The following essay contains sexual assault
details that may be upsetting to some readers.
Why should I have cared two years ago when George Sanchez, aka the notorious San Francisco
Bay Area "ski mask rapist," was up for parole
for the first time
in his 406-year prison
I'm one of his victims.
Sanchez terrorized at least 25 women
in nine communities between 1984 and 1987, including an 83-year-old woman volunteering at a church
, according to the deputy district attorney
In 1987, I was living in Cupertino, California
, and working nights at a medical clinic six miles away in the upscale town of Los Altos. I liked my job as a medical transcriber because it gave me the freedom to set my own hours, and because I am an introvert and a night owl, I usually went in after 5 p.m., when everyone else had left.
Nick and I were driving home
from celebrating his birthday on November 13 when he mentioned that the ski mask rapist had recently struck in Cupertino.
“And he’s got a gun
,” Nick added, knowing my habit of walking alone at night and warning me to be cautious. I promised I’d be more aware of my surroundings, but I forgot about the rapist until he unexpectedly showed up at my workplace
five nights later.
I looked up from my typewriter to see a ski-masked figure standing two feet away, pointing a gun at me. I hadn't heard him come in; he just appeared out of nowhere. My mind immediately went into overdrive, thinking it was an employer or a friend playing a late Halloween
joke on me. In the next second, I realized this was no joke.
I let out an involuntary whimper, and his gloved hand quickly covered my mouth. “Don't scream or make any noise. I've shot before, and I'll shoot again,” he warned.
I was expecting the gun to fire
at any moment, and an image of my parents' shocked grief
when they found out how I died flashed through my mind.
“Do as I say,” he hissed as he pushed me out of my chair and onto the floor. I instinctively lay on my stomach, and he ordered me to put my hands behind my back. He asked where the office money
was, and I told him about the safe in the Xerox room next to us. He demanded the combination, and I told him I didn’t know. “You’d better remember it or you’re dead,” he said.
“I swear to God, I don’t know it!” I begged him, expecting the gun to go off at any moment. An image of my parents’ shocked grief flashed through my mind as I felt the gun press deeper into my neck, and I prayed the bullet wouldn’t leave me paralyzed flashed through my mind.
He grabbed my coat from the back of my chair and threw it over my head to cover my eyes; at one point, I realized I was hyperventilating loudly, but I forced myself to stop out of fear of upsetting him. He went into the Xerox room for about 40 seconds, then returned.
He followed me out of the room on all fours, impatiently shouting directions because the coat obscured my vision, and pushed me into the children
's small waiting room. "Take off all your clothes. I'm going to fuck you."
He sodomized and raped me quickly, then told me to lie face down on the floor. “I'm tying you up so you don't do anything stupid like call the cops,” he said, binding my hands to a wooden chair and placing the chair on top of my back. He told me to close my eyes, which I did.
He asked for the safe combination again, and I insisted that I didn't know it, and he put a threatening hand on my neck.
“Are you certain?” he queried.
I exhaled, "I swear to God!"
He must have believed me because his next words were, "I'll let you live." He told me he was going to look around the office for money and would return. "Don't move," he cautioned, and I fully expected him to return.
I felt cautiously euphoric when I heard his footsteps leave the room; did this mean I'd make it? Was this ordeal really almost over? Given his order not to move, I forced myself to lie perfectly still, almost afraid to breathe.
While I lay there, I thought about my parents again: I could be killed and never get to say goodbye or answer the questions that would most likely haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The ski mask rapist had opened the sliding door in the office, letting in the cold night air; he'd draped something soft over me, but I was naked
except for my socks; I lay face down for the next six hours, shivering, expecting him to return at any moment.
I gradually mustered the courage to straighten one arm slightly to relieve the stiffness, all the while mentally preparing to plead for my life if he discovered I'd disobeyed his order not to move.
cooler in the next room cycled on and off all night, and each time it did, I thought I heard his footsteps behind me, and I assumed if he came back, it would be to kill me, so I alternated between praying he wouldn't come back — and praying he wouldn't do me any more harm — whenever I thought I heard his footsteps.
I'd lain perfectly still for a long time with my eyes still shut, and my arms behind my back were starting to cramp, so I gradually worked up the courage to straighten one arm slightly to relieve the stiffness, while mentally preparing to plead for my life if he discovered I'd disobeyed his order not to move.
I eventually got brave enough to feel around for the cloth he'd draped over my head and was relieved to find the zipper of my own coat. It wasn't something he'd be returning for, and for the first time, I allowed myself to believe he'd left for good. I tested the bindings on my wrists and discovered I could wrestle out of them.
I decided to get up, quickly dress, grab my keys, and flee, reporting the crime
My clothes were on the floor beside me; I couldn't see my shoes, but I didn't care. After getting dressed, I ran into my office to get my keys and glasses, but I couldn't find them; since I was stranded without them, my only option was to dial 911.
I imagined myself in a horror movie
, terrified that her assailant would reappear and prevent her from calling for help. As soon as the dispatcher answered, my confidence grew. She immediately told me it sounded like the ski mask rapist and that he'd been active recently.
I stayed on the phone until the cops arrived, at which point I burst into tears. They searched the building and discovered my shoes neatly placed in a chair and my purse with its contents dumped out in another room off the hall. The cops also noted the red swelling and welts on my wrists from being bound. I'd later learn the rapist tied me up with the office's drapery cords.
I'd been up all night and the prophylactic tetracycline the hospital
gave me for STIs had made me nauseous, so when I got home, I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably. I felt unhealthy, like a stranger to myself. I was also concerned about the possibility of contracting HIV.
Later that day, the San Jose police
chief came over to interview
me, and what stood out most vividly in my mind was the ski mask's red ribbing around the eye holes, which I'd only seen for three seconds at most. Though I was later unable to recall
much about the man who assaulted me, the image of those hideous rims stayed with me.
When I told him that the police had discovered my shoes neatly arranged in a chair, the detective almost hugged me because the ski mask rapist's signature of meticulously arranging his victims' clothes had never been reported in the media.
What I remembered most vividly was the ski mask's red ribbing around the eye holes, which I'd only seen for three seconds at most. Though I was later unable to recall much about the man who assaulted me, the image of those hideous rims stayed with me.
George Sanchez was arrested a month later in what the supervising deputy district attorney called "probably the most significant arrest in a sexual assault case in the last 15 years" after committing another assault after mine.
My employer applied for workers
compensation right away because I desperately needed it and wasn't sure I could ever face going back to that office (and I never did). Everyone said I was "holding up really well," and I was proud to be seen as outwardly strong. The turmoil was inside.
Almost immediately, the compulsive checking began: every time I returned home, I had to check the entire apartment for fear that the rapist was hiding somewhere inside, even under the kitchen sink. Then the nightmares
I'd struggled with insomnia
before the attack
, but now it was nearly impossible to sleep
until the sun came up, so I began keeping a bedroom lamp on all night, and I was startled by sounds I'd never noticed before.
Aside from HIV, I was concerned about other long-term consequences: how would this trauma affect my romantic life? What if my once-relaxing nightly walks became terrifying? What if severe emotional damage haunted me for the rest of my life?
One month later, the physical
symptoms began: I was experiencing frequent bouts of incapacitating stomach pain, which made it impossible for me to stand up straight. I'd spend hours in bed, whimpering and squeezing the sheets in agony.
The counselor I'd seen after being raped referred me to a doctor
to prescribe something to help me sleep, and that psychiatrist was a godsend. She recognized that the typical sadness and anger rape victims often feel were completely absent in me, and that fear was the only emotion I'd allowed myself to access; she suspected I'd been repressing feelings in order to appear strong.
Because those emotions had to find a way to express themselves, they manifested physically as pain and behaviorally as compulsions. I had a lifelong history
of stuffing feelings inside, and my therapist told me that the goal of our time together would be to “chisel through the emotional armor plate” I was carrying around.
The compulsions and checks
I performed on my home faded away as the shame, grief, and rage toward my attacker surfaced, and the stomach pain stopped completely. It was a long, complicated road to recovery, but I made it.
Sanchez was denied parole in 2019, much to the surprise and outrage of many, including myself.
When I learned about the hearing, I had a choice: I could let the news
lead me to a dark place of reliving the trauma that years of counseling had healed, or... I could use it to my advantage.
Despite the fact that my assault occurred more than 30 years ago, sexual violence remains one of the world's major public health
, criminal justice
, and social justice issues.
When I learned about the hearing, I had a choice: I could let the news lead me to a dark place of reliving the trauma that years of counseling had healed, or... I could use it to my advantage.
I wrote this account to help de-stigmatize it and to reassure other rape victims that healing and happiness are possible even after a terrifying assault like mine. I also hope that my story will inspire other women who have chosen to keep their own victimization hidden to come forward with theirs.
I'd been filled with fears about my future in the aftermath of the rape, and none of them came true. Today
, I'm proud of how far I've come. I'm proud of myself for refusing to give Sanchez the power he could have held over me, and I'm proud of creating a satisfying life as a teacher and prolific author. The hearing prompted me to reflect on these blessings: it was a reminder to be grateful.
I was unable to attend Sanchez's first hearing, but he will have another opportunity in 2026, and I intend to be there to express my strong desire that justice be served and that he remain in prison.
Paula Finn is the author of “Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other TV Comedy
Geniuses” (Rowman & Littlefield). Her articles have appeared in blogs
and magazines such as Writer’s Digest, ScriptMag, and ScreenwritingU. She has also written ten gift books
and licensed her inspirational prose on top-selling gift products worldwide.
Do you have a compelling personal story you'd like to see published on Stardia? Learn more about what we're looking for here and send us a pitch.
If you need assistance, call RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or go to the website of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.