– As the snooty Cordelia Chase in both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” actress Charisma Carpenter was assaulted at every turn. She was blinded through witchcraft, barely escaped death via the Master’s vessel and was the victim of a psychotic girl she snubbed in high school.
But few people know that in real life Carpenter suffered much worse. She survived a horrendous attack by an off-duty police officer and almost lost her life.
That story – and the tale of similar survivors – will be the subject of Investigation Discovery’s new show, “Surviving Evil,” premiering Aug. 28.
Carpenter, who hosts the series, says the secret of her survival was the will to fight back. She and two friends were on the beach in San Diego one evening when they were assaulted by a gun-toting stranger.
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Her friends were wounded but were able to defend themselves and eventually escape. Carpenter later identified the assailant who was convicted and remains in jail to this day.
“One of the things that I was told when I was 10 was whatever they’re going to do to you when they get you alone, is going to be 10 times worse than if they had to do it right there,” she says.
“So if you’re being threatened to get in a van, to leave at gunpoint or knifepoint or what have you, I would encourage – at that very moment – to fight back. I don’t know if that’s the legal response that one should have. I put that disclaimer out there. But I feel that your chances of survival are greater if you fight immediately, and never get in the van.”
Another victim, Lisa McVey, was abducted as a teenager by a serial killer in Tampa, Fla. In spite of the abuse and terror, McVey set about deliberately planting clues wherever she found herself in the hopes that they would lead to her kidnapper.
“The moment that I was plucked off my bicycle, that was the moment that I recognized that I am going to do whatever it took to survive, whether (it meant) planting evidence, my fingerprints all over a bathroom, trying to find a way out – just little things. I had to associate things I already grew up knowing. I’ve lived on the streets. My mother was an alcoholic and drug addict. There’s things you pick up and learn,” she says.
Her efforts led to the arrest of the perpetrator and today McVey serves as a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department in Florida.
“I have a passion for helping others,” she says. A third victim, Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, was brutalized by her ex-husband when she went to pick up her two daughters at his house. She was beaten, bound with duct tape and stuffed into a garbage bin in the back of a pickup truck and left to die in sub-zero temperatures. But Jendusa-Nicolai says she resolved not to let her two children grow up without a mother.
She managed to free one hand and was able to call police from the cellphone still in her pocket.
“I think the common denominator with these survivors is that they have that will. They have that determination and that will to survive,” she says.
Jendusa-Nicolai had been fighting unsuccessfully for years for sole custody of her daughters. Her case eventually helped change the law in her home state of Wisconsin.
“They passed a law when I was in the hospital after my attack that a judge has to look at previous domestic violence before they say who gets custody of the children,” she says.
Pamela Deutsch, executive producer of the show, reports they were able to contact participants in the program from public records and media.
“I think we found that most of the people that we’re profiling in the series are passionate about telling their story. It has some therapeutic benefits, but it also helps to educate and help others. And I think the way we … treated the storytelling and the re-enactments in the series is very elegant. It’s got sort of a dreamlike quality to it. It’s almost as though you’re sort of in that person’s memory bank. And I think it’s just incredibly compelling, and it’s just intense, and it sucks you in. It takes you on a real journey.
“But in the end, the fact that they made it through, they persevered, that they’re this strong, is ultimately really inspiring.”