Moving forward

New Jersey woman recalls brutal rape on trip to India — and how she survived the aftermath

Sandi Higgins (Twitter)

A woman from Westwood, New Jersey reached out to North Jersey reporter Christopher Maag to share how a brutal rape she experienced years ago in India changed her life forever. She also open up about the steps she’s been taking to move forward from the attack.

Sandi Higgins, 36, had traveled to India in 2009 with the goal of making a documentary about classical Indian music. After attending numerous concerts and securing interviews with musicians, she journeyed to Mumbai where she stayed with a friend who was part of the Hare Krishna sect. Upon discovering that the bed at her friend’s house was infested with bedbugs, Higgins was offered a place to stay at a nearby Hare Krishna temple compound that had a guesthouse for members and friends of the sect.

“You feel like you’re a princess,” Higgins said, recalling her arrival at the compound. “And you’re safe, you think.”

The nightmare began, she said, one night after ordering tea from room service. She fell unconscious shortly after drinking the tea, only to awake to the sound of her own screams as a man held her down by the legs. She struck at him with her arms, she recalled, but the attacker bludgeoned her across the head and fled the scene.

Higgins said she then called the front desk only to be made to wait for 45 minutes before finally being told that the attack was likely a product of her imagination. Hours later, officers arrived and drove her to the police station. Police, she said, did not seem concerned by what had happened to her — one of the officers, she added, even asked her out on a date. She eventually convinced them to take her to a hospital, but the rural institution was so unsanitary — the floors, she said, were visibly stained by blood — that she decided it was best to not be tested there after all.

Police, she said, would go on to tell journalists that her refusal to be tested implied that she hadn’t been raped at all. In a local TV report, an animated re-creation of her rape was aired showing Higgins in skimpy attire as she happily welcomed unknown men into her room. When she talked to administrators at the temple to demand access to their security camera footage, monks told her that their security cameras happened to have stopped working at the time the attack took place.

Back home in Westwood, she said she found her family and friends unwilling to acknowledge what had happened to her. In 2011, she even considered suicide. But after taking up meditation, yoga, and an acting class, Higgins says she’s found the courage to be herself again — even if she finds kissing her male lead difficult.

“The kissing is hard for me,” said Higgins. “What terrifies me more than anything else in my life? Having a healthy sexual relationship, I guess. Acting is one of those ways where you practice surrender.”

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