Audrey Mabrey, 30, was a student at Hillsborough Community College in 2009, a mother of two and in the process of getting a divorce.
Though they had separated, Mabrey said she continued to stay with her husband in their marital home. Then, though she said he had never been violent with her before, he tried to rape her once. She left and got her own apartment.
But the rest of Mabreys story which she shared with a packed Marshall Student Center amphitheater at the fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, an event in which men donned heels and pumps to promote awareness about gendered violence, less than a week after the second on-campus rape in three weeks would forever change the direction of her life.
Mabrey told the approximately 100 people, including members of the University Police force, Dean of Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez and the entire baseball team keep, who sat in and around the amphitheater, about how she returned to her former home briefly when her now ex-husband was not at home and she decided to go for a jog.
When she returned, she said she saw him waiting for her with a butcher knife in hand. He ran at her.
As soon as I went to grab the door, it was too late, she said. He already had me in his arms.
Mabrey said he carried her to their garage, where he then began to sodomize her, holding a butcher knife to her throat. Afterward, he bludgeoned her four times in the head with a hammer, doused her in gasoline and set her on fire.
I thought there was no way I was going to get out of there, Mabrey said. There was no way I was going to get away from him.
But she looked up and noticed the garage door was unlocked. After she escaped, a neighbor was able to help her extinguish the fire, according to a Tampa Bay Times report at the time. Her ex-husband was sentenced to life in prison this January, after pleading innocent.
She said she thanked God for allowing her to live, but her journey had only just begun.
During my stay at Tampa General Hospital I mustered up the courage to look at myself in the mirror for the first time, she said to an audience whose eyes were filled with tears. The only words I could think of to describe the way that I looked was that I look like a monster. I was completely and utterly devastated. It was very soon after that that I became determined. I knew I was not going to let him rob me of anything else than what he had already robbed me of. Everything else, externally, he could have it he already took it. But internally, everything I had left was mine and not for the taking.
After she was released from the hospital, she said that she, like many victims of domestic and sexual violence, harbored the question Why? in her mind for a long time.
But letting the question go gave her freedom, she said. She still had one more step until she was completely free though.
If I could forgive him, I could be free and move forward and help other people, she said. So thats exactly what I did. I know that God saved me for more than one reason. Im positive that two of those reasons are that, one, I could be here to raise my two boys and teach them how to be real men and, two, so that I can allow God to use me to help others and save others.
Mabreys story provoked tears from the audience who embraced her as she left the stage.
I recognize that men and women will not be equal until sexual and relationship violence end, men in the audience chanted as Mabrey left, and they pledged to become part of the solution to preventing more, similar stories. I accept my responsibility in making this a safer world for all people.