by: Laura Hardesty
Let me introduce myself. My name is Laura Hardesty, and I am 26 years old. I am a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau. You may be wondering what is RAINN? It stands for Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network.
And this is my story…
At the age of 15, I was sexually abused by a family member. I was raped, loosing my virginity to my Uncle. At the time he was 35 years old and married.
It was July, and I was on summer vacation. I went to visit my Moms side of the family in Alaska. I flew into Anchorage, Alaska on the 4th of July. I had never been to Alaska before, and had never met most of my family members that lived in Alaska. I had been invited to visit by my Grandfather. I was going to stay with him and meet all my Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and even Great- Grandma. I was so excited!
After that I wish I could go into more specific detail, but I have very scattered memories of the month I was there, actually, there more flashbacks than memories.
I hadn’t had alcohol much before, but it seemed so cool that my Uncle was giving me dinks. I remember having champagne at his house while he showed me around. His wife was at work, and he took me to meet her on the way to their house. But he refused to introduce me as his niece. He told his wife I was his cousin, he told other people I was his wife or girlfriend. He had a nice house and fancy things, drove a new car. Looking back, things should have started to seem strange. He told me details about the “open relationship” he and his wife had, but it was all kind of over my head and I was happy to go with the flow so everyone would like me. He also told me how much I looked like my Dad, and how much fun he’d had spending time with my family in the past. He even told me stories about babysitting my older sister and brother before I was born. I thought I was safe, he was family, my Moms brother, he was older, and married. He just seemed like the “cool” Uncle. At 15 years old I had no idea that those things weren’t enough to keep me safe. I didn’t know I should be worried, and no one else did either.
We were all going on a family fishing trip. When my Uncle asked me to ride with him it seemed great! Cool car, cool guy and a road trip! We both drank beer during the car trip. It never occurred to me that he was drinking and driving. In the car we talked a lot, I’m pretty shy, but the beer put a big dent in that. He kept pushing me to drink more, handing me drink after drink. I tried saying no, but he’d tease me, making me feel stupid and keep giving me drinks anyway. He asked me all about school and friends; he seemed really interested in everything I had to say. I wasn’t used to this and it made me feel special. He went on and on about how pretty I was. No one had ever paid attention to me like that before; it felt good to be noticed. At one point my Uncle asked me if I was a virgin. But by now, I had figured out that he was going to think it was stupid if I said yes, so I lied. This is one of the biggest regrets I’ve ever had. I’ve struggled for years thinking that this point alone could have changed things. If I had just told the truth and said I was a virgin maybe none of it would have happened. I’ve been told many times that it wouldn’t have changed things, but I still struggle with feeling like that lie made it my fault. The lie that changed my life forever.
After that things really get fuzzy. I was in numerous bars, and he had stepped things up to hard liquor. I’ll never forget his drink, rum and coke. He started pushing drinks with double shots in them and that was it. I vaguely remember an elevator ride. The next thing I remember was waking up in a motel room. I was naked and there was blood all over the white sheets and I had no idea why. I was so confused and sick; I went straight to the bathroom and vomited. After that I began looking for my clothes. I couldn’t find my underwear. Somewhere along the way my Uncle woke up. I asked him what happened, and he told me that I had invited him into my bed. He asked me if I was sore, I didn’t understand why. I got sick again. Then he gave me back my underwear. I asked what the blood on the sheets was from and he said he didn’t know, he even asked me if I had started my period. I was stunned. When I started to put things together I felt nothing, not mad, not sad, nothing. I never cried. I asked him if he used a condom. He said he hadn’t, I was instantly worried I was pregnant. I told him I had been a virgin, explaining I hadn’t started my period, he had taken my virginity. He reasoned with me that he would never have done it if he’d known that I was a virgin. After that I took a shower so hot my skin turned bright red. I felt so dirty, no amount of soap and hot water seemed to be enough. I also notice a cut on my head. But after that I was just vacant inside. I had checked out. Throughout the next few days we did go fishing with family like planned. Everyone was drinking and so was I.
I remember various times talking with my Uncle. I never got emotional at all. I stayed calm and would try and reason with him or argue. One time we had a very physical fight over my pants. He was ripping off my sweats and I wouldn’t let go of the waste band. Then he beat me until I was unconscious. Later I climbed into a dumpster to retrieve my pants. I remember other times when he would turn on the TV and force me to watch it while he held me down and molested me. At one point we were in his car. My Uncle drove to the edge of a cliff and told me he would drive us off the cliff and kill us both if I didn’t take the drugs he was giving me. I was out of it for days at a time. I have a few extremely graphic memories of him raping me. And I’ll never know how many of his friends he let “borrow” me. I would try to reason with him at times, but he would tell me it was my fault, that he wasn’t able to resist me, that he didn’t have control. I tried in my own ways to get help. I don’t know why I never called 911 or directly told someone. He had been very specific in telling me that he would kill me if I ever told. He also threatened me to never get fat and ugly. I dropped hints to other family members and even a police officer. No one got it.
My uncle took me to get a tattoo and my ears pierced as a bribe. But I didn’t get to pick out the tattoo, he did. I didn’t want it, it felt like a symbol of his ownership of me, but I never said no. He made arrangements to take me to a tattoo shop after hours and pay cash since I was underage. I have since had the tattoo covered.
I remained afraid of pregnancy until I got my period weeks later. I then began to worry about STD’s. After about a month my parents got me a plane ticket home. I slept on the flight home, and when I walked off the plane, I saw my Mom and my best friend waiting for me. Everything vanished from my mind. I was home and things went back to normal. I struggled with eating disorders throughout the rest of high school. The next year I told my boyfriend that I had lost my virginity to my Uncle the year before. One sentence was all I said about it for years. I still felt no emotion and had almost no memory of it.
A few years after high school my gynecologist told me I had an irregular PAP smear. She explained that I was going to have to have part of my cervix cut out due to cancerous cells. This was because I had an STD. She said it was called HPV. Luckily, I had no other signs or symptoms of the disease. After the procedure, I healed and have been free of it since. I have had to have frequent biopsies since. It was humiliating. I had to tell my boyfriend, but somehow managed to not say much to my family about it, they had no idea what was really going on.
After that, my temper and tendency to lash out slowly built up. I was still struggling with eating disorders as well. No one knew why, but eventually a few co-workers suggested that I see a doctor for it. I saw my doctor and started taking anti-depressants. Since then I’ve been in and out of counseling and on different medications. I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have many of the same symptoms as soldier returning from war. It has affected every aspect of my life.
When I was 21 years old I was attacked again. I thought I had come so far, but then I was raped again. This time I remembered everything. It had been a date rape situation. I was sober, but he was drunk. I fought back and got away, but it was too late. I ran to my friends. The next morning I called a police detective and left a message. The detective never called back. I let it go, again. It seemed like such a confusing situation, and when confronted, my attacker had cried. He said he was drunk and didn’t mean to hurt me. My friends questioned me on why I didn’t scream for help sooner, and again, I felt like it was my fault.
Years later I finally started talking about it. Still going to counseling on and off, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My life was a mess, but no one else ever seemed to notice. My anger and sadness were all over the place and coming out in other parts of my life. I was under a lot of stress and starting to crack. I told my Sister what had happened and she came to my rescue. It helped a lot for a while, but eventually it still wasn’t enough. A few years ago an ex- boyfriend went to my Mom and Brother with my problems. My Mom told my Dad and Grandma. Things still weren’t easy. It was very difficult talking to them about my past. Everyone else had seen me and my life so differently that the way they really were. Eventually, it helped giving my immediate family a better idea about who I really am. It made it easier to get help because things weren’t a secret anymore. Everyone wanted to know why I hadn’t told anyone before. After a lot of thinking, I realized that I was trying to protect my family. I didn’t want them to feel like it was their fault or be upset by it. I was worried they couldn’t handle it, that my family would fall apart.
As of right now, I go to counseling every week and am still on medications for PTSD. I have trouble with depression, anger, anxiety, and insomnia. I hope to find some peace in helping others. I have my good days, and I have my days where I still can’t get out of bed. It’s a constant battle and I don’t know if I’ll ever have a day or even an hour when I don’t think about these things, but I strive for it. I want to help prevent these things from happening to someone else, and bring awareness to these crimes. If my story helps someone or prevents someone from being abused then I’m happy to help.