I was raped when I was 15 years old, between my freshmen and sophomore year of high school. I was with a friend and her family for the weekend tubing down the river. What was supposed to be a fun, relaxing weekend turned out to be the moment that stripped me of my innocence forever. Rather than floating down the river sunbathing with my girlfriend, I remember waking up underwater, choking, fighting to keep my head above water. The first thing I could see was my purple, floral, bathing suit bottom just dangling around his neck. I remember screaming-at him, for my friend, to anyone who could save me. I don’t know how I got away, I just remember running down the river; the water was so low in places, I could run. But then I slipped, slamming my chin into the ground. Of all things, I heard laughter. I turned around to find him, and apparently a friend that had watched the whole thing, pointing at me and laughing. Somehow I got back to my friend and between my appearance and obvious emotional state, I was lucky that there was no way to deny what happened. I was forced to face it. The rest of the night raced before me from questioning at the local hospital, identifying my perpetrator and finally the drive to San Antonio to have the rape kit done.
That weekend didn’t just change my life; it changed my whole family’s life. I still feel chills when I recall the nurse calling my parents in the middle of the night, waking them. As my mother repeated the nurse’s words. . . “Permission to treat my daughter for sexual assault?!” I can still hear my dad’s scream as he fell to his knees.
Images from that night will forever be burned in my memory. I remember looking to the policeman that did the initial questioning for comfort or support. Instead, I got questions about my past and disbelieving comments. I remember standing at the front of the hospital as the police car drove up. They shined a bright light in his eyes and I had to identify him right then and there. I remember finally getting to San Antonio and being greeted by a victim’s advocate. Her name was Katharina which at that time was my favorite name in the whole world because it was the name of my favorite character in my favorite movie. My parents hadn’t gotten there yet so she sat with me and explained what was going to happen. I had never been to the gynecologist before. It was like being invaded all over again.
Looking back, it’s strange that I can recall that night so vividly. In the two years following the rape, there are so many lost memories. People will recall stories and I will have no idea what they are talking about. I can even swear I wasn’t there at all. I remember feelings, vague instances, random details, but definitely not a sequence of events. That night though- no matter how much I try to wish it away, it never will. I will never forget it.
High school was a blur. As I said earlier, there are things I don’t remember, I probably never will. However, there are also things that I will never forget. I will never forget the shame I felt, the giant burden I carried with me wherever I went. I will never forget the emptiness I had inside. At first, I was all tears. I couldn’t make it five minutes without crying. Looking back, that’s when it was easy. It had just happened; I was supposed to be sad. It was when the tears went away, when it was time to return to normal life that I felt completely alone. I wish I could find the words to describe what it’s like to have your innocence stripped away and to realize that the world is not safe. One man’s aggression and need for power would unfortunately change my view on life forever.
At first, we tried to deal with things on our own. My family went through classic denial behavior – if we don’t talk about it, it will go away. Unfortunately, I started slipping away. I didn’t know who I was, why this happened to me and what I had to live for. What had I done to deserve this? If this world was such a cruel place, I didn’t want to be a part of it. I secluded myself from all of friends. Many days, I just wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. My mom told me she used to say a prayer every day before she walked in my room in the morning just asking God to please, let me have one good day. Unfortunately, those days got further and further between.
Finally, it was time to face the facts – I needed help, real help. I’d started going to a private psychologist. According to her, my problems stemmed from my childhood and anti-depressants were the answer. She must have been in denial too. After the anti-depressants nearly sent me off the deep end, someone directed us here – to the Houston Area Women’s Center.
For me, the Women’s Center was a safe haven. I clicked with my counselor here. For the first time since this happened, I felt like someone understood not just what I was going through, but how I could make sense of my emotions. I’m not going to tell you that they gave me all the answers, that they magically made everything better because no one can do that, BUT they helped me understand my feelings. They helped me realize that I was not alone. Most importantly, they helped me find the pieces of me that were broken and gave me the strength to put myself back together again. The Women’s Center put the power back in my hands.
It’s been over 10 years since I was raped and things aren’t perfect. They never will be. I still have bad days; I still have times where I feel like I’m slipping into a dark hole and I get that deep sense of desperation. . . But most days, I look at my life and I feel so unbelievably blessed. I would not trade anything that I have gone through in my life because it wouldn’t have brought me to where I am right now and I can’t imagine a life that I could possibly more thankful for. However, I can tell that I wouldn’t be here right now at all if it wasn’t for the Women’s Center. The Houston Area Women’s Center saved my life.
(The survivor has granted permission for her story to be published on this blog.)
If you or anyone you know is experiencing/has experienced sexual assault, call the numbers provided below for help or more information:
Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 Hotline: 713-528-7273
(Crisis intervention, shelter, referrals)
HPD Sex Crimes Unit: 713-308-1180
(Filing police report and information about your rights)
Harris County District Attorney: 713-755-52888
(Information and help filing a protective order)
*If outside of the greater Houston area, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)