I’m a survivor of sexual assault; it’s not just my story, it’s our story

by: Tonia B.

Did you know that every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted? That is way too many people! The month of April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

One of the things that I can do to help raise awareness is to share my story. For some people, my story may be hard to read. But for me it is very important to talk about. It is about some experiences in my life that were very tough but are ones that I’ve proudly overcome. I don’t share my story publicly to be noticed, I do it to encourage others to end the silence…to find their voice. We should feel no shame; this was done to us, not by us. My hope is to reach and inspire others with stories like mine and to let them know that they are not alone. We are all in this together; it is not just my story, it is our story. Together we can make a difference!

Little by little, inch-by-inch, he slowly stripped me of everything I was or ever would be. Is that what love is? He played with my emotions until I didn’t know what or how to feel. Towering over me as if the sun blankets the earth, he was in total control. Is that what love is? The tape seals my mouth so that no air or sound can escape, I will hold my screams inside. His body fully matured, mine not yet sprouting, it didn’t even matter to him. Is that what love is? When he stuck his fingers inside, why didn’t he just pull out my heart? At least there would be no more pain. He called this making love, is that what it is when you literally feel your body rip? My tears flow silently down my cheeks because my body is too tired to fight. Is that what love is? The silent pain that I have to live with forever. Is that what love is? Where are his tears, his pain, maybe to him that is what love is.

I wrote this after I was sexually abused by a man for 4 years, from the age of 9 to 13. During this time I tried to cope with the daily struggle of living, by pretending I was strong, that everything was fine. School and poetry were my escape. Otherwise, I would have never survived. You will hear that most sexual abuse victims will become rebellious, withdraw, and do poorly in school and many other things. Not me though, I was the exact opposite. I was on the honor roll, I made A’s and B’s, I was a cheerleader, I was always outgoing and it was a rare moment that you didn’t catch me laughing. I felt I had to be the model child, the achiever for my family. I needed to make them proud of me. However, all it really was, I just wanted to forget and try to survive.

I grew up going to church on Sundays and was always taught that God was a merciful God. He didn’t let bad things happen to good people. I thought that all we had to do was pray to Him and He would answer our prayers. So I never understood why He would never answer my prayer for the abuse to stop. I was a good kid…after all I did well in school and I always listened to my parents. So I would ask, why God? Why do You not hear me? Why do You allow this to happen to me? Why do You not answer my prayers? After a while I became angry with Him and stopped believing in Him.

So during the times that my offender was raping me I would disappear inside my head. I wanted to be anywhere but in the basement with this man touching me. So I would always daydream about being at the ocean. It was so real to me, more than any other dream I had ever had. I could feel the sand between my toes…feel the breeze upon my skin…smell the saltwater of the ocean. It was peaceful for me here…nothing else existed. I felt no pain…no sorrow…no shame…no fear…only love and peace.

I’ll never forget the day I read the poem, Footprints in the Sand, for the very first time. Before I could even finish reading it I began to cry. I finally understood. All those times that I thought God was not listening to me and all those times that I thought He wasn’t answering my prayers…He was. He was the One who was leading me to my dream of the ocean. All those times I was daydreaming about the ocean…it was Him protecting me. If you remember I felt no pain…no sorrow…no shame…and no fear…only love and peace. All those times I was being abused and I thought God had left me to walk alone…it was then that He was carrying me. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt after reading that poem. It is a moment I will never forget. And it will always be a poem that remains in my heart. I still turn to it whenever I’m hurting or just need some inspiration.

Later on when I was 17, during my senior year of high school and living on my own, I received a letter in the mail. It was the will and testament of my offender. He had left me $500 in his will. Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions, I think I felt everything. I just couldn’t understand how he thought $500 would make up for 4 years of abuse. It was on this day that I decided that I wasn’t going to let my offender control my life anymore. In some ways, I have to thank him for who I am today. Sometimes people come into your life to serve some sort of purpose, teach you a lesson or to help figure out who you are or who you want to become. You never know who these people may be but you know the very moment that they will affect your life in some profound way. Sometimes things happen that may seem horrible, painful and unfair, but I realize that without overcoming these obstacles, I would have never realized my potential, my strength, my willpower or the true beauty of my heart. Everything happens for a reason. The reason behind what happened to me I will never understand. However, I do understand that the people I meet will somehow affect my life.

The successes and downfalls that I experience and have experienced can create who I am, and the bad experiences can be learned from. Yes, Emory hurt me, betrayed me and broke my heart, but with the grace of God, I eventually forgave him. He helped me learn about trust and the importance of being cautious to whom I opened my heart too.

I had a choice to either lie down and die inside or stand strong and tall and yell out … I AM NOT A VICTIM! Yes, I was victimized, but to stay in that victim mode, made him the winner. To stay the victim keeps us from growing, healing, learning. It says that he is stronger than I am. That he is worth more than I am. What happened to me was outside my control. No more do I hold any guilt or shame. It was done to me not by me. Sometimes, after the fact, what we do to ourselves is often times worse than what was done to us.

My life will never be what it was. My hopes, my dreams, my very being … all of me have changed. Yet, if I choose to stay the victim, I lose. I lose all that I am now and all that I will ever be. All that I am meant to be. At the end of the day, we are where we are, because that’s where we’ve allowed ourselves to go. Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the journey of pain…instead of being removed from it. It makes us strong and challenges our faith. Someday there may be someone who needs our strength and encouragement for their journey.

I started my story with a poem that I wrote as a child who was a victim…I want to close with a poem that I wrote as an adult who survived…

My Footprints in the Sand…

Once was a little girl, from many years ago
who went through some things, that not many people know
her life was turned upside down, and all innocence was lost
there was no turning back, no one knew to what cost

Little by little, inch by inch, she was slowly stripped of everything
she was or ever would be, not even knowing what it means
he played with her emotions, until she didn’t know how to feel
or even what to feel, questioning, can this be real

He towered over her, like the sun blankets the earth
he was in total control, crippling her very worth
is that what love is, when no air or sound can escape
as his huge palm covers her mouth, further silenced by tape

His body fully matured, she holds her screams inside
hers not even sprouting, as her hands are being tied
why didn’t he pull out her heart, at least there would be no more pain
to him it didn’t even matter, as her heart filled with rain

Her tears flow silently down her cheeks, her body is too tired to fight
is that what love is, because it just doesn’t seem right
a silent pain lived with forever, as she slowly slips away
to some magical, faraway place, wishing she could only stay

She walks along the beach, trying to take it all in
this place was so different, from where she’d just been
a cool breeze across her face, the sound of waves upon the shore
she slowly closes her eyes, and asks…is this you Lord?

Was it you who brought me here, to this warm and beautiful place?
your love I feel surrounding me, is that your hand upon my face?
when I closed my eyes today, I never thought I’d leave my footprints in the sand
or even just to sit with you, as you reached out for my hand

No matter what happens today, I know I’ll never be the same
but I will move on after this, and never hold my head in shame
I wouldn’t know how to smile, without crying these tears
and I’ll learn forgiveness, as I let go of these four years

I wouldn’t have this strength, if I didn’t feel this sorrow
without being who I was then, I wouldn’t be who I am tomorrow
I wouldn’t know how to truly laugh, if it wasn’t for experiencing all of this
and without knowing this pain, I wouldn’t appreciate true happiness

Another lesson is learned, with every goodbye there will be pain
in order for my garden to grow, before the sunshine there must be rain
I will find the faith to believe, and take the time to dream
without a dream there is no hope, I must forget what is or was and embrace what might be

Along my journey I will take chances, and not let any moment pass me by
I will tread these miles with courage, live in the moment and never ask why
Yes, everything happens for a reason, so thank you for reaching out your hand
and for giving me this life, and letting me leave my footprints in the sand…

I believe it is God’s purpose for me to share my story. I went through these things for a reason. He wants me to leave my footprints in the sand as I walk through the rest of my life’s journey. And as I said before we are all in this together; it is not just my story, it is our story. Together we can make a difference! So please join me in being a voice for others, together we can leave our footprints in the sand.