Darcy Fox was beaming Monday at a press conference to announce big changes in the way Anoka County reaches out to victims of sexual violence. But Fox wasn't there to speak. She already had.

Fox, 43, a married mother of three and a hairdresser from Fridley, was drugged and raped at least twice while on a 2007 vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with her 17-year-old son. It is extremely important to Fox that I emphasize a few things: First, the attacks occurred at their four-star, all-inclusive resort. Second, the 20-something man who hit on her, then drugged her beer when she rebuffed his advances, was American, not Mexican.

She awoke the next morning aching and covered in bruises, with a hand-print on her arm and her underwear in her purse. Nearly $300 was gone. "I just lost it," Fox said. "I was crying profusely. Nobody at the front desk would even look at me."

Fox quickly realized that help wasn't readily available back home, either. Anoka County had long coordinated its sexual violence services through the county attorney's office's Victim Witness Program, which focused on prosecuting sexual offenders. The county lacked a 24-hour crisis line or support groups for rape victims. Especially problematic for women like Fox, the county offered no ongoing support or advocacy to victims of sexual violence who were not pressing charges, which is often the case, nor to those who didn't seek help at local hospitals.

All that changes Oct. 1, with the launch of an impressive collaboration between the county attorney's office, Mercy/Unity Hospital, the Anoka County Sheriff's Office and Alexandra House of Blaine, a 33-year-old domestic abuse shelter and advocacy organization, which will expand its services to victims of sexual violence.

During the past month, 67 Alexandra House staff members and volunteers have completed sexual violence training, and a sexual violence services coordinator has been hired. A 24-hour crisis line is already up and running. That number is 763-780-2330.

While the need for such changes has been on the county's radar for a few years, many involved credit Fox with having the perseverance to push the programs to fruition.

"Darcy brought forward within the county some of the gaps that existed," said Connie Moore, Alexandra House executive director. "She was an advocate for change, a voice for those who weren't getting the services that she needed."

Anoka County Attorney Robert M.A. Johnson, who spoke Monday, acknowledged that the county was doing "an adequate job," of outreach to rape victims, "but not a great job."

Fox is deeply gratified, but still finds it hard to believe that this is her life. Her weeklong trip to Cancun in March 2007 was to be a graduation gift and special together-time with her second son. She and her older son had taken the same trip for his graduation and it was wonderful.

This trip started out that way, too, with a boat ride, snorkeling and a bus tour. On the fourth evening, Fox was waiting for her son and some friends at the hotel bar when she was approached. She stepped away, returned, took a few sips of her beer, "and everything went black." She has blips of memory. A flashlight in her face. A man pulling himself off of her. Running down a hall, an elevator ride, a second assault.

Frantically, she called her husband, Duane, who was home in Fridley, and he contacted the U.S. Embassy. The embassy advised Fox and her son to return home immediately. Fox had to accept that she could never prosecute because she had no idea who assaulted her. She took drugs to prevent sexually transmitted diseases for nearly a month.

Two weeks after returning home, alone in her kitchen, Fox had her first of many panic attacks. She dialed 911 and asked for a rape victim's advocate. The operator asked for her phone number and said that someone would get back to her. "You've got to be kidding me," Fox thought.

Her "e-mail rampage" began. She contacted Anoka County Human Services, copied and pasted information to family, friends and people she didn't know. Eventually, an action team was created and the ball got rolling.

In addition to the public resources, Fox has found a "great" counselor for herself and has had success with Eye Movement Desensitization Recovery. Zumba, a Latin dance fitness workout, has helped with her sexual healing, she said. Still, she's candid about the work she and Duane need to do. "That intimacy we once shared, we're working really hard to build that back up."

Duane, 48, agrees. "I didn't know if ... I was afraid to touch her," he said. "I didn't want to put my hand on her back and have it trigger something. Some other S.O.B. took that away from us. It's still a struggle."

On Monday, the couple sat together near the front of the room, as many people approached to shake Fox's hand. "I'm a lot better today than six months ago," Fox said. "The fear and shame just cripple you. I just kept going. I was not willing to walk away."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 • gail.rosenblum@startribune.com