(Trigger Warning: this article may not be suitable for all readers.)
The following stats are absolutely mind blowing. It breaks my heart that so many women are dealing with the physical and emotional wounds of sexual abuse. If you are being abused or have been abused, please break the silence and tell someone that can help you. No one should deal with this alone.
- As many as 1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.
- Most perpetrators are acquaintances, but as many as 47% are family or extended family.
- In as many as 93% of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the person that commits the abuse.
- Approximately 30% of cases are reported to authorities.
- Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the United States have been the victims of sexual assault.
You are about to read an incredibly raw story from a woman who has a sincere and precious heart. I met Ashley through The Snap Mom Community online, and what a true blessing she is to our community. Her courage is truly inspiring.
Rape: Ashley’s Story
As I sit down to write on this topic, I have asked God to help me search my heart so that my words will positively influence other women who are dealing with unresolved pain from sexual abuse or rape. It is a difficult topic to discuss and one that is often not talked about which leads to feelings of shame, guilt and remorse by the victim. For years, when I would share my experience of being sexually abused and raped, I would always get the same two responses, “Why didn’t you scream, fight, run away?” and “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” For a victim, it’s easy to understand why I kept it my secret, why I didn’t want the world to know what had happened to my body and my spirit. When you are sexually abused or raped, a part of your spirit dies and the pain is overwhelming. What I have learned is that that part of your spirit that feels dead really isn’t, and that dealing with pain, shame, guilt and remorse only makes you stronger. Today, I am a strong woman, I am not haunted by my past, it does not define me and I am living a joyful life. I am sharing my story so that you don’t feel alone and so that you too can live joyfully.
The first time I was sexually abused I was 14. I was on a family cruise and an older “cousin” was on the ship with us. He was in his thirties. He had made it very clear that he found me attractive and made very uncomfortable comments to me the first couple days of our trip. One day, he needed to go and get something from his room. He asked if I would like to go with him and innocently I did. I had never had a sexual experience in my life at this point. [pullquote align=”left”]When we got in the room, he asked me if I wanted to watch him undress.[/pullquote] I said, “no.” And I meant that. I turned to look out the window to avoid watching him. After a minute or so he said, “Ok, you can turn around now.” He was lying naked on the bed with an erection. I was terrified. I didn’t know what was about to happen. He told me to come over and that he was going to teach me how to perform oral sex. I went over to the bed, he gave me instructions on what to do, I performed and then he ejaculated all over me. It was humiliating. I felt so embarrassed and disgusted. I had to walk out of that room with him and go eat lunch with all my family and act like nothing had happened. He continued to tease me and make sexual innuendos the rest of the week we were on the ship. I never told anyone what happened that week. I was too afraid of what would happen if he got in trouble; I didn’t want any more embarrassment. My parents were not on this trip and when I returned home I was also afraid to tell them about it. THIS is why so many family members are able to get away with sexual abuse!! Can you imagine being a child or a preteen and having to tell on one of your family members for something like that? In my young mind, I couldn’t bring myself to expose this secret and risk more humiliation.
This experience changed me. I believe that after that I found it hard to trust myself, I felt disgusting at times and I found myself seeking more attention from guys and liking sexual attention. For the next couple years, I kept my secret. I also kept my virginity. During high school, I did eventually lose my virginity to a very loving boyfriend and that was the first positive sexual experience I had. However, during high school I was also raped on two different occasions. The first rape happened when I was 16 years old and was in my own bedroom, while my parents were home sleeping. A male friend came over to hang out late at night. I innocently enough had no intention of having sex with him, but he thought that was what I wanted. He was very angry that I had him come over and didn’t want sex from him. He aggressively raped me in my own bed, in my own house. I did beg him to stop and even cried. But he continued. Again, shear humiliation and devastating for my self-worth. He was popular and well-liked at school. There was no way that I was going to tell. The following year of high school, when I was 17 years old, I went over with a friend to hang out with two guys. All I remember about that night is walking in and being handed an open drink. I remember drinking a few sips of it around 11:00 p.m. and then the next thing I remember is waking up at 5:00 a.m. with someone having sex with me. I immediately jumped up and got in my car to leave. I was crying. I couldn’t believe how much time had passed and that I had no memory of anything. My body told the story for me. I was in a lot of pain and had obviously been raped for several hours. I don’t know if it was one guy or both and I will never know the truth. A very good friend happened to be there with me that night. When I asked her why she didn’t do anything, she said, “I thought you liked him. I thought that’s what you wanted.” I was baffled by the entire situation and to this day still have questions about that night. I do know that I was drugged and did not have any control over what had happened that night.
When I started college, I continued to keep most of this a secret. There were times when I would open up about it, but I really didn’t talk much. [pullquote]”I stuffed all the pain, all the humiliation, and the shame and degradation deep down inside me.”[/pullquote] It was easier to keep it there than to deal with it. I think around age 20 I started to open up about it to some close friends. Sharing it with them didn’t really help the way I felt. In fact, it gave me anxiety to put all of this out there. I felt alone because my friends couldn’t relate to me. It made me think that somehow I caused these things to happen. Maybe I was asking for it? Maybe if I hadn’t put myself in these situations, it wouldn’t have happened to me? Why didn’t I tell anyone? Why didn’t I scream or run? I had convinced myself that I was responsible for these things happening to me and that it was, in fact, my fault.
Around the age of 21, I sought counseling for various reasons. One day, I confided in my counselor about the sexual abuse and rape. She suggested that I go to the Rape Crisis Center. Rape Crisis Center? I thought, I’m not in crisis, this stuff happened years ago. I ended up taking her advice and making an appointment. All I remember about the woman that I talked to is that she had blonde hair and she sat directly across from me. She asked me to tell her about my experiences. I did. And she looked me right in the eye and said with the utmost sincerity, “You know none of that was your fault, don’t you?” I was literally blown away and this moment changed my life. I looked back at her and said, “No, I didn’t know that.” She said, “Well, it’s not your fault.” [pullquote]”No one has a right to do anything to your body without your permission.”[/pullquote] I walked out of that appointment with a weight lifted off of me. I felt free. I didn’t feel the chains of sexual abuse and rape around me anymore. Wow! It wasn’t my fault. In the months and years following, I continued to self-heal. I wrote about what had happened to me in a journal. I poured my heart out on paper and allowed all of that pain and shame to flow from my heart to my journal. It was no longer inside of me. It had been exposed to the light. There is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets,” and I truly believe this. Once you allow your secrets to be revealed, they lose their power. I also used my story to help others. I shared it with other women who were trying to heal. And the most incredible part is that my experience actually helped me to get an awesome job. I had the privilege of working for a non-profit organization and writing a statewide curriculum that was used in public schools to help build self-esteem and self-worth in middle school students. I was able to take my negative experience and help thousands of young girls. I gave them everything that I wish had been given to me. I also had the privilege of personally teaching this curriculum in several local schools. On a daily basis, I got to help girls discover how incredible they are, how much value they have, and how to be strong and stand up for themselves. The healing for me was gradual, but it was perfect timing. As I allowed myself to look at my past. To look at the sexual abuse. The rape. To look at that young girl and who she was. I was able to heal. I don’t know if I have forgiven my abusers and I hope that someday I will. But I have forgiven myself and that is a miracle in itself.
As the mom of two daughters, I want to raise my girls to be strong, confident and not afraid to stand up for themselves. I make sure that my ego is always in check when it comes to my daughters. I allow them to have a voice. And I allow them to have an opinion. I teach my daughter how to confide in me and I teach myself how to allow them to do this. It’s not always easy when I ask her to tell me a “secret” and I don’t like what she says. But I know that I don’t ever want her to fear telling me the truth about things. I see her trust in me and it makes my heart so happy. My daughter knows that she can tell me anything and that I won’t react negatively to it. This doesn’t mean we don’t have rules and boundaries in our house, but when it comes to needing to tell mom something—I’m fully present and non-reactive under all circumstances. I also allow her to have a voice. We have to teach our daughters that no means no. If she’s uncomfortable, I don’t push her to do things that she doesn’t want to do. I encourage her to try new things, but if she says, “no” then I accept that. I teach her that her private parts are not for other people to touch. I am very cautious about who she plays with, where she plays and who I allow her to be alone with—and this includes family members.
Healing was gradual and it took a lot of courage on my part to look at what had happened to me, to look at who I was when it happened and how it changed me.[pullquote align=”right”] Today, I am grateful that these things changed me. They made me who I am.[/pullquote] And I love who I am today. These are the things that I did that helped me to understand my past and move forward.
Healing: Making Peace with your Past
- Own these words: It was not my fault. I am worthy of goodness. I am worthy of love. I am whole.
- Journal—write down your experience, write down your feelings, fears, shame, guilt. Allow it to flow out of your heart and onto the paper. You don’t have to keep the journal or paper, you can burn it or tear it up after. But it’s important to see it on paper and to physically write it down.
- Pain shared is pain lessened—talk about it. Choose someone that you can share your story with. This person can be a friend, a counselor, a minister, priest, a stranger. Talk about what happened to you and how you feel about it. When our secrets are brought to the light, they die. We are only as sick as our secrets. Purge. Tell your story.
- Help others. There are so many women that have been through a similar experience. When I share my story with someone who can relate, it’s so rewarding and we have an instant bond. There are women that need to know they are not alone. If you can share your experience with even one person, you are not just helping that person but yourself as well. It feels so good to help others.
- Talk to a professional. I did seek professional counseling when I was ready to deal with this issue. I think that speaking with someone who is educated on sexual abuse and rape has valuable insight to offer. It’s worth the money to invest in your healing and peace.