“I never thought that would happen to me. I am strong, smart and independent. None of that matters if you are handed over to a man who wants to hurt you.” The American is Andrea Sicignano (27). A night out in the Spanish capital Madrid ended in a nightmare. She was brutally beaten up and raped.

Andrea, originally from New York, moved to Madrid about six months ago to start a new and exciting chapter in her life. And that was it. Until two weeks ago. The evening started, however, great. She went to see a Flamenco show with a friend and later the two went for a drink at the café. When they were shot, they lost sight of each other at night in a bar. Andrea went home alone, but took the wrong bus. She ended in a final station in an unknown part of the city.

“I got off the bus as last,” she says on Facebook. “I sat down on a bench to figure out what to do. A man who had been on the bus saw that I was lost and upset. He sat down next to me and offered me help. I was there, lost, at 4 o’clock in the morning, no bus or tram was still running. I needed help. And this man assured me he would help me get home.”

“When I began to realize that I was actually in danger, I tried to leave,” she continues. But it was too late.

©Andrea Sicignano Facebook

Blood and darkness

The ‘helpful man’ suddenly became very violent. “He started to beat me, I fought and struggled against”, Andrea tells her story. “I beat and fought with all my strength. And I tried to take my phone. He shouted in Spanish: “I have your phone, you cannot call anyone.” Time after time he hit me in my face. Until I could no longer fight, I could not scream anymore. I could hardly see through the blood in my eyes.”

Andrea was sure the guy would kill her. “In the end, I closed my eyes. Hoping he would stop beating me, I pretended to be dead. And I prayed that if I opened my eyes again, he would be gone. I do not know how much time passed before I opened my eyes again. But when I did it, he was gone. He had raped me.” Blinded by blood and darkness she tried to straighten out and sought her stuff together. She tore her leggings when she pulled them up again.

And then she started walking. “I walked up the street in my bare feet and screamed the lungs out of my body for help. I was waving like crazy. And yet three or four cars just drove past me. Finally, one of them stopped. I walked up to it, screaming.” The car driver called the emergency services and stayed with Andrea until the ambulance arrived.

Hospital staff took the situation seriously. The young woman immediately got an MRI, a rape study followed. Her eyes were examined extensively, since one eye was so swollen that it was completely closed. Her nose was broken at four places, all over her body she had bruises and scrapes.

©Andrea Sicignano Facebook – Andrea during one of her previous trips.

In his eyes

“These past days are a blur of medical appointments and a police investigation,” she says. She thanks the police for their efforts. “The police in Madrid were incredibly helpful. They made my case a top priority. Together with agents I went back to the place where it had happened. A forensic team investigated everything for DNA.” Andrea also watched the surveillance images on the bus together with the police team. The man had been looking at her for the whole ride. Waiting until he could strike.

Her rapist was eventually found reasonably quickly. “This morning I looked into my attacker’s eyes and pulled him out of a line-up at the police station. For the time being he is behind bars and he will stay there until his trial”, says Andrea. She now feels relief. “He could have killed me. In my own blood he left me in the dark, barely 20 steps from a big road. But I survived. I’m still here.”

Independent

Now she wants to warn other women. “I never thought that this could ever happen to me. I have been traveling alone for years, in all kinds of countries and in countless cities. I am strong, smart and independent. But none of that matters if you are handed over to a man who wants to hurt you. This is real. This really happened, it really happens. And unfortunately, it will continue to happen. Please, never think that this will not happen to you. It happens to women all the time. Whether they are drunk or sober, during an ordinary walk, even if there is surveillance, … None of us is invincible. I know that now.”

Still Andrea wants to stay strong. “I will not let this ruin my spirit. This night does not define me. I refuse this man to take my independence. But I have changed. I will never drink again to a point that I am not on my guard. How can we avoid this? We cannot do that, as women do. It is up to the men who really need to understand what it means to respect a woman. Tough dressing room talk, women chattering, grabbing a girl on the dance floor. It is those actions that can become something much bigger. Women are not objects. We have been taken, used, and thrown away.”

Power

She hopes that she can give women strength, not discourage them. “We cannot live in fear. We cannot let evil win. Do not let this message discourage you, but give you strength. I’m lucky that I can write this. And I speak on behalf of everyone who went through this hell and cannot tell it. This story should have ended differently. Something has to change.”

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