Being taken advantage of isn’t particularly new to me. From the ages of four to eighteen I was neglected and abused by both of my parents in many ways.
When I left for college in August of 2010 I fully planned to leave my old life behind and fight to build my own new life. My father had all but disowned me (that would come later in my freshmen year) and my mother was all but non-existent. The fight for my own life, however, was only going to get more complicated.
A month into my freshmen year at my university I was raped by a new acquaintance – an international student from Jamaica who had claimed he fully understood we could be nothing more than friends (I was dating long distance at the time) – in my dorm room. Because of my previous experiences as a child I froze. I didn’t scream, but remember saying, “No” several times. I acted as if nothing happened afterwards and it was a week before I said anything to anyone. Despite what I knew deep down, and because of what was ingrained in me as a child, I believed it was my fault and had to convince myself that I would possibly be helping other women to get myself to say anything. When I finally did the cops made me feel, as I suspected they would, like it was my fault. I went no further than writing a report in the police station and turning it in. If the cops made me feel like it was my fault I couldn’t imagine the rest of the process. I wasn’t going to put myself through that.
A month after I was raped I discovered I was pregnant. I kept it to myself for a long time – even after I miscarried that December while at my mother’s for the holiday break off of school.
The following November (2011) I was spending time with my grade school best friend and her family for Thanksgiving. Her family had been like family to me and at one point had volunteered to adopt me if my situation came down to it. I came to call both of her parents Mom and Dad and her brother my brother. My best friend and I considered ourselves inseparable sisters and almost twins. We had lost touch for seven years after they moved and been reunited through a mutual friend. The night before I was supposed to go back to school my best friend’s father sexually assaulted me while his wife was sleeping next to me in the same bed. I said nothing until the next day. His wife deserved to know and I had no clue what could have been happening to my “sister”.
This time I did press charges. My best friend’s mom went with me to the police station to file the charges. Talking out my story bit dust. What was worse was that I had to detail the entire story with words I didn’t want to say to a male officer – even after requesting a female officer to speak with. My victims advocate wasn’t much help at all, either. I was supposed to appear at a court date to relay some forgotten information (I had been pressured into drinking two glasses of wine) that could have changed the charges but was never told when the court date was. My information never got to the court system and my best friend’s father remained charged with the lesser offense. He plead out of court and received a year of probation, some fines, and divorce papers. I still do not feel as if justice was ever served.
Since then I have been raped three times by strangers while out walking.
In the midst of it all, however, there has been some good.
In September 2010 I found the love of my life in the midst of all the chaos. He didn’t care that I had a past, didn’t care I had struggles and baggage. He climbed the walls I had built around my heart and completely destroyed them from the inside out. In fourteen hours over the course of two days of getting to know him I had fallen madly in love with him. Truly, if he had asked me to marry him instead of asking me to date him, I would have said yes without regret or second thought. I have now been dating him for over three years despite everything we have been through together and fully plan to spend the rest of our lives together.
During my freshmen year one of my Criminal Justice professors read the first chapter out of Alice Sebold’s “Lucky” – her own personal account with rape. We were on the third chapter of our Criminology class, the Victimology chapter. During her reading of the chapter I flashed back to an incident in high school – a gang rape during a football game. When my professor asked the class to write something after she had finished the chapter all I could write about was that experience. It was there in front of my eyes like I was awake but dreaming – a third party watching it all over again. When she returned the paper she had written across the top to stop by her office one day. When I did she helped me find a sexual assault counselor and became an instrumental part of who I am now.
In October 2012 the same professor approached me before her Criminal Law class and asked me to stay after. She had an idea she thought I would like and would be perfect to help her with. The project, Still Standing, was to celebrate the stories of sexual assault survivors to help them realize how truly strong and courageous they are. What fighters they are and how their stories can be spun towards a positive connotation versus the negative spin that is so often put on survivors and their stories. I joined the cause. With only a few months to plan because of winter break, 9 survivor boards were displayed on February 20, 2013 for public view, debuting Still Standing. The display was powerful and emotional and went on to win two awards two months later. Since then both a documentary and a talk show have been done featuring Still Standing and our online presence has grown. Not much by today’s standards, but enough for me considering I run the project single-handedly. Currently we are reaching out to people in 84 countries and I couldn’t be more honored. And even proud.
It has taken me a long time to get where I am. Quite frankly, I still have a long way to go. From being abused and sexually assaulted – betrayed by everyone I loved and trusted – to having a book of my own poetry published when I was 18, finding the love of my life, putting myself through college full-time, writing for my school’s newspaper, volunteering for the local animal shelter, and single-handedly running Still Standing – I’ve come a really long way. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. I still struggle with self-harm, body image issues, PTSD, depression, and many other things. My boyfriend and I still go through a lot. I still have really down downs. But when i take a good look at where I’ve been and where I am I can’t help but realize I am still here – still standing.