The man who sexually assaulted & raped me in January 2017 was a paparazzi at one time…
…who lost his driver’s license chasing after Britney Spears when speeding in his car.
(which was exactly why for most of our friendship — I drove him around.)
His name was Mark Samala.
He went to California State University, Fullerton.
He grew up in San Jose & lived in Westminster.
He was a Communications major.
He was a U.S. Marine veteran during the Afghanistan War.
He worked as a Communications Specialist for Winn Slavin Fine Art.
He was a photographer and videographer for Project Vietnam Foundation (PVF), as well as the Fiji Dental and Medical Foundation, Mara Ramirez and Roger Lutz Cascas Peru Outreach Mission, The New Beginning Fellowship Center & the Cambodian Health Professionals Association of America (CHPAA).
In fact, a scholarship foundation has been named after him by PVF (Project Vietnam Foundation) — The Mark Samala Legacy Fund.
Which, mysteriously, has disappeared after the foundation raised tens of thousands of dollars after his death.
He was also a photographer for ZUMA Press in San Clemente, as well as The Daily Titan.
And, his originally stomping grounds was the streets of LA where he worked as a low-level paparazzi circa 2006/2007.
It doesn’t surprise me that a man capable of what he did had no issue intruding on women’s lives for a living at one point.
If you would have told me back when I was Britney crazed that I would be saying all of this now….woo boy.
I would be speechless.
I was extremely obsessed with Britney Spears growing up.
She was a big influence on my life.
ME, even be CONNECTED to someone who contributed to THAT?
I wouldn’t have ever thought of it.
“Trash,” I’d think. “Disgusting. Vomit — no thx.”
But, he was extremely charming.
…& someone who latched on to me right away from the moment we met during orientation for a journalism class embarking to Cambodia in college.
He’d message me incessantly.
He always wanted to be around me.
When I felt sick & stayed in the hotel room one night while the rest of our colleagues went out drinking, he came back just to be with me.
After the trip, we went to protests & events together.
He’d take the photos, I’d write the stories.
He taught me everything I know about photography.
He made me feel like I was special.
So I thought I was special.
Since people said he was a changed man…I went with it.
Even with a vast rap sheet in clear view, everyone STILL saw him as a good guy.
His nickname was “Shady” in the U.S. Marines.
When he left, they made a plaque for him that said…
“We still don’t know how you got here. What you did here, or if any of it was legal. But thanks anyway.”
He’d been to jail for forgery, twice.
Even with all of that…
He was trusted by the professor from a previous class to Vietnam, that he made him the T.A. for our trip where I met him initially.
Trust…that’s the operative word.
Everyone knew he had an issue with drinking, lashing out in a violent rage & lying frequently.
….BUT he got shit done & made things happen.
He was the one who made the Cambodia trip a reality to start with.
He was trusted to make deals, no matter how “shady” they were.
Just like his time in the U.S. Marines.
The truth is EVERYONE at school who spent time with him before I did knew how he was.
One time he punched a photographer colleague of ours in a drunken haze. (who actually was on the trip with us.)
During the trip to Vietnam the year before, he cheated on his then-wife with one of the fellow students.
But…he was invited on the annual international reporting trip again, anyway.
In Cambodia, he became my best friend & confidant.
We drank whiskey, edited stories, brainstormed wild ideas & talked shit on everyone.
It seemed like fun….for a while.
After seeing how much time Mark & I were spending together.
… & me, having to tell EVERYONE it was completely platonic.
…& NO ONE believed me, not even my closest female colleagues on the trip.
Our professor, halfway through our class trip told me, “Amber, stay away from Mark, he has a wife AND a girlfriend.”
…..but of course, he NEVER told Mark to stay away from me.
Not only that — he praised him outlandishly, held a candle to him, overexaggerating Mark’s achievements more than Mark did.
….which always confused the hell out of Mark, too.
One of the last nights in a drunken haze, Mark kissed me in the hallway and forcefully tried to grope me.
I said No & immediately pulled his hand away.
He stopped & apologized profusely.
I thought that maybe he had some decency.
But really, he didn’t want to go to jail in a foreign land (it’s illegal to do anything sexual at that particular hotel in Cambodia — quirky anti-trafficking law.)
The rape happened in a hotel room in downtown LA almost exactly 5 years after that trip.
We had been reconciling after talking on-and-off during that time period.
So, of course I wouldn’t even imagine that he would do something like that to me.
After I went no-contact for 2 years, I thought we had built a friendship built on trust.
I thought he was someone I could trust.
To the world, he was a sneaky ass motherfucker who caught himself in a web of lies — that he’d boast about to me how he got out of them with his intellect & charm.
Which I thought was…admirable.
I always liked the idea of a talented man gone rogue.
It’s like it exemplified his brilliance in some way.
…& because the way he was to me, I thought he was loyal.
Like I was the only one he’d be true to.
He made me feel that way.
Through his grooming tactics.
His lies & manipulations.
I never thought he was capable of doing what he did….to me.
Even though it was SO obvious in the past when he wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.
To the point that I didn’t let him into my room a year into our friendship because I was afraid he *could* push me to do something I didn’t really want to do.
There was ONE time we had consensual sex, the same night Trump was elected.
As you can imagine, I was a wreck & downing whiskey all night.
Giving in to his advances once didn’t seem so bad when he’d been promising me that he was going to take me to NYC and help me with my photography career.
I was starting to trust him, it was looking like we might actually make a professional & romantic relationship work.
We would be like Frank and Claire Underwood.
Serious business to the world & scheming behind-the-scenes.
That night, I thought I had enjoyed myself — the most you can after several whiskey shots & mixed drinks.
That one time it was consensual.
The next time, it was not.
Before that night, I started to see his lies…again.
By that point, we’d already booked a room with separate beds to stay in after an event in downtown LA.
Many times during the night I told him we weren’t going to have sex.
I told him no in the moment — more than once.
But he held me down & I couldn’t move.
I was drinking that night, but I was coherent enough to remember nearly everything.
Afterward he said, “There, let’s see if that gets you pregnant.”
(thankfully — I was on birth control.)
I stayed up all night, still frozen in bed.
With him rolling over & laying in the next bed, snoring.
I connected the pieces to things he had said.
He’d joke every once in a while about having a brown hapa (Filipino-white) baby with me.
He wanted to trap me & tie me to him for life by impregnating me.
That was his plan all along.
Of course, I never went back to people we knew & told them what happened.
…because I knew people who knew him would say, “What would you expect? He’s Mark.”
….& if they knew we did have a consensual relationship at one point.
They’d say, “Well you kind of opened the door for him to do that to you, didn’t you?”
I know, deep down, I didn’t.
Even though I knew he was pushy.
Even though I knew he was a liar.
Even though he had raged in my presence, more than once.
I thought he was more worldly, better attuned to the “reality” of things.
I thought the lies he told me that he told others were justified.
Everyone else was full of b.s. — we surmised.
THEY were the ones who were fucked up.
We were the good ones with the best intentions.
So many of THEM are gullible because of theirs.
So why not take advantage & get something out of it?
We’d revel in the way trickery can get you what you need, when it’s for a good humanitarian cause.
He’d tell me stories about his time in the service, his adventures on Fiji & Vietnam missions that our professor had opened the door for him to go on to document.
…and yes, the paparazzi stories as well.
But the extent of which I saw, up close, his sociopathic behavior.
The way he treated people like objects.
The way he’d lie to cover up another lie then come to me wanting comfort when he was “stressed” from juggling the inconsistencies.
The way he’d still drink, even though he told everyone he found God as a reborn Christian, was sober & in recovery.
The way he used me.
The way he’d used people.
…& at the same time, people used him.
People loved him because of what he could do for them.
They didn’t care if he lied to get his way.
They didn’t care if he manipulated people to get things done.
As long as he got the shot.
As long as he filmed the video.
As long as he did the thing they needed him to do.
Much like most of the men who intruded in Britney’s life at various points, he was a scummy man masqueraded as a respected man in his field.
….& to me, someone I thought was a trusted friend & mentor.
Someone who showed me the ropes of photography.
Someone who took me to fancy events & galas that I’d never be invited to.
Just like the night he assaulted me.
Not only did I lose something precious to me that night that took me YEARS to get back.
My voice, my autonomy, my right to my whole being.
I lost someone I *thought* was a friend.
Someone who I still reminisce about sharing many laughs with.
It gets complicated when your abuser is someone you really thought you connected with.
That’s why I post these photos of me & him.
To show the nuances in these situations.
To normalize that women appear to be happy with their abusers, at one time.
To also reckon with the fact that I DO miss being around who I thought he was.
….but that just opens up a whole new level of awareness for healing.
Why I was attracted to that, then.
What I was REALLY wanting to get out of it when I decided to let him into my life time & again after he made promises he never kept.
…& how I can break the ancestral traumatic patterns of the women whose legacies I carry on.
In the time after the assault, I drank heavier than I ever had before.
I distanced myself from social circles immensely.
I frequented bars alone.
I’d black out at least once a week on work nights.
This continued for a full year, until I got sober in 2018.
….& it wasn’t until last year that I could experience sexual pleasure with someone else again.
Back in May 2019, my Grandma had died of pneumonia.
A few weeks after she died, I thought about what she told me about the man who raped her when she was only 16.
The rape that led to a pregnancy of her first child.
The one she was shamed for having by her town, the church, her family.
The one her own mother took away from her.
The one where no one ever called it rape, not even my Grandma, other than my father who felt salty about never meeting his half brother.
Although she knew it was wrong, she always blamed herself.
I remember her telling me…
“He told me he was going to take care of me, he took me to a hotel and then….”
She’d trail off.
Something in my consciousness clicked.
It was eerily to what Mark had told me in the weeks leading up to the assault.
I hadn’t spoken to him since right after.
It’d been two years.
He had tried to reach out a few months before.
As he had consistently done since I went No Contact…again.
At that moment, I had the feeling something happened to him.
I just knew bad deeds had caught up with him.
God was finally coming through with Judgement Day for that lying ass motherfucker.
As Mark Samala was a rapist, abuser, con artist, sociopath, pathological liar & cheater.
Sure enough, I logged in to an old Facebook account where I was friends with our mutual contacts.
He had died, at the age of 40.
Only two days before my 90-year-old Grandma did.
Also from pneumonia.
I remember shaking, crying.
Slapping my hands on my wooden floor, yelling…
“THANK FUCKING GOD. THANK YOU.”
I didn’t have to be afraid to share my story anymore.
…because I didn’t have to fear for my life by speaking my truth.
I didn’t have to hide myself on social media.
…because I didn’t have to fear him coming after me.
He had a huge military funeral.
With ALL the bells & whistles.
He wasn’t a man with close friends.
…but the service was attended by dozens. Perhaps a hundred.
I know Mark Magadia Samala a.k.a. Sgt Shady himself would be fucking flabbergasted.
He’d know how undeserving it all is.
…but he did have many high-level contacts, for a reason.
Many in the non-profit, art & media world.
To protect his reputation — in life.
…& up to now, protecting him even in death.
Dozens of memorial messages were posted on social media.
Talking about how much of a good man he was, how dedicated to humanitarian causes he had become “despite” his past.
A memorial fund was set up in his name by the non-profit he worked with to pay a student photographer to do the work he did.
Within days, over $20k was raised.
Now let’s just say, this organization, at times, was just “shady” as him.
All I can say — I sure hope that money went to where they say it was going to.
That, at least, with all the pomp & circumstance of celebrating someone that wasn’t *really* a good person…
That it actually went to a good cause to truly help people in need.
A girl he’d been seeing when he died posted memorials all over social media.
The public memorial she set up has over a half dozen photos I took of him, oddly enough.
Our professor, in a public obit on his Facebook said, “he had that mischievous grin that always signaled he was up to something.”
Well, now I am sure he is up to whatever it is that happens on the other side of this lifetime.
Of course, he was a human with a multifaceted existence.
Who seemed to care deeply about the third world countries he visited.
Knowing him & how he grew up with a privileged life, it was actually him not wanting to face his own misdeeds.
For taking at his will, regardless of anyone else’s.
He took what he wanted with no remorse.
His actions were compassion masqueraded as fake guilt covering up very bad things.
As he was acutely aware that he couldn’t feel guilt.
He’d lost his humanity a long time ago, if he ever had it.
…& that was the problem of his existence.
May God have mercy on his soul.
As the ones who were left haphazardly in the dust of the destruction of a narcissistic sociopath.
Will find their voice to share the real truth about this man.
Because I know I am not the only one.
I know others will come through…eventually.
If not, then at least, healing in their own ways.
Because that’s what’s most important.
Our healing journeys.
What we offer the world, as survivors, for a world where no one has to say #MeToo EVER again.
Our stories are healing.
Our voices matter.
The more we share what we’ve been through.
The more aware we’ll be when these men rise up in their careers…
……& the less access to resources we throw at them to keep rising up.
The less of a chance they have to hurt people the way & at the level we’ve been hurt.
Of course, it’d be ideal for these men to not be monsters in the first place.
…but their monstrosity is celebrated as heroic.
Their contributions are indisposable & therefore, way too easily forgiven because of what they do.
At every turn, he was celebrated by the U.S. military system, the educational system, the non-profit industrial system.
For what he did for them.
Things no one else could, or would do, that benefited their interests.
…& not always in the best interest of humans.
Killing people overseas during his time of service.
Making deals between the university and skeevy nonprofits to fill the pockets of wealthy chairmen, who would claim to help the poor & needy one day then sneak off with destitute sex workers in the countries they “serve” the next.
Raising money from rich donors who didn’t know where the money was going & didn’t care because they wanted to look good for prestige.
The professor, who was tenured at the university & a well known local journalist with work spanning three decades by the way, added at the end of the obit..
“Everyone loved Mark, who had that ‘I can get away with anything’ smile. Even when he goofed off and missed a deadline, how could you stay mad at him?”
How CAN you stay mad at men like him, who get away with anything?
WHO would stay mad?
Who would *deserve* to be angry at someone who has displayed an abusive pattern?
Who WOULD be holding someone like him in contempt?
Who has a good reason?
Who would have a GROCERY list of reasons?
The people he abused the most.
The women in his life, of course.
What he was really saying was…
This man had done no real wrong, in his eyes.
What this man did in his lifetime, no matter what it was or regardless if it’s been brought to light, was acceptable because of his charm.
Because with that charm, he knew what was doing all along.
That it’s OK for people like him to brazenly lash out, abuse, hurt & step all over people.
As long as he does it with a smile.
…& it’s not.
If I spend the next lifetime standing up for why it isn’t *right* & why by saying so completely obliterates the lived experience of women who have suffered at the hands of abusers like him…
Then I will.
Now I feel like it’s time for us as survivors to share our stories when it matters most.
To stand up for our truths & what’s right.
If our own teachers, mentors, well-respected leaders in our industries won’t do it…
Then we will.
We will come out of the shadows…
…& into the light.
Speaking our truth.
Sharing our REAL stories.
Connecting with other women.
To ensure no one ever has to say #MeToo ever again.
Let’s rise up, ladies.
Don’t ever stop.
Don’t them silence you.
Keep bringing it to light.
Keep BEING the light.
It’s time to take back what’s ours.
Our collective voices.
Our moral compasses.
Our divine feminine right to walk in this life with dignity & respect.
YOU got this.
We got this.
Let’s go, girls.