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Sexual assault survivor walks End to End to raise awareness

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Keri Jacobs in 2019 with former classmates of Connie Furtado (Photograph supplied)

On Saturday, Keri Ebright Jacobs will walk the length of Bermuda in memory of seven women who were raped and murdered here.

It’s a cause she took on because of her own sexual assault at the age of 17 on the railway trail in Pembroke in 1978.

A month later, Connie Furtado, 11, was raped and murdered by Chesterfield Johnson. Ms Jacobs believes it is the same man who attacked her.

The American, who had been living here with her parents, left Bermuda in 1980.

In recent years she has started a Facebook group, Survivors of Abuse and Rape: Soar; in 2018 she ran the Bermuda Marathon Weekend Triangle Challenge in Connie’s memory.

On Saturday she will wear a shirt bearing the names of more than 30 victims of sexual assault as she walks the 35th annual Convex End to End. She will also hand out sea glass pendants to women who have survived sexual assault.

“They need to be remembered and recognised,” the 60-year-old said of the seven females on her list who died following attacks here. “Their families still hurt and miss them. This is a small way to share that they are important, and that they are not forgotten, in hopes to bring some encouragement to the families.”

Ms Jacobs was attacked as she headed for a friend’s house on North Shore, Pembroke. At the time she was a senior at Roger B Chaffee High School in St David’s.

“This guy comes over and parks his bike and starts talking to me,” she said. “I am strong in my relationship with the Lord, so we ended up talking about that and he asked me all these questions. I thought he was really interested in all of this stuff.”

When she turned to leave, he grabbed her and began to rape her, telling her over and over again that he would kill her.

“I kept saying, ‘I won’t tell anyone, I won’t tell anyone,’” she said. “After a while he just let me go. We had to walk back the way we came in. He drove off.”

A month later, Connie’s body was found near the Ord Road bus stop. She was on her way home from Paget Primary School when she was sexually assaulted and strangled with her school tie.

A couple of days later, officers invited Ms Jacobs to a line-up and asked her to identify the man who raped her.

“I stood back in a corner of the police station,” she said. “It was him.”

Keri Jacobs’s list

Keri Ebright Jacobs will wear a list of more than 30 names of victims of sexual assault as she walks the Convex End to End on Saturday. Seven of the women were assaulted and then murdered here in Bermuda:

∎ Elderly Warwick residents Gertrude Robinson and Dorothy Pearce were attacked and died within a span of nine weeks in 1959.

∎ Jean Burrows was sexually assaulted, murdered and her body thrown into the ocean in 1971.

∎ Berkeley Institute teacher Margery Wade was sexually assaulted and killed in her Hamilton apartment on March 3, 1975.

∎ Connie Furtado was raped and murdered on February 22, 1978.

∎ Antje Herkommer, a German tourist, was choked to death by Leroy Burgess as the prisoner attempted to rape her on April 15, 1992.

∎ Canadian teenager Rebecca Middleton was killed while on vacation in Bermuda on July 3, 1996.

Johnson was convicted for Connie’s rape and murder and initially sentenced to death. On appeal, the conviction was reduced to manslaughter; Johnson served the maximum sentence of 20 years and was released from prison in 1998.

Ms Jacobs was never put on the stand. The police said they had enough evidence against him, and her parents did not want her to go through the trauma of a trial.

“I thought I was okay and I kind of buried it, especially the Connie part,” Ms Jacobs said. “My attacker said he was going to kill me but didn’t, but killed Connie.”

She only began to process what had happened to her when her son joined the US Air Force and was sent to Afghanistan.

“I was in an online support group for parents with deployed sons and daughters,” she said. “One of my friends lost her son to post traumatic stress disorder.”

She started reading more and more about military suicide. Then she took a course on PTSD and trauma.

“Every time the words rape and murder got talked about, I felt very anxious,” she said.

“Ironically, through these classes I met some other people from Bermuda who had come to attend, and knew Connie’s story. It helped me start dealing with that.”

In January 2018, her first visit to Bermuda in 38 years, she decided to raise awareness while running a series of races.

“I carried a picture of Connie and also that of a military veteran named Sophie who had taken her life due to the trauma of being a victim of military sexual trauma,” Ms Jacobs said.

On her return to Bermuda the following year, her efforts were boosted by “several of Connie’s classmates” whom she met, and cheered her on.

“They were on the course at the first roundabout. We all held pictures of Connie and took a great selfie. They were responsible for getting a bench built in Connie’s memory and put in place near where she died.”

Keri Jacobs with one of the seaglass pendants she will hand out to survivors of sexual assault and abuse on Saturday (Photograph supplied)

She thinks that was the year she began running with a picture of Connie and a list of assault victims plastered on the front of her shirt. It encouraged people to talk; some then added to the names.

Ms Jacobs believes the list is validation for those who have survived sexual trauma.

“We were hurt in every way — physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually,” she said. “We can survive and reach out and get help. We are special, not shameful. I want to help others who have been traumatised in this way to know that they are also remembered and honoured and I want them to get help and be able to thrive in spite of what they have been through.”

She urged other women who are victims of sexual abuse and assault to get help.

“Even if you don’t share it publicly, share it with someone,” she said. “This was something that happened to me 40 years ago but I still needed to heal and reconcile the whole Connie part of my tragedy. I feel close to her, someone I never knew.”

Contact Keri Jacobs on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SOARsurvivors. Sign up for the End to End here: bermudaendtoend.bm

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Published May 03, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated May 04, 2022 at 8:26 am)

Sexual assault survivor walks End to End to raise awareness

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