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Sarah Kostovny: Pushing Forward from the Shadows

Sarah Kostovny tells her story of sexual assault and survival at Casper College on Monday.
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

Her liquid aquamarine eyes offer a glimpse into the guarded soul of the petite survivor of perhaps the most brutal sexual assault in central Wyoming history.

“Will my road to ever becoming a survivor be over? I highly doubt it,” Sarah Kostovny told nearly 250 people at the Gateway Building at Casper College on Monday during a speech commemorating National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

She takes one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, cries if she needs to, and remains wary of the shadows, she said.  “I’m pushing forward so I don’t get stuck in the past.”

This past started with a half hour on the morning of Dec. 11, 2009.

Kostovny grew up in Hanna where she graduated from high school. In 2008, she met and briefly dated Jebidiah James Stipe.

The following year, she met and became engaged to Ian Kelso. Stipe called her and wanted the address of her Bar Nunn home to send her an engagement gift.

Instead of sending a gift, Stipe took out an ad on Craigslist. He presented himself as a woman and asked for “‘an aggressive man with no concerns for women well being,’” according to court records.

Of the approximately 160 people who responded to the ad in early December, Stipe selected Ty Oliver McDowell from Bar Nunn.

A few days later, Kostovny said she drove Kelso to work, returned to her home and was attacked by McDowell.

McDowell tied her, blindfolded her and pulled off her pajamas. She quit resisting when he held a knife to her throat. Her barking dogs reminded her that she was still alive during and after the attack. She managed to crawl to her door, use the door handle to pull of the blindfold, and call 911

When law enforcement arrived, Kostovny didn’t want anyone talking to her, nor did she want to be touched, nor remain in the dirty, unwashed condition she found herself, she said.

She also asked a lot of questions, including the deep and simple “why me?”

The answer for that, Kostovny said Monday, sat in the chairs in front of her so she could tell her story and raise awareness of the rights of crime victims.

Others spoke at the assembly, too.

Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen said the criminal justice system was created for the benefit of law-abiding citizens. But somewhere in the prosecution and defense of criminals, the system was turned upside down.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Sprecher added that supporting the victims of crime means more than providing shelter and counseling. “They need to be heard in the criminal justice system.”

Fortunately for Kostovny, she didn’t have to tell her story again, at least in court. Stipe and McDowell pleaded guilty to sexual assault-related felonies in 2010. They are serving 60 years to life imprisonment.

Lorrie Wnuk, victims services coordinator for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, said she’s dealt with a lot of crimes, and they’re all horrible.

But Kostovny’s was the worst, Wnuk said.

“To actually have a stranger break in, force a woman into her own home and do what he did to her in the manner that it happened,” she said. “It was the most violent one that I have ever dealt with.”

Monday, Wnuk served as master of ceremonies and stayed close to Kostovny after the speech as well-wishers, old friends and strangers chatted with her and hugged her.

Kostovny, who now lives out of state, held her head up and held her tears back through the event. But the giving-of-herself time eventually ended, as were the petty social interactions and potential interviews.

She’s learned to be firm about that.

At the conclusion of her talk, she drove home a point about dignity and boundaries that should guard any potential victim: “‘Yes’ means ‘yes’ and everything else means ‘no.’”

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