“I was too ashamed to tell anyone,” Amy says. “Julia encouraged me to widen my circle, and that was really helpful because I developed a wonderful support system of girlfriends.”
When Amy left for Florida, she continued her phone sessions with Hochstadt.
“Szymon wasn’t settling, so there was the prospect of the trial hanging over me,” she says. “Julia and my friends were there for me.”
The trial began Nov. 2, 2016, ending a week later in a guilty verdict for Chodakowski. That was a turning point for Amy.
“Being believed truly helped the healing begin,” she says.
But healing doesn’t always happen in a straight line. It occurs in fits and starts, with occasional setbacks and, sometimes, the realization that life may never be quite the same again.
“I’d never been a person who was scared of anyone or doubted myself,” says Amy. “Now I’ve left that girl behind. What 29-year-old sleeps with a nightlight? But Julia helped me realize that it also takes strength to admit when you’re not OK, to ask for help getting back on your feet. Having Julia, having my family, all moved me forward so I could create a new version of myself.”
Amy chose not just to go to trial but also to speak out at Chodakowski’s sentencing — a step she took both for herself and, she says, for other women victimized by sexual assault.
“As a victim, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have a voice,” says Amy. “At trial, I wasn’t allowed to talk about how the rape affected my life.” [Legally, only the facts of the case are allowed.] But I wanted Szymon to know how he had changed me — to have my voice heard.”
Hochstadt helped Amy prep for what is known as her impact statement, to be read aloud at sentencing. And when she heard Amy’s clear, unwavering voice in the courtroom, Hochstadt had tears in her eyes.
“Amy exemplified strength at that moment,” she says. “It was incredible that Szymon was held accountable for what he did, that she was so poised and articulate. It was one of the proudest moments of my career.”
For Amy, who is finishing up her first year of law school, it also felt gratifying to get feedback from other women, many of whom learned about her impact statement when a media outlet posted Amy’s story on Facebook.
“I got messages from my law school classmates, and a message from a high school girl who said I’d taught her that she should never let a guy treat her that way,” she says.
Just as important for an aspiring lawyer, Amy says she believes she sent a message that justice is possible for any woman who suffers a sexual assault, as well as for criminals like Chodakowski, a registered sex offender who is now serving a five-year sentence, two five-year felony counts served concurrently, plus five years’ probation.
“It should not have to be brave to report a rape,” says Amy. “It should just be the normal thing to do. People need to know that justice can happen if that’s what you choose, that there are good people who will treat you well and believe you. I was incredibly lucky to meet many of those people along the way.”