I was the victim of sexual assault.
It wasn’t a one time and done situation. It happened over seven months during my sophomore and junior year of high school. Not only did he invade my body, but I also suffered mental abuse. But worst of all, he stole my innocence.
I didn’t think someone I trusted, someone I thought I knew, could hurt me mentally and physically. He was friends with my parents and had kids of his own. He should have been someone I could trust.
The perpetrator was my personal trainer—someone my parents paid to help me get stronger, not break me down.
I Was Sexually Assaulted
Like most sexual predators, he possessed a gift of grooming. He asked me to watch his children and inquired about my life. He wove his way into events with my family and our friends. His life became intertwined with mine, and he used this to his advantage.
He utilized different apps on his phone to blackmail me to do what he wanted. While the messages were anonymous, it was clear they were from him. He threatened to hurt me if I didn’t comply with his requests and claimed he had compromising videos he would release if I didn’t follow through on his commands.
After more than a year and a half, the strain of this man’s assaults wore me down. One day, I finally confided in my best friend. As I told her what was happening, I admitted through tears, “I think I was raped.”
My friend helped me block his phone number and take other safety measures, but a week later, I received another threatening message from a new unknown number. After sharing it with my friend, I knew this was beyond something I could handle on my own.
I Couldn’t Handle it By Myself
It was time to tell my parents. Unlike some victims, my parents believed my story and encouraged me to go to the authorities. My parents went first to the police station to report the crime, and the following day I conducted the first of many interviews. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Discussing the details of what happened to me was like reliving each assault over and over again.
Although my family was supportive, I felt others couldn’t comprehend how it happened. I could hardly understand it myself; how could someone so close to me do this much damage?
Investigators asked what I was wearing while training with him, how I did my hair, why I let it last seven full months without telling anyone. In addition to the trauma I endured from my assailant, I feared that people would look down on me and that I was at fault. I started wondering if I had done something different, maybe I could have prevented it.
A Nightmare That Didn’t End
After experiencing such trauma, being questioned over and over again felt like I couldn’t wake up from a nightmare. Memories were always on replay. School became a struggle because I couldn’t focus, and everything triggered me—whether it was a word, phrase, sound, smell or even something as simple as a color.
I could not participate in daily life—running out of the classroom crying became a daily routine; yet, I never shared my story with anyone, so no one knew why I was distressed.
Although the harassment stopped when the police arrested him, I became hopeless, helpless and was not motivated to do anything. All I wanted to do was sleep to escape the pain, but even that was difficult knowing he would haunt me in my dreams.
As time went on, I began to heal. After many rescheduled court dates, the day was finally secured: August 30, 2016.
I was ready to read my impact statement. I wanted to look him in the eyes and tell him what he did to me and how it affected my family. What I really need was to take back control from someone who tried to control me. I was ready for closure.
Surviving Sexual Assault: Finding Relief
Unfortunately, my perpetrator never showed up to court. I found out that he took his own life that same day. I never saw justice, and all the unwanted negative feelings returned. Instead of closure, I felt enormous guilt. I blamed myself for his kids no longer having a father. I blamed myself for letting this happen for so long. And I blamed myself for trusting a monster.
On the same day as my court appearance, Chessy Prout, a 17-year-old victim of sexual assault, appeared on The Today Show. Immediately, I felt a connection to Chessy, and felt some relief and comfort that I was not alone in my experience. I felt a strong need to reach out and let her know that she saved my life by sharing her story.
I started by getting involved in a national non-profit organization that Chessy was also affiliated with named PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment.) Once I shared my story with the group, I was asked to speak at the organization’s national summit in Washington, D.C. alongside Chessy.
Speaking out at the summit changed my life. Countless people thanked me and said how much I impacted them by sharing my story. But, there was one girl that I will never forget.
Just like hearing Chessy’s story saved me, she, in turn, shared that hearing mine made her feel less alone. Through tears, she told me how brave I was to share my ordeal in front of an audience—and that I saved her life.
Telling my story was healing, so that’s exactly what I do now by speaking out at events at both a national and local level.