Question that led to girl’s rape
SHE was alone in a school stairwell when he first found her, a quiet 12-year-old from a broken Brooklyn home just trying to get to class.
"Why do you always look at me like that?" janitor Ambiorix Rodriguez asked.
The creepy, clumsy come-on befuddled the child, who had no idea what the much-older man meant, and no clue the brief encounter would plunge her into months of hellish sexual abuse at his hands, the New York Post reports.
In her first interview, the young woman, now 20, recalled that fateful meeting and the horrors that followed, and wondered how so many adults could fail to notice the monster who raped her in the school basement nearly 40 times, and why the city Department of Education kept him on the job despite repeated arrests.
"If somebody was paying attention, somewhere, to me, maybe this wouldn't have happened," said the woman, who spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity.
By the time she finally sought help, she was "exhausted" from trying to dodge Rodriguez, who stalked her in the Middle School for Marketing and Legal Studies in East Flatbush for much of 2010 and 2011.
The janitor, then 32, secreted her away during "class, lunch time, after school," she said. "He would just kind of pressure me to come down stairs, I would say, 'No' and 'No' and 'No,' but it would still be him pressuring me. For months.
"Somebody somewhere was not doing their job, that allowed me to go missing for so much time during school hours," she said.
Rodriguez was finally arrested for rape in 2011, and convicted in 2013. He was sentenced to 20 years to life.
His victim is suing Rodriguez and the Department of Education in Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming the pot-smoking, hard-drinking custodian, who was arrested in 2004 and 2007 for drug possession and had been caught boozing on the job, should have been fired long before he ever started bringing her down to "the pen," a secluded, dank room with a steel gate at the door and a rotting hole in the ceiling.
"I remember that from the room, I could hear outside, the kids playing in the playground," she said.
"There was a TV, and a couch. The first time he brought me down there, he tried to make me feel comfortable, 'Look, here's a TV, here's a couch, you could sit here and watch TV'."
The encounters varied from a few minutes of painful sex, to longer sessions when a nervous Rodriguez, fearful she'd be seen, would refuse to let her leave.
"It felt like forever," she said.
Her family hadn't educated her about sex. She was barely aware of what condoms were, or whether Rodriguez used one. She was confused and wracked with guilt.
"I felt like if I did say something, it would be me getting in trouble," she said.
After enduring five months of abuse, she started skipping school or showing up late, or planting herself near large groups of students to make it tougher for Rodriguez to get to her without someone noticing his overtures.
When he couldn't sneak her away during school, the janitor skulked around the after-school dance class she loved, until she quit the activity altogether.
"It was like a waiting game," said the woman, who at the time lived with her dad in a relative's home.
"Just as the teachers in school weren't attentive to me, my father wasn't attentive to me. Maybe that's why if there was a change of behaviour at the time, he didn't notice me," said the woman.
Finally, the "overwhelming stress" of the abuse prompted her to confide in an assistant teacher during a school field trip in April 2011. Rodriguez was arrested the same day.
At first, she regretted coming forward.
"I had to repeat the story, and every single time, I would cry, and think about it for days at a time," she said.
She was 14 when she testified against Rodriguez at trial, weeping on the witness stand with her abuser sitting just a few feet away.
"It was scary, it was very stressful," she said.
In a written confession which Rodriguez later attempted to recant, he claimed the girl had "flirted with me all the time."
"How could a 12-year-old flirt with you?" The now adult victim fumed.
She finds relief in knowing her coming forward kept the janitor from abusing others.
"It's been almost seven years now. There could have been five, 10, how many other kids? It could have been a situation where [he said], 'I got away with it this year, I can get away with it next year,'" she said.
"I should have spoken up sooner," she said, urging kids who are being victimised to "tell somebody."
It took years of therapy and healing to realise the abuse wasn't her fault.
"As you grow, you learn what you're responsible for, what you're not responsible for," she said.
Now she wants to hold the adults who failed her accountable, from the teachers and school aides who never noticed her frequent disappearances, to security staff who failed to notice her in restricted areas, to the supervisors who kept Rodriguez on the payroll.
"They should have done their job," she said.
"School is supposed to be a safe place," said her lawyer, James Monroe.
The woman has decided to sue so that she, and others like her, will be heard.
"I felt like, at 13, I didn't have my own voice," she said.
"Everybody spoke for me ... Besides what the reporters are saying, besides what the prosecutors are saying, besides what the detectives are saying, here's what she's saying. I never had the chance to speak."
If you need support you can call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, Lifeline 131 114, 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). All are 24/7 helplines.
This article was originally published by the New York Post and appears here with permission.