ANNAPOLIS, MD (WJZ)--Laura Neuman, recently named one of six women to watch, is a rising star in Maryland and is now Anne Arundel County Executive. She seems to have everything going for her. But one night, 30 years ago, something happened that turned her world upside down.
"I was sound asleep when he came in. At first, I thought it was a dream," she said.
She was just 18 years old, working hard and living on her own in Northeast Baltimore.
"When I awoke, my face was covered with a pillow and there was a gun to my head," she said.
The gunman viciously raped her and left. She was so terrified he would come back, she didn't move until her roommate came home hours later.
"Anyone who's been raped will tell you that fear follows you around for the rest of your life," she said. "It's like dying but still being alive."
Neuman told WJZthe rape devastated her but what made it even worse was that neither her family nor police seemed to believe her. She learned to depend on herself.
"It was really about taking control back for myself," she said.
It took nearly 20 years for Neuman to finally convince police to reopen her case. Once they did, it took detectives just three days to solve it, using a fingerprint taken from her apartment.
She couldn't wait to face her attacker in court.
"I decided in that moment I would be his worst nightmare," she said. "I would be there for every hearing, every trial, every case and I would follow him and make sure he stayed behind bars for the rest of his life."
Not satisfied with stopping there, Neuman dedicated herself to helping other victims heal.
"I was trying to take an opportunity where something tragic had happened to me and turn it into a positive for other people," she said. "The more I did it, the more I realized this one single event did not define me and in fact now, it has no hold on me at all."
But many rape victims continue to live in shame. The CDC projects at least one in five Maryland women will become a victim of rape. Sexual assault experts insist the majority of women attacked never report it to police.
"There's still shame attached to sexual violence because there's still a lack of confidence in the system and how it's going to respond," said Lisae Jordan, executive director of Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
With Neuman's public platform, she hopes to change the way rape victims are treated by police, society and the justice system.
"Not putting a name to it or a face to it keeps it in the dark. As we put it out in the light of day, you can't hide from it," she said.
She urges rape victims to push past their fear and mistrust and immediately report the crime to authorities.
"If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. And so as more women are comfortable doing that, I think it will ultimately lead to change with this crime," she said.
The serial rapist who attacked Neuman is now serving a sentence of life behind bars.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, you're encouraged to contact the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.