**This post is a part of She Matters: The Mended Heart Project, a project to bring awareness to stories of overcoming sexual abuse through grace and redemption and an attempt to give survivors a voice. To check out more on this project, see the original post here.
Let me introduce you to Kate. I don't know Kate all that well personally, however, a quick glance at her online platforms and you will see that she is literally changing the world through her service for the kingdom. She is clearly kind, compassionate, and insightful. I know that after reading her story you will also find that she is resilient and brave. I say it with every post, but I truly am so grateful for each of these women. Regardless of how well or how little I know them when the process begins, we nearly always end up with a sweet connection. Many conversations with them end like the one Kate and I had tonight that resolved with a simple “I wish I could hug you.” Some days, this entire project feels much like a hug. Check out how she uses her voice at her personal blog here. Women boldly using their voices is always something I can get behind...
My childhood was lovely. I have so many fond memories. I grew up in a loving and vibrant Christian home. I have three funny, sweet sisters and a wonderful set of parents. My mom supports me with abandon, and my dad is the picture of humility and grace. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen or heard him raise his voice. I never imagined that men would be the common denominator for my childhood and adolescent trauma.
It was sometime in my pre-teen years. I believe I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was shopping with a friend and her mom in a popular department store. Her mom agreed to let us split up; she would shop on her own while my friend and I browsed the juniors department. A strange man, in his early 60’s I estimated, came up to me and began talking to me. Something felt bizarre right off that bat. I glanced down because something completely alien to me was catching my eye. This man was fully exposing himself to my young eyes. He proceeded to tell me that I was “just his granddaughter’s size,” and “it would be so helpful for him to find her size if I would go into the dressing room with him and try some things on.” Blaring alarms were going off in my young head. Get out NOW, they said. Nothing good will come of this, they screamed. I walked off to look for my friend, with this man right on my heels with an armful of pre-teen clothing. I finally found her and said loud enough for him to hear “let’s go find your Mom.” He abruptly turned around and left. It was later discovered on the security cameras that he quickly threw the clothes on a hanger and took off.
I met up with my Mom a few hours later and told her the details of what happened, not fully grasping the severity of it all. I’ll never forget the way the color left her face, the way she tried to remain calm in front of her daughter right in the middle of Old Navy. That evening I found myself sitting at a table across from a detective, going over the events of the afternoon and explaining what happened in the best way my innocent and naive words could. There was even discussion of an artist drawing up a caricature based off of my description, since there was yet another report of this happening to a young girl in the mall soon after me. That never occurred, but the image of that man's face is forever ingrained in my memory.
No child should experience something so immoral. I shudder at the thought of it happening to my future daughter. I wish I could say that was my one and only experience with sexual abuse.
It was soon after my 21st birthday that I experienced another taste of evil. I was out with friends on a Saturday night, having a few drinks as any normal college student would. It wasn’t an hour or so into the evening that I felt way beyond disoriented. And down to my very core, I knew it wasn’t because I had overdone it with alcohol. I started the walk home with a few friends. I use the term “friends” loosely - they were more like acquaintances. At that point, I had no idea what happened to my actual friends. I think us women all have an intuition that sets off a warning flare in certain danger. Mine was going off like fireworks on the fourth of July. Sometime along the walk home, I was separated and left completely alone. I vaguely remember wandering through the dark, crying for a familiar face. I fell to the ground, and it was lights out after that. I woke up to a male paramedic kneeling next to me with a concerned look on his face, asking why on Earth I was all alone in the middle of the night. I was rushed to the Emergency Room where I was treated for some deep wounds scattered across my body. I was sent home in a taxi soon after. My dorm resident helped me up to my room, as walking was proving to be difficult. She told me to call her if I needed anything. I decided to take a look in my bathroom mirror. I lost all feeling in my body, and fell to my knees at the sight of my reflection.
I rushed to my dorm resident’s room and asked to use her phone. I called my parents, screaming to them through the phone from three hours away that I think I was raped. While things were still fuzzy at that point in time, the horror of that phone call and the desperation and grief in my parents’ voices will stay with me. They urged me to call the police. It was dawn by then, so I watched the sun come up on a new day in February while I waited for an officer in the dorm office. I’ll never forget the look on the officer’s face as I explained the hazy events of the night before. He must have been a father. There is no other explanation for the sorrow painted across his face, the deep lines forming around his eyes as I sobbed through it all. He escorted me to the hospital in his police car. Upon arrival, I was whisked into a private room where he explained to me that the police need photographs of all my injuries for the investigation. He was kind and gentle, taking great care to preserve what dignity was left behind from the night before. He was a gracious man, surely sent to me by my Heavenly Father specifically for those first, early hours. I don’t even remember his name.
I was admitted to the hospital, and quickly poked and prodded and medicated by a variety of nurses. My parents arrived soon after, with my older sister in tow. I can still see the look on their faces as they tried not to fall apart in front of me when they first laid eyes on that hospital bed. I had to endure an invasive examination specifically intended for sexual assault patients. It was humiliating, mortifying even. She was kind, but I still felt like I was in the middle of someone else’s life. Not mine. She described that based off of the exam it appeared I was not raped, but a rape kit still needed to be completed because of the location of some of my injuries. She suspected sexual assault. It was recommended that I ingest the “morning-after pill”, just in case. I was checked for symptoms of an STD or HIV. They would scan test results for any indication of drugs or substances slipped into my beverages from the night before. These were all things I never imagined I would have to be tested for at 21 years old.
It’s true what they say about victims often being overcome with feelings of shame and guilt, as if it was somehow their fault. And while those lies couldn’t be further from the truth, they still linger. Those acquaintances that were present that night? They went out of their way to verify and confirm that the events were, in fact, my fault after they had to endure what they described as “humiliating” questions from a detective. They didn’t know the first thing about humiliation, I wanted to scream in their faces. Thankfully, they have long since been cut out of my life.
A female detective called me a few days later and explained that her findings confirmed I was a victim of a sexual assault. My injuries suggested I was violently struck, and perhaps dragged across the gravel as the unknown perpetrator tried to have his way with my unconscious body in the dark shadows that night. I was abandoned only because of a phone call to the police with an angel on the other line reporting that they heard a young woman crying “leave me alone” in a lot behind their home for troubled children. Thank God for that phone call. I shudder at how different this story might be if that person never picked up the phone.
I don’t think I will ever know who committed such vile crimes against me. That is part of a handful of startling statistics among rape and sexual assault cases: there is only about a 25% arrest rate. Thankfully I have made peace with that, because Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us that, “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
That was five short, yet long, years ago. My life has revolutionized since then. God has grown tremendous strength, resilience, and redemption out of a truly evil situation. He birthed new passions in my heart for helping others that have endured a taste of evil on this side of heaven. In the aftermath of the attack, I didn’t allow myself to cry for months. I didn’t want to ever feel weak and vulnerable again. Now, I weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. When I meet someone that has faced adversity or endured a painful or traumatic experience, my heart aches with theirs even if our scars don’t look the same. Christ has impressed within me a deeper level of understanding than I ever had before. Earlier in my adolescent years, I quivered at the opportunity to stand before others and speak. Now my voice longs to speak of the beauty of His grace and mercy, and the potential for true healing that only He can bring.
God did not “allow” those two people to commit such crimes against me. He mourned from Heaven as they made deplorable choices. He intervened on my behalf by placing a stirring in someone to make a simple phone call. He sent angels in human flesh to walk alongside me in the earliest hours, and in the painful days that followed. He set in my path a wise, warmhearted woman to counsel me through doubt, fear, shame, guilt, and insecurity. He restored me. He has made me new. He has redeemed what Satan intended for evil into a beautiful story of transformation. If I could turn back time and take it all away, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. My prayer is that you will allow Him to do the same for you, no matter what your own experience may be. He forms strength out of weakness, and courage out of despair. He can and will use the pain in our lives to change us, shape us, and teach us. We are the clay in our beloved Father’s hands. In my life, my God has molded beauty from ashes.