Survivors — In Their Own Words

ICESA survivor stories

You are not alone. It’s not your fault. We believe you.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men have been victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives. We know that it may be difficult to share your experience and to seek help. In fact, that response is very common. It is with this in mind these survivors have shared, in their own words, the personal testimony of their assault. The accounts are real, raw, and depict some graphic detail. Each account shares some common themes, including the continuous and evolving stages of healing, the common emotional and behavioral challenges survivors often face, and the encouraging fact that both healing and thriving is possible!

CE

'You are enough. You are so enough. It is unbelievable how enough you are.' I am enough. And it is so unbelievable.

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I never really had a coming out story. For me, I just started bringing girls home and my family just sort of adapted. It wasn’t always smooth sailing. When I came out as non-binary, they didn’t understand how to support it, so they ignored it. My dating partners did pretty much the same thing, most likely because I was dating cis-het men until my early twenties. Sex for me was about being wanted and being attractive and being accepted. As a queer, mentally ill, non-binary, fat person from rural southern Indiana, acceptance isn’t something that comes super easy. I remember the first time someone called me a slut. We were playing “Never Have I Ever,” and she said, “Never have I ever had sex.” I put a finger down. She called me a slut. What she didn’t know is I had lost my virginity at eight years old to my stepfather. I wouldn’t have sex again until my first serious boyfriend when I was a senior in high school. When I told him I was queer and wanted to see other queer people, he raped me. I got pregnant and chose to terminate the pregnancy. When I told my friends what he had done, testing the waters to see if I could explain what had happened as a result, they called me a liar and desperate for attention, and worse they said that I couldn’t be raped by a boyfriend. When I told him that I had gotten pregnant and had the abortion, he took a kitchen knife and stabbed me in the abdomen. I have been sexually assaulted seven times. It has happened at house parties, school sanctioned events, in cars, on public transit, and even on a street corner. The common factor is that never once did anyone try and stop it. Never once did anyone say anything about what they heard or saw. Today, I am much gentler and more forgiving with myself. Today, I believe in the power of my choice and my autonomy. Soon, I hope to start following my heart. There are great days and there are mediocre or terrible ones. I have anxiety about everyday tasks like turning the dryer on or sleeping without a fan. I made the decision not to report. It took me well over 2 years to tell anyone what my first boyfriend had done to me. I don’t regret that. The best thing I have learned is how to trust myself again and how to belong to myself again. Every Friday, I take five minutes to pick my favorite quotes in my favorite fonts and I print them and post them on the wall next to my desk. The wall is flooded with affirmations. My favorite one says, “You are enough. You are so enough. It is unbelievable how enough you are.” I am enough. And it is so unbelievable.

Keith

One night I found myself on the bridge over The New River Gorge. My plan was to jump and end my pain.

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From early 1970 'til June 1972 I lost my childhood at the hands of a man, who I will refer to as “W”, who was employed by the church to help church leaders grow their churches' outreach to youth. In late 1969 my father, a Methodist pastor, attended a youth conference where he met “W” and had him come to my father's churches. In early 1970 “W” came and offered to take me along with him on his travels to other churches and events. My parents thought this would be great for me to go along with this great church leader, so I went. Early on, nothing happened out of the normal, but I know now “W” was grooming my parents and me. But soon “W” began to sexually abuse me. Because sex, let alone sexual abuse, was not a topic in our home, I did not know what was happening to me was not normal. In June of 1972, I came home from school one day and my parents were excited to tell me “W” had called and offered to take me along to an event called Explo 72 in Dallas Texas. I did not have the option to say no or tell my parents why I did not want to go.

Explo 72 was billed as the largest Christian youth conference of its time. Over 100,000 youth and sponsors attended this event put on by Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ. This was my week from hell! Although“W” was there to be one of the speakers, he took advantage of every chance he had to find new ways to rape me. His physical and mental scars are still with me. When “W” brought me home, I refused his gift of a Panasonic cassette recorder and ran to my room without thanking him for taking me on this “wonderful adventure,” as my parents called it. My mother gave me a spanking for being so rude.

After this I became the “Hell-raising preacher's kid.” I tried to drink away my past and thought nothing of destructive behaviors. I thought I did a good job of covering my past until my oldest son was nearing the age I was when I was abused. One night I found myself on the bridge over The New River Gorge. My plan was to jump and end my pain. I have cousins who had to live without their father due to him taking his own life, and I realized I would be passing my pain on to my wife and sons if I was to jump. I came home that night and began reaching out for help. I still work with a therapist today.

In 2008, I was able to find “W.” In 1996 he was convicted of having sex with an underage male in a church, for which he spent 93 days in jail. I went on record to keep “W” on the sex offender register list in New Jersey. I have been a very active advocate and activist speaking out since 2000 to help other survivors find their voice and bring about bystander intervention and prevention.

Malea

I didn’t choose to have this experience but I can choose not to let it destroy me. I am a THRIVER!!

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I am a survivor of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse. I was sexually abused by an older cousin when I was eight years old. This went on for an entire summer. I did not tell anyone because I was too ashamed and embarrassed. I blocked out these memories until I was almost 30. I would have brief flashbacks throughout the years but I became very skilled at pushing them away and pretending like nothing happened. At the age of 16, I was sexually assaulted by a high school friend. I never reported my assault to the police. I blamed myself for “putting myself in that position. I said, “What did you think was going to happen?” The few people that I did tell did not believe me, therefore confirming my own beliefs that it was my fault.

How did I deal with all of this? I finished my senior year of high school going through the motions. My freshman year of college I attended a Take Back the Night rally and thought “I’m over it now and I’m ready to move on.” I would have never known that my participation in that nights rally would haunt me forever. It was not until 2010 when I was in Graduate School studying to be a mental health counselor that all of it came flooding back to me. As part of my graduate assistantship, I worked at the receptionist desk of our counseling clinic. As part of my job I answered the phone on a daily basis and took basic intake information to schedule appointments. One day, a call came in from a mother who began sharing with me how her young child was being abused. I immediately burst into tears. I was incredibly angry at the situation. In that moment, I knew I had to deal with my own history of sexual assault or I was never going to be able to be of assistance to others and be successful in my chosen career path. In essence, I was forced into this healing journey that I wanted nothing to do with. My life became consumed with dealing with my trauma. I never realized how much my life was affected by these events. I walked around disconnected from the world around me, relationships suffered, I drank at a young age, I engaged in risky sexual behavior. I bounced back and forth between being so angry I could throw things, to crying all the time. There was very little in between. I spent a lot of time in a dissociated state just watching as the world happened to me.

My healing journey began in 2010 when I started to see a wonderful therapist, Peter. Through two and a half years of intense therapy I started to see the light. For the first time, I was living again. I was hopeful! In 2012, I was asked to be a part of a documentary called “The Shadows of Innocence.” After participating in this documentary, my healing journey took to a whole new level. Since then I have been a guest speaker on numerous occasions and have facilitated trainings on the topic of sexual assault. I have testified at the State House on several pieces of legislation and witnessed Governor Pence sign a bill into law, a bill that I had the privilege to testify on. In 2015 I started an online organization for survivors of sexual assault and their support systems. I have spent my career as a mental health professional specializing in working with children and adolescent survivors of sexual abuse. I can sit across from a client and understand them in a way that some cannot My ability to be in the present moment and draw from my own experiences, never once do I have to say a word but I know that they know that I understand.

There is hope!! Healing is possible. It takes time and hard work but it is possible. There is something amazing about standing on the other side of all this and saying to myself “I survived. I am worth it. I am okay.” As I approach the 20 year anniversary of my assault, I am reminded of how far I have come in the last five years. I have been blessed with amazing people in my life who have supported me and helped me through this journey. I often tell people not to feel sorry for me, it is my gift. I didn’t choose to have this experience but I can choose not to let it destroy me. I am a THRIVER!! When something terrible happens you can choose one of three paths; you can stay a victim and let it destroy you, become a survivor and let it define you, or become a thriver and let it strengthen you.

Sally

I couldn’t sleep in a dark room or sleep alone. I slept in my clothes every night. I couldn’t even close my eyes in the shower. Fear was paralyzing me and I couldn’t stop it.

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That day was like any other fall day. I had arrived home from work around 10 pm and my boys were already asleep. My husband was still at work so I sent the sitter on her way and was in my own bed sound asleep not long after that. A couple of hours later I woke up unexpectedly because I couldn’t breathe. At first, I thought it was a nightmare and I started struggling to wake up. I then realized that there was a man in my bed and that I really couldn’t breathe. This was real. This was really happening.

My first thoughts were for my 2 children and my unborn child (I was 22 weeks along). There was only a wall between their peaceful slumber and my attacker. Thankfully, I was able to break free and the intruder ran out. I dialed 911. I was battered and bruised but my children were not hurt. After hours of interviewing with police, I never went back to that house again.

There was a lot of attention to my case at first and I looked at hundreds of mug shots but it was never the right face. I went through counseling and threw myself into raising my young family. We ended up moving to another state, but all of the fears I had followed me wherever I went. I couldn’t sleep in a dark room or sleep alone. I slept in my clothes every night. I couldn’t even close my eyes in the shower. Fear was paralyzing me and I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t really even know how. After my marriage failed, I started drinking to numb the pain. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. My family tried to help me but they didn’t know what to do or what to say.

I still sleep in my clothes but not every single night and I'm 12 years sober. I’ve made a choice to live a full life and I still believe that while silence protects the perpetrator, it imprisons the victim. Every survivor deserves a voice and must know that healing is possible. Part of my own healing has been becoming a Sexual Assault Advocate, helping to make a change in our rape culture and opening up a conversation with others who have experienced some version of my tragedy. Everyone needs to participate in this conversation, to talk to fellow survivors, and to work alongside local government and community leaders—because it takes a village to bring change. I have lived with this unending story for all this time and I know firsthand all about the long term effects of experiencing such a trauma. I know that, as survivors and thrivers, we need to support each other. You are stronger than you think you are. You really do matter!!