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Someone very important to me recently shared her experience and has shown me the importance of speaking out and coming forward. Something I never thought I'd be able to do. But with her courage and strength, I now know that the things that have happened to me are not my fault. No matter what my brain tells me, I did not deserve this. No one does.

Junior year of high school and I'm 16 years old. I've never had a boyfriend nor have I ever kissed a boy. So when he asked me out, I was thrilled. I thought "Wow, he really likes me." It was surreal. He was sweet, would walk me to class, hold my hand, kiss me in front of the packed hallways. It was perfect. Until he kept asking me if I would do more than "just a kiss." I asked him what he meant by that. He just winked at me. I told him I wanted to wait until I was married. Growing up, I was taught that you should save yourself for that special someone you're going to be with for eternity. He said he understood. I was a little shocked that he didn't break up with me right then and there to be honest. He seemed okay with it at first. But then a few days later, he kept asking and asking. He wouldn't let it go. It really started to make me uncomfortable but I just kept telling myself that I was being paranoid. That it wasn't something I should worry about.

One day, he invited me over to his house to watch a movie with his family. When I arrived, I found out that he was home alone. When I asked where his family was, he sat me on the couch and said, "They'll be gone a while." He then started to kiss me, and he began getting more and more aggressive. He laid me down and climbed on top of me. He would kiss my neck and started to unbutton my jeans. When I asked him to stop, he got angry. He pinned my arms behind my back and put his full body weight on me. I felt completely useless. He would put his hands all over me. I felt disgusted and humiliated. I had to get out of there, but how? He was sitting on my legs and I couldn't move my arms. So I threw my head back and hit him full force. His nose was bleeding everywhere. He fell off of me and started calling me a bitch. I got up and ran out the door. I jumped in my car and without thinking I drove off.

Next thing I know, I'm home. How did I get here? I completely zoned out. I do not remember that drive whatsoever. I walked inside and my family was either in their rooms or watching TV in the living room. I ran down to my room to change to make sure the blood on my shirt was never seen. It all seemed normal. I thought, maybe if I just get rid of this shirt, I'll never have to think about this again. I convinced myself that it would work. I was wrong. The next day at school, I saw him talking to his friends, and he looked at me with these cold eyes and a bandage on his nose. Then they all turned to face me and started laughing. They screamed out saying that I'm a whore. They pointed and stared until I was out of sight. As I was walking to my locker, people would just stare at me, whispering things. I overheard two girls talking and saying, "I heard that she asked him to pay her for sex and when he said no, she broke his nose." I froze. Is that what he's telling everyone? I was mortified.

A week had passed and the rumor only grew. Not only was I 'asking for money in exchange for sex' but I also found out that I was 'pregnant' and that's why I always wore big sweatshirts to hide my baby bump. I started to get text messages from numbers I didn't know asking how much? Or dirty things they wanted me to do to them. It was all too much to handle. So I started cutting class. I couldn't be in the school anymore. I didn't think about the consequences or what my parents would think at the time, I just needed an escape. After a while, my parents caught on. The more they studied me, they realized that I should go to therapy and try to figure it all out. I wasn't diagnosed with anything at the time. But when I went to a therapist, she diagnosed me with depression and not once did I speak about the assault. I couldn't and I refused to believe that I was a victim. After about a month of seeing this therapist, she told me that she couldn't see me anymore. Why? She didn't give any explanation. She just left. I was finally starting to open up to her and she just left. That's when things got bad again.

I just couldn't handle being in that school. To me, it felt like I was stuck in a recurring nightmare. The same thing, over and over again. There was no way out. Until I thought about it. And the more I kept thinking about it, the more I wanted to do it. I even wrote down different ways that would work. I could take some pills, or drive until I hit a lamp post. I even wrote out a letter. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt like a coward. Not because of hiding from the things going on at school, but because I could not take my own life. No matter how badly I wanted to, something would stop me. After I decided to tell my parents what I was feeling, I was admitted into the hospital. Ten days. Ten days is what it took for me to get better. I was happy. And if I'm being completely honest, I didn't want to leave, but I knew I couldn't stay. I got medication to help me sleep at night, to help with my sadness. They would take the time to listen to me. Someone was always watching over you. I didn't even talk about what really happened. I felt happy, or so I thought. I didn't go back to school, instead I did home and hospital where a teacher would come and bring me the school work and take it back to be graded. I felt like a prisoner, but I would rather have been there than anywhere else. And I did that until the school year ended. 

It was senior year. I started at a new school. It was a fresh start. I was excited but the nerves in my body took over every other emotion I had. My one goal was to be invisible. I wanted to catch up on my credits so that I could graduate. My school work was my priority. And it worked up until second semester. I met this girl and she seemed super sweet. She came up to me and we started talking. I had another class with her. We got along really well. She invited me to go home for lunch and we drove to her boyfriend's house. As we walked inside, she led me downstairs. It smelled like marijuana. She started to fill a bowl and began smoking. She asked if I wanted a hit and when I declined, she didn't take it lightly. She kept pressuring me. Kept saying to not be such a prude. I was tired of her calling me names so I told her I would try it. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. It began to be an everyday thing. At lunch, we would go and get high. Next thing I knew, graduation was here and also my 18th birthday. I was going to be a legal adult the same day I was out of high school forever. It was going to be a good day. We had the ceremony and went to dinner with my family. I had all my family there. I was on cloud nine. My parents told me that I didn't have a curfew for the first time that night. I was thrilled. I went to a party at this hotel where there was all kinds of alcohol and smoking going on. I helped myself to some drinks and smoked a few with some friends. There were these three guys that kept telling me how good I looked. They kept hitting on me and me being in state where I wasn't thinking clearly, I simply didn't think anything would happen. I headed towards the bathroom because I felt like I was going to be sick. When I knelt down next to the toilet, I heard the door close.

I turned around and those three guys were standing there. I remember the look on their faces. They smiled. But not a friendly smile. It was the type of smile that made your body cringe on the inside. One of them locked the door while the other turned on the shower and the sink. The third guy grabbed me by the hair and pinned me against the wall. Two of them held me there while the third person ripped off my clothes and "helped himself." I was screaming. It hurt more than anything. I'd never had sex before, and he was taking this away from me. When he finished, one of the other guys started. It felt like a hangnail, except all the skin on your finger was being ripped off. I was bleeding everywhere. They were so rough. Everytime I tried to speak, one of them would hit me. They kept taking turns on me. Over and over again. It felt like an eternity has passed before they finished. They pushed me on the floor and said, "Maybe you shouldn't drink so much." They laughed, high fived each other, and left. They left me there, bleeding, crying, screaming out for help. But no one came. No one noticed. Was I really that invisible? Did I not matter to anyone? After I got myself together, I cleaned myself off and left. When I got home, everyone was asleep. I hopped in the shower and cried. The tears wouldn't stop. I just couldn't even process what had happened. I felt completely shattered. They took away everything I had; my virginity, my happiness, my dignity. It was all gone. I needed to numb the pain. I just didn't know how. One week later, we moved away. I never wanted to speak about it, so I didn't. It was my fault right? I shouldn't have had so much to drink or smoked too much. I was to blame. Or that's what I thought.

After we got settled in our new house, I found a job, but I couldn't sleep. I would keep waking up or not be able to fall asleep. Five days went by and I still hadn't slept. The nightmares, their faces. They just kept coming back. Until I found a dealer. Even though smoking brought back horrific memories, it was the only way I could sleep. It made me forget for a little while. I would get high at least three times a day. After the second time of getting caught by my parents, I knew for their sake, I had to stop. No matter how much it would hurt me, I couldn't hurt them anymore. I was a disappointment, a failure of a daughter. So I found a new way to cope. I started to cut myself. It felt like the only thing I had control over. The pain, I felt like I deserved it. That went on for a long time. I would always find a new object to use if one was taken away. I couldn't stop. But then I met him. He was different. Something about him made me crazy. But in a good way. I felt safe around him. We dated for a little over a year. He was perfect. Everything I had hoped to find in a man. Marriage kept popping up in our relationship and he told me he wasn't ready to get married. And he was set on that. After a while, we started to drift apart. Neither of us really knew why, but we both knew that it wasn't going to last. So we broke up. I was devastated. Two months went by and I had found out that he was dating someone else already. The love of my life had already moved on. He seemed so much happier with her than he ever was with me. I felt like my heart was ripped into a million pieces. Six months later he was engaged. It made me feel like I was never good enough for him, that I wasn't 'marriage material'. It hurt like hell, but after I took time and healed my broken heart, I got a little better. I was starting to forget all these horrible memories that have occupied my mind.

I started talking to this guy I knew in high school. He seemed like the picture perfect guy. He wanted to know about my day and how I felt. He gave me cute nicknames. We talked for a few months and it was great. Then we decided to meet up. We went on a little camping trip. We had a fire and made a bed in the back of his pickup truck. My ideal date. He had been drinking and got pretty wasted. I had to help him to bed. When I cleaned everything up, I climbed in next to him. He turned towards me and started to kiss me. It was sweet at first, and then a climbed on top of me. I had a bad feeling. I told him I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. He didn't like that, so he hit me. I told him to stop. He kept telling me to let him 'put the tip in'. I tried fighting him off but he wouldn't listen to me. He was so much bigger than I was. I knew I wasn't going to win this fight. He was going to keep hitting me until I let him. So I did. After he finished, he just went to sleep. Didn't acknowledge me whatsoever. I grabbed my stuff and left. No idea where I was but I kept walking. I finally got into town and went to my grandparents. The next day I went home. He would keep messaging me like nothing had happened, so I did the same. We were never exclusive and when I was asked out on a date by someone else, I asked him if it would be okay. He freaked out and called me horrible things. I've never had someone talk to me the way he did, and I've never been more scared. He was very possessive. Always wanted to know where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. If I didn't answer him right away, he would call me and yell at me. He would tell me that he's the only one who would want to be with me. That no one else cared about me. And I actually started to believe it a little. After talking to my friends and parents about a little bit of what had happened, I broke things off with him. Told him that I didn't want him contacting me. This only made him angrier. One night, he kept calling and calling. I decided to answer and it turned out that he drove four hours to talk to me. I told him to meet me somewhere down the road from my house. I didn't want him to know where I lived. When I met him there, he started screaming at me. I've never seen someone so angry in my life. He grabbed a rock and hit me on the head with it. Luckily for me, I saw it coming sooner rather than later. However, he did hit me hard enough to where I had a concussion and was bleeding. When I got home, my roommate called my parents and they came and got me. I spent the night over there for a while. I refused to talk about anything that had happened. I didn't want to be a victim. It has been about two months since I last saw him.

I finally came clean to my parents about everything. It was time. And when I did, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulder. I've never felt so relieved. I've also decided to share my story with Honey. My dear sweet sister has had some horrendous things happen to her as well and she came forward through this organization, she showed me that my voice matters. That everything that happened to me was NOT my fault. I am not to blame. And even though I refused to believe it, I was a victim, but not anymore. Now, I'm a survivor. And that's something no one can take away from me.

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