I was in 6th grade when it started. I wore butterfly clips and Winnie the Pooh pajamas. My priorities were getting the latest giga-pet and having the perfect color of bands on my braces. I had friends who talked about cool gel pens and tie-dye shirts, and I was being targeted. I didn’t know I was being groomed for what would happen 2 years later. I didn’t know that my innocence as I knew it was in its last days. In the beginning, I tried reaching out for help. I couldn’t make myself ‘tough’ enough in my 11 year old mind to confront him, so I was blamed for ‘having a crush’. I guess that’s why he paid more attention to me than the other girls. I was easy and weak in his eyes. He convinced me that this was a good thing, all this secretive communicating. At times, he showed up at my school. He would be hanging around church events trying to maneuver a way to be alone with me. He set up secret email accounts and worded his messages just cryptic enough to not leave hard evidence of his solicitation and intentions with me. He convinced me that telling an adult would result in harm. Turns out, he meant that.
On the first day of summer after my 8th grade year, he invaded my body like he had invaded my mind for two years prior. I didn’t know what was happening. My new polo with the cherry logo was ripped all the way down. He said things about my body I didn’t know the meaning of. Anything I thought I knew about sex I had learned from him…or what he wanted me to believe, anyway. I froze. I closed my eyes and felt a tear squeeze out and roll down my cheek. I froze again. I thought people only had sex to have babies. You have 3 kids? You’ve had sex 3 times. So what was happening to me? I wasn’t married, this wasn’t allowed. I’m confused. I’m hurting. But I’m numb at the same time. He left. I don’t remember him leaving, but I remember the phone call on his way home. “I just want you to know that it wasn’t my intention for that to happen today.” I uttered an “okay” as he continued to talk about my pre-pubescent body being so sexy. My voice was hushed, my innocence was stolen, and my world was crumbled. My fear of what could possibly be worse kept me from telling anyone what happened. All that people knew is that I was a sneaky little kid who lied to talk to this preacher’s adult son. No one knew the justified fear that kept me covering for him.
For years, my voice was like a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. I tried convincing myself that maybe I was just the rebellious provocative little kid who sought out a grown man’s attention like people thought. Maybe I was just worthless enough to use for someone’s sexual experimenting. Maybe I was just innocent enough to take advantage of and weak enough to not fight it. I was frightened enough to not tell and that was enough to prey on. I grew up, went to college, and decided that I wanted to be enough. I wanted to be worth it. I went to the counseling center and broke my silence. I wanted that moment to be the spark that released all of the emotion I had swallowed all those years. What I didn’t know, was that this childhood experience skewed my view of love and relationships. I married into a relationship where my voice continued to be hushed. My voice didn’t matter, I was perceived as weak enough to take advantage of, just as before. The idea that a man could do what he wanted to do to me and I just had to deal with it, was magnified and confirmed in my mind. When that marriage shattered just as quickly as my innocence did as a child, I sat on the daybed. I felt. I was that little girl again being held down on the same daybed while I was robbed. I allowed myself to feel pain, rejection, betrayal, vulnerability, and brokenness. In time, I decided that I no longer just wanted to be enough. I WAS enough. I was enough to be heard, to be valued, to be protected and loved. I fought myself, for myself. And I won. Was this easy? Absolutely not. Finding my voice meant sharing my story, but it also meant standing up for myself. I had learned that it didn’t matter what I thought, felt, or wanted, it was wrong anyway. But that is far from the truth. What I have to say is valid, and my experience is not in vain. I found my voice through counseling, education, and giving back. I used my voice to walk in to a police station 13.5 years later and have my story put on paper and recorded. I have found vindication in knowing my story is attached to a record. I also found vindication in learning that a woman, who did not know me, stood up for me and divorced my rapist upon learning what he did to me. I have pursued a career as a licensed therapist in trauma counseling, and continue to find my voice daily as I sow into voices that demand to be heard, because their pain is real and demands to be felt.
I reflected on an email I received from my rapist a month to the day after the assault. He said to me, “Take your life and do something great.” Well, I am. Not because he had to tell me to. Because I deserve that, and every broken heart who sits on the couch in my office deserves that. Every survivor deserves to be heard, and I will fight for myself and for them until they share this empowerment. My experience does not define me. I am created in the image of God, and a reflection of who He is. My rapist does not get to define me. God is the only being that is deserving to name me, and he names me ‘His’. ‘Victim’ isn’t a reflection of who He is. Betrayed, broken, rejected…none are a reflection of who He is. I am redeemed, I am loved, I am worth it, I am enough. I am a survivor.