Monday, July 14, 2014

Big Family, Bigger Secrets

It is important for all family and friends to pay attention to details. Behavior changes, emotional changes, everyday changes that might seem normal but, taking a closer look might just save someone from going through trauma alone. It might just save their life.

There are three response to major stress and trauma. Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Fight is clear- the victim fights back, physically and/or mentally. Flight is when you can run from the situation, which at times can go hand in hand with Fight. The freeze response is different. The freeze response happens when the victim feels like there is not a chance to get out of the situation. The victim might also be in shock of the situation and feel in ways they are "frozen" from fear. You can find more information at

Today a survivor shares about her experience along with the effects of keeping such a big secret. This girl is a strong one and I am lucky to call her my friend. <3

My family situation is very complicated because of how mixed the generations are. I am one of 5 kids for my father, but we do not all have the same mother. My father was married once before having my sister and I. The older 3 siblings are much older (~30 yrs). Old enough to make me a very young aunt to some older nieces and nephews. However, we grew up together like we were cousins.

I was experiencing the happiest time of my life…childhood. I was your typical 9 year old girl tomboy. I played sports, hung out with guys, cut my hair short, hated dresses, loved being outside and getting dirty.

He was 14 or 15. I looked up to him like I would an older brother, but he was my brother's son. I don’t really remember exactly when the first time he sexually assaulted me was, but it went on for ~4-5 years. I felt completely shocked. I had no idea how to react or what do to, so I didn't do anything. Whenever he got the chance, he would force me to touch him or force himself on me. It was like being in an outer body experience. I could see and feel it all happening, but couldn't control myself to even speak. It happened when no one was looking. Playing games outside, inside, anywhere. I can't even remember all the times it happened because it was too frequent and they all just kind of ran together. At first it was 'simple', but then it became more intrusive until it couldn’t go any farther.

He would either take me out of the room we were in, or have everyone start playing a game. Literally just do anything so everyone was distracted. I remember a couple times where there would be people in the exact same room while it happened, but none of them were paying enough attention to see what he was doing. Considering, the other people in the room were typically kids my age and we were usually playing video games, 'house', hide and seek, etc. But yet there were still times where someone could/should have noticed.

He told me not to tell anyone because what we were doing wasn’t bad. I believed him and took his word. Even though I had a bad feeling about it all I still trusted him because I loved him. I still love him. We are family.

I remember being down at the lake one time when I was about 11. I was showering and my mom was getting ready in the same bathroom. I remember asking her how girls got pregnant. I was worried and scared that I was pregnant. At that point, I kind of knew how it happened, but what I didn’t know was that your body wouldn't allow it unless you had started your period. She talked to me about it a little, but never asked me anything about my curiosity. I was alone with this GIANT secret and all these questions.

At some point after about 4 years it stopped. I was so relieved. My body had started to change and it made me feel so uncomfortable. I would have nightmares about it. I became so paranoid, not just about him but about all men.

We were at my older sister's house on the lake for a weekend with the entire family. I was 13 and he had just turned 18 going into his senior year of high school. There were over 10 of my family members sleeping in my sister's house. So people were on couches, air mattresses, and pretty much all over for sleeping. Everyone had gone to bed but I was laying on the air up mattress, with my sister. I was pretty sure she was asleep. He was sleeping on a couch just in the other room. He got up off the couch and came and laid down next to me. He started to touch me and move my hands to him. I retracted my body from his, hoping not to wake up my sister. I grabbed my cell phone and typed. "Stop. I don't want this." He saw my screen and got up then walked out of the house. It was roughly mid-night. I started to get really worried when he had not returned. He was gone for around 15 minutes and I had told myself, if he didn’t come back in 5 minutes, I was going to wake up my brother. Of course, he came back in the house before that time was up.

It freaks me out that I can still say that I love someone after all the awful things they forced me do. I know that I can't really change how I feel about that. Encountering what I did for so many years and keeping the secret, changed me. Some days it is hard to convince myself that what even happened was wrong. Some times I think it was okay.

The saddest part is that I am okay that it happened to me because it didn’t happen to somebody else. I wasn't okay with the new me, but I have learned to cope. I probably didn't go about recovering from this the best way but I managed.

I never told anyone about any of this happening until I was a sophomore in high school and we had a section of health class discussing sexual abuse. I told my friend and she convinced me to tell my parents. When I told my mom, I was so upset that I only told her about the time at the lake a few year before. I saw how much it hurt her and my father, so I thought there was no reason to completely crush them. Of course there were no charges pressed.

I got a hand written apology letter on a sticky note over a year after telling my parents from him.

I can't even remember who I was before I kept the worst secret of my life. I hope that young girls have more courage than I did, to tell the truth and don’t ever let the feelings of other obstruct from telling everything. I know that I have only made it that much harder for myself as I continue to hold this secret inside of me. But I see the effects of that night I told my mom everyday in her behavior…that night changed her.

I almost always think I shouldn't have told anyone because all it has done is create more pain for other people. But then my brain kicks in because I know I tried to do the right thing.

It took awhile for my to get through the flashbacks, months of no sleep because of nightmares, paranoia, but the day came. I can't say that the demons don't come back every now and then, but I am stronger now than I was before. I will never feel safe in the dark or by myself again. But everyday is another day that I have survived. That day gives me more strength to be stronger for the next.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hope for Humanity

I have reached out to other survivors and offered to help them tell their stories without having the backlash of victim blaming. Being comfortable enough to tell your story and getting everything out is one of the most important steps to healing. The survivors journey your are about to read will leave you with chills. Her amazing heart and strong will to fight back is truly unbelievable. Here is her story.

In the early weeks of summer 2009, I was enjoying newfound freedom as a young woman following my dreams. I had moved into my first apartment, I had a great summer job, and I was still coming down from an emotional high after completing my first year at Missouri State University. My days were filled with work, pool time, exploring and relaxing with friends I had made the past year, and singing in a graduate choir (I was majoring in vocal music education). I was finally achieving the things I had dreamt of while in high school, and (I thought) I was well on my way to becoming a well adjusted adult (at least what a 19 year old thinks an adult is).

Everything changed in the early hours of June 15th.

The night started off how most nights usually did. I got home from working an afternoon shift at Express and called my best friend (who is incidentally my husband now-we'll call him Steve for the sake of anonymity) and asked if he wanted to swim in my apartments pool. When he showed up, he called another friend over (let's call him Bob) and the three of us swam for a couple hours and then decided we would go to "Bob's" apartment and watch a movie. When we got there, it was probably 10:30. We watched a movie, the guys drank a couple of beers, and I had 1 glass of some God-awful boxed wine and decided I did NOT want anymore of that crap. Somewhere along the line, I realized I had to work the next morning and told the boys I needed to leave. "Steve" thought it would be funny to pretend to steal my car keys and take my car. I knew he was joking, so I ran outside without my shoes-laughing all of the way-to get the keys back. As we were laughing, our friend "Bob" came out and-I'm just guessing here- thought we were actually fighting. He then proceeded to try and yank the keys from "Steve" and they got into a ridiculous argument, which I honestly have no recollection of because it was literally stupid. I right? Anyways, it all ended up with "Steve" deciding to take a walk down the street. Again...boys. Of course I followed him, with NO SHOES ON. I thought he would eventually turn around, but no. I followed him about a mile down the street...across a busy intersection, and to another friends apartment. Once we got there, I realized I had no phone, and I had no idea what time it was. I knew I had to work in the morning, so I BEGGED "Steve" to walk me back to my car because I knew if we slept there, I would be late. Being 19 and from a small, relatively crime free town, I made the decision that would change my life forever. I decided to walk the mile back to my myself... around 3 in the morning.

I almost made it.

I was about a block away from my car when I was followed, attacked, dragged off of the road, and raped in a backyard by a complete stranger.

I consider myself lucky because in that moment, I was 100% positive that I was not going to be alive when the morning came. By some miracle, my attacker did leave me alive...and ran off. As soon as I could, I got up and started knocking. I knocked on the first answer. I knocked on the second answer. I ran across the street. I knocked I the third door...a light switched on. As soon as that light shone in the darkness I lost it. I'm sure opening the door to a young woman sobbing uncontrollably and falling on the ground would come as a shock, but as soon as the word "rape" came out of my sobs, I was ushered inside and given a blanket and sweet calming words by the most amazing people. I didn't know until later, but I had knocked on the door of a firefighter and his wife. After we called the cops, he walked the neighborhood for 15 minutes looking for my attacker. Gives me hope for humanity.

I was taken to the hospital and underwent a rape kit. Let me tell you now, they are terrible, and demeaning, and scary. A police officer took so many photos of my naked body and of my private areas. Don't get me wrong, I know they needed those photos, and I willingly agreed to anything and everything they asked because I knew it would help...but it was still awful.

I was questioned that night about a million times, and when I FINALLY got in touch with "Steve" and he showed up... It felt like I could breathe for the first time. He took me home, and I immediately got into the hottest shower I could handle and stayed in there for what felt like forever. I couldn't get clean enough.

My parents came... and we all mourned together for a while. I told them to go home early in the evening because I knew everyone still needed to process everything, and I didn't want to go home with them and leave the life that I had been trying to build. That felt like giving up. I was NOT going to give up.

I could not be left alone for weeks. I'm pretty sure "Steve" didn't get a good nights sleep for months, considering all of my nightmares, anxiety attacks, and the fact that I had to be touching him at all times during the night to feel safe. When I was finally strong enough to let him go home a few nights out of the week, I slept in my locked closet with a pair of scissors, SO sure that someone was going to come for me.

I talked to a detective a few times, and they told me they would do everything in their power to find my attacker.

It was two years before anything happened.

After I was raped. I changed. I was not ready to be back in college in the fall and I struggled rejoining my friends. I started going to parties and drinking. I didn't go to class drunk or anything like that, but it was no big deal for me to go to a party during the week instead of studying.

On Halloween I found out I was pregnant, and I left school two months later. It was hard. It was really hard... But... I pulled through.

I can honestly say that my daughter saved me. I gave birth to her the summer after I was raped. She gave me MORE than enough reasons to pull through and be myself again. I will be forever thankful to her for that.

Two days before her first birthday, I got a call. THERE WAS A POSITIVE DNA MATCH!!! One of the FIRST matches using the CODIS system for DNA matching in the state of Missouri. Sadly, it was another two years before the state had enough evidence to make a case...The wait was torture.

This past year, I had about 6 court appearances. I was lucky to have a WONDERFUL advocate and an equally wonderful attorney.

No one can prepare you for court. Nothing hurts more than hearing the defense attorney drag your name through the mud and blame the rape on you. I heard everything from "it was consensual" to "she must have been drunk" (which FYI-I wasn't...and even if I still wouldn't have been okay). We offered plea deal after plea deal after plea deal. He declined them all, and never once took responsibility or apologized. In the end, we held the final trial with a jury of 12. It was unanimous- guilty on all counts. 45 years. With the new laws, he has to serve at least 85% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. As he was being led out of the court room, he yet again proved what the mentality is for a lot of rapists, he said I was "ruining his life" and called me an awful name that I will not repeat...trying once more to exert power over me. That's what rape is...the illusion of power. Guess who has the power now?

I'm doing pretty well. There is a good chance he will appeal for a retrial, which may or may not be granted. You never know in these cases. I'm prepared to fight until the day I die, if that's what needs to happen.

I just wish I could have that girl back. She was so spunky, and free, and inspiring, and passionate, and, and, and... I could go on forever. She was stolen from me, and no matter how strong I get, how happy I choose to be, or where I end up... I will never get her back. I would have liked to see where she would have ended up in her life. I see glimpses of her sometimes in my daughter, and I know it will all end up okay. I know that I'll get out of this life what I put I'm going to put in so much good that it's overflowing. I'm going to fight for other girls out there, so they won't be lost like I was. I'm going to try and do my part to spread the word, so we can end rape. For good.