court. The summer of 2007 was already a dark time in Savage’s life. She was addicted to meth and had briefly been homeless. The attack, and the new fears that followed, rearranged her life.

She wouldn’t leave her house without a gun, or go outside alone. The streets seemed to teem with menacing strangers.

“He attacked me 15 feet from my front door,” she said. “My sense of safety and security was completely gone.”

She fled Anchorage for a place where encountering a stranger was impossible: her grandparents’ cabin in Anvik, a village on the Yukon River with a population of 60.

A few months later, she got a call from prosecutors: Moore’s trial was happening soon, and she was the crucial witness.

Savage was reluctant to testify. But she knew the case rested on her testimony.

“I remember her not wanting to do it, but doing it,” said Brittany Dunlop, the prosecuting attorney in the case. “She felt like she kind of had to — to protect other people.”

While she was on the witness stand, Moore’s defense attorney went after the fact that Savage had sex with her boyfriend after the assault, cast doubt on her first words to police when they arrived, pointed out she was drunk and had used meth on the evening of the incident.

“By far one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my life,” she said of testifying. “And that includes the assault.”

During one particularly brutal moment of the cross-examination, Savage suddenly vomited on the witness stand as the courtroom looked on.

She escaped to the bathroom to compose herself. Staring in the mirror, she reminded herself the worst part was over.

“I thought he was so dangerous, I knew he had to be in prison,” she said.

A jury found Moore guilty on one charge of attempted sexual assault and two charges of second- degree sexual assault.

Instead of relief, Savage felt numb.

She learned the verdict was not nearly the end of the case.

It took almost a year and a half-dozen hearings to get to the sentencing. Savage attended all of them. She wanted to remind everyone she was not just M.S., the set of initials used to identify her in every court document.

“I wanted the court to see that I was real,” she said.

At Moore’s sentencing in November 2008 she stood to read a victim impact statement.

“I have the right to live free from fear, danger and harm. I also have the right to decide who can and cannot touch my body,” she said.

Savage told the court about the lasting physical and psychological reminders of the assault: neck pain, hyper-vigilance, the sadness of chopping off her long hair because so much had been torn out in the attack.

Savage hadn’t stopped blaming herself for what happened until then.

“I’m allowed to get drunk. I’m allowed to talk to strangers. I’m allowed to do everything I did,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t deserve it in any way.”

In a March letter from Spring Creek Correctional Center, Moore wrote that he attacked Savage, but denied that he was trying to sexually assault her.

“I physically assaulted a woman, nothing more, nothing less,” he wrote.

Moore was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

It still wasn’t over, though: Moore appealed his sentence, saying it was excessive.

An appellate court sent the sentencing back to a lower court, and Moore was resentenced in 2012. His current release date is in 2034.

For years after the attack, Savage would get clean from meth in the winter and then start using again every June.

Finally someone asked her: Did something happen to you in June?

She realized she’d been relapsing around the anniversary of the attack.

Read More

Here’s What Experts Say to Do After Experiencing Sexual Assault

We consulted six professionals in Alaska who work with survivors of sexual assault, including a therapist, a law enforcement officer, advocates for survivors, a nurse and a prosecutor. We compiled their guidance on the choices survivors can make.

In 2015, Savage got clean and sober for good. She began counseling because she wanted to learn to allow emotions about the attack to surface after years of coping through detachment. It took a lot of hard work, she said.

Gradually, life has gotten better: She is still in recovery. At 43, she runs a successful cleaning and janitorial business. She has gained custody of her daughter — something she wouldn’t have thought possible “in a million years” when she was still using, she said.

Today, instead of focusing on how terrible the witness stand was, she thinks about what her testimony accomplished.

“I stopped this man,” Savage said. “From a lifelong quest of harming women. I did that.”

The assault still haunts her. Her neck hurts all the time, forever a reminder of the beating.

In counseling she’s learned that telling the story of what happened “helps remove the power from it.”

“I’ll keep doing it, if it can help somebody,” she said. “Even if that somebody is me.”


First published by ProPublica in partnership with Anchorage Daily News. Included in Vox Populi on an open license.

Mary Savage in front of the space where she feels most safe, because it is where she gathers with her close friends. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News)

2 comments on “Michelle Theriault Boots: Assault Was Only the Beginning of Her Trauma

  1. Lara/Trace
    June 20, 2020

    Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    June 19, 2020

    Thank you for telling this story and to the brave woman who didn’t let it drop.

    Liked by 1 person

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