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From Her Own Fear and Trauma Came the Strength To Help Others


(Reproduced from The Northwest Catholic Progress, Archdiocese of Seattle, Christmas 2005)

By: Christine Dubois

Therapist Toni Napoli says her life fits together like a puzzle. And the most frightening piece happened in October 1969.

Napoli, who was five months pregnant with her first child, was cleaning her Rainier Valley home when she heard a knock on the door. Opening it, she found a well-dressed stranger. He asked her for a drink of water. He didn't look particularly frightening, but something made her nervous. She said, "No," and quickly shut the door.

"I thought it was locked, but it wasn't," she recalls. The man forced his way in, grabbed her from behind, and held a knife to her throat.

"The worst part of it was facing death," she says. "I was screaming, "Don't hurt my baby!" I could see myself on the floor, dead."

The intruder raped her, then took what little of value he could find in the house and left. He was later convicted of a string of break-ins and rapes all over the city.

Distraught, Napoli called her husband, her father, and the police. Many of the resources now available to victims of sexual violence didn't exist in 1969. She saw a psychiatrist who helped her cope with her fears. It was the beginning of a long journey to healing.

"It was a long time coming before I was comfortable at home alone," she recalls. "I prayed all the time. Mary, Jesus, St. Jude was a real favorite. Just imagining God with me and Jesus with me helping me get through it."

Her baby, a daughter, was born healthy, and Napoli went back to her life. She and her husband had a son, and she began teaching elementary school.

Then, in 1978, things fell apart. She got a threatening phone call from someone who said they had kidnapped her son. It wasn't true--the boy was at home with her--but Napoli was terrified. All the fear and trauma from her assault came up again.

This time she went to King County Rape Relief (now the King County Sexual Assault Center). "I got lots of support and help in healing the past trauma," she says. "I believe the Spirit was moving through them. I really believe that people working here on earth, when they're doing good, they're Jesus, they're serving God. . . . I believe I can be a vessel for the Spirit to help others."

Soon Napoli was volunteering with Rape Relief, helping other women deal with the fear and trauma of sexual violence. "It was a wonderful way of continuing my healing by giving back." She didn't stop there. She earned a counseling degree from Seattle University in 1984 and took a job as an intake specialist at Group Health Cooperative. In 1995, she opened her own counseling practice, specializing in helping victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Today Napoli lives in West Seattle with her husband of 37 years, Charles Roy, who's been "like a rock" through it all. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.

Napoli speaks in parishes, hoping to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence.

"I believe that if Jesus were standing here right now, he would say he doesn't want you or anyone to be abused," she tells her audience. "There's help for people who are abused, for the victim, and for the perpetrator, and for the children."

One question Napoli asks her clients is: Do you have a faith base that you can fall back on when you're afraid? "If they do, it's so helpful," she says. "It gives them something to hold onto, to believe in. I know God is with me, and it will be OK."

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