Calla Hales says she was raped because of her job.
Hales, 27, is the director of A Preferred Women’s Health Center, which operates four abortion clinics – one each in Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta and Augusta, Ga.
Hales told the story of her November 2015 rape to Cosmopolitan for a story by Rebecca Grant that ran on the magazine’s website on June 26. While her rape is an extreme example, Hales said, abortion providers do regularly face harassment, threats and sometimes violence.
In an interview Monday with The News & Observer, Hales talked about going on a date with a man in Raleigh and telling him that she worked in “women’s health.” He asked for details, so she told him about her job. He said then that he didn’t have a problem with it, Hales said.
But during their second date, she said she knew something wasn’t right. At the end of the date, he asked her to go home with him. She said no.
He walked her from the restaurant to her car, and as she was getting in, he came up behind her, pulled her into the backseat and raped her, Hales said. He wrapped the seat belt around her neck and bit her chest, she said.
“He said things like I should have expected this and that I deserved it,” Hales said. “He asked how I could live with myself and said I should repent. That I was a jezebel. That I was a murderer. That he was doing no worse to me than I had done to women. He said he would make me remember him.”
After about 15 minutes, Hales said her attacker was scared by a noise and left. She drove to the home of some friends and showed them her bruises. They offered to call the police, but Hales said she told them no.
She went home, then went to work the next day.
“I worked all weekend and didn’t say anything to anybody,” she said. “The whole time I was bleeding.”
Hales sought medical attention the following Monday, first at a Planned Parenthood where she was told she needed stitches. Then she went to a hospital, where she hoped she wouldn’t be recognized. Then she went to UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, where she got blood tests, took prophylactic antibiotics and completed a sexual assault nurse examiner report. She reported her rape anonymously, she said.
“I did not want to press charges for a few reasons,” Hales said. “The idea of retribution on my parents, my friends, my business and my staff. I didn’t know if I could survive the mental and emotional trauma of a court case at the time. There also was, and still is, a large amount of embarrassment and misplaced guilt – feeling like I should have done something to fight back, like I should have worn different clothes, that I missed a warning sign.”
Hales oversees the administration of the four clinics, which care for about 20,000 patients each year. Her parents founded the first APWHC in Raleigh in 1998, when she was 8 years old. Her mom was director, her stepfather a doctor.
Hales said she worked at the clinic as soon as she was old enough, following in her mom and three older sisters’ footsteps. After college, she came back to work at the clinics before becoming director in January.
“People should have the right to choose when, where and how to be a parent, and they should be able to do this without facing intimidation or harassment,” Hales told The N&O. “I fully support people who choose not to have abortion care based on their faith or personal beliefs; I just don’t support the actions of forcing that belief or faith on anyone else.”
Hales and her sisters never thought what their parents did was weird or frowned upon, she said, though their parents told them to be careful of who they spoke to and mindful of what they said.
Both of Hales’ parents own bulletproof vests and have a license to carry a firearm. Hales does, too.
Within weeks of returning to work, Hales said she saw her attacker in a group of protesters outside the Raleigh clinic where she worked. The protesters started yelling things they hadn’t before, echoing what her attacker said during her rape, according to Hales. She said she got letters in the mail “saying that I deserved it.”
“The first two months after my attack – I let it influence everything I did. I spent most of the time in a state of near hysterical anxiety,” she said, adding that she considered harming herself at a low point. “To carry that level of darkness around was toxic.”
So Hales moved from Raleigh to Charlotte hoping to feel safer. But she soon found out that the protests outside the Charlotte clinic were even worse.
Since the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that women have a constitutional right to an abortion, extreme opponents of abortion have subjected providers and patients to disruption, harassment and violence, including murder, arson and bombings.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, passed in 1994, made it a federal crime to use force, threat of force or physical obstruction to interfere with a person’s right to obtain or provide reproductive health services.
In Raleigh, Hales told The N&O the clinic she managed would get 10 to 25 protesters and only on Fridays and Saturdays. But in Charlotte, there are protesters every single day, especially Saturdays.
“It’s tough,” Hales said, adding that she’s working with the city to address the harassment. “It’s a slow-moving process, but I’m sticking with it.”
A year and a half after the attack, Hales said she avoids crowds when she can and changes her appearance so she is not easily recognizable. She lives in a secure apartment building. A local anti-abortion group posted her address online.
She said she’s still dealing with what happened to her, and she wants to encourage other women who have experienced similar trauma.
“No one’s healing process is the same,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong way to process this, or a textbook scenario or solution. There will be good days and bad days – and that’s OK.”
Hales said her passion lies in women’s rights, including abortion access, reproductive justice, economic equality, education, health literacy and sexuality. And she won’t be discouraged from her goals, she said.
“They haven’t kept me from doing my job and from wanting to be a human,” Hales said. “The best thing I can do to prove them wrong is to continue to live and be a loudmouth. I mean, what could happen that’s worse than what’s already happened?”
To read the full Cosmopolitan story on Hales, go to www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/a10029357/calla-hales-abortion-clinic-rape-harassment.
For more information on A Preferred Women’s Health Center, go to www.apwhc.com.
The News & Observer’s policy is not to name sexual assault victims, but is doing so because Hales wanted to tell her story publicly.
NC Rape Crisis Centers
For information on North Carolina rape crisis centers, or to find one near you, go to www.nccasa.org/need-help/nc-rape-crisis-centers.