Sexual assault survivor returns to trail to confront the fear

LITTLETON, Colo. -- One week after she was attacked on Littleton's South Platte Trail, a woman confronted her fear head-on.

Vanessa shared a chilling message of caution and hope Wednesday night.

Although it was a small step, it's progress in a likely long road that ends with healing.

"I think about it all the time. I think about it when I wake up in the morning, it's the last thing I think about when I go to bed," Vanessa said.

"Why? Why something like this would happen? What it's going to take to not think about it?"

She believes that journey starts by going mentally and physically to the spot where fear was born.

"My thoughts are really strong when I'm out here," she said. "This would be the spot where I passed him for the second time."

Vanessa, along with her husband on this visit to the trail, went to the spot where the man attacked her.

"He was this close from my face, threatening my life so ...," she said.

That spot is a five-minute walk from Vanessa's house and it's heavily trafficked. She believes her attacker knew that but didn't care.

"He had full intent. He had thought it through," she said.

That is what motivates Vanessa to push a message of awareness and self-defense.

"I had a birthday (Tuesday) that I might not have celebrated if it weren't for the fight," she said.

While her survivor spirit prevails, she said there are understandable moments of defeat.

"I was attacked by a stranger doing something that I love to do," she said. "Being a pretty fearless person in general, now I'm scared."

She said ultimately, she hopes her fear transitions to caution and that caution will work to empower her and maybe some others along the way.

"I feel like a survivor out here. I feel like a hero out here. So ashamed that there's people out there like him. But there's one less now," she said.

After Vanessa fought off her attacker and escaped, she ran into some cyclists on the nearby trail for help.

Those cyclists help to turn the attacker in to police.

On Tuesday, the suspect was charged with seven counts, including kidnapping and sex assault.

The Littleton Police Department said the suspect was homeless.

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