Editor’s Note. It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We asked our contributors if they had any thoughts on the topic that they wanted to share. When we first received this article, I didn’t want to publish it. It is extremely tough to read (although remind yourself, not as tough as it was to live), and once you read it, you’ll never forget that you did. Before we published, we made sure that you would be able to see Alex through her story as the strong, powerful, inspirational survivor that she is. Next we put on our “big girl” pants. She’s Fit To Lead is about empowering the young women of Alex’s generation. Our goal is to provide these women with a forum to make their voices heard. So, who are we to tamp down someone’s voice, because their reality is hard for us to listen to? Finally, becoming confident and becoming a leader means recognizing that life is not always perfect, and sometimes, it is very, very far from it. Together we are stronger. We thank you for your support. RJS
I was 11 years old. I wanted to be a vet, and I really wanted to work with dogs. My favorite show was Samantha Brown’s travel show. At this point, I idolized my Tt’s — slang for Aunt to us Puerto Ricans — because to me, they were so cool, complete with two-door Honda Civics and their lush jet-black curly hair. Little did I know, that summer after I turned 11, I was going to involuntarily lose my virginity to my father. Along with this trauma, I would not only lose my father, but also the majority of my family.
The attacks spanned over several weeks that summer, and when I went to him saying that I don’t want to do “those things” anymore, he rubbed the sides of my head and said,“You see? All gone. Just don’t think about it anymore.”
I wish it was just that easy.
From that point on, I felt as though I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. It physically hurt when my mom would ask me, “Sweetie, are you OK? You don’t seem to really be yourself. You know you can tell me anything, right?”
To which I would always reply, “Yeah, mom, I’m good. Nothing’s wrong.” But the reality was I felt like I was rotting from the inside-out. Every day, I would walk out of my room and see my dad in the kitchen or he would come to pick my brother and me up from summer camp, and I felt the constant knot in my stomach tighten. I was disgusted with myself and I had a growing hatred for my father, but I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to about it.
A few years later, I told my best friends, as I couldn’t keep this to myself any longer. It felt as if I had continuously swallowed concrete and it just accumulated in my stomach for years. One day, my friend told someone about what happened, and, initially, I felt totally betrayed, but little did I know that she had actually saved my life. From this point forward, nothing was the same, and I thank God for this day, every single day I take a breath.
At first, there was a whirlwind of police officers, DCF social workers, and psychologists; to say that the stress was overwhelming would be an extreme understatement. At this point, there was no looking back, not for any of us.
Eventually, the investigation was underway, which was a waste time, and much more traumatic than necessary. My most distinct memory of the investigation was the physical examination. There I was, 14 years old, hoisting my feet up and getting ready for some stranger to look up inside my lady business and judge if I had, in fact, been attacked.
Things only got worse from this point.
A few weeks later, some members of my dad’s family pulled me aside, sat me down on the patio, looked at me straight in the face, and asked me if I had lied. Their theory was that I lied about what my dad had done to cover up for selling pills at school — these missing pills in question were later found a few weeks later.
After that, I lost it. I completely lost it. I lost my will to live.
I only remember screaming and crying so hard that I literally saw red, my whole body shook, and I knew this was the lowest my situation could get.
But then I realized it could only move forward from there.
The road “forward” was not clearly marked, and I had to figure most of it out along the way. I hadn’t really developed any healthy coping mechanisms at this point, and I eventually turned to cutting. My cutting was so severe that, one night, my mom had to wipe up and bandage my wrists because I had bled out so badly. I continued to self-harm for several years until I discovered rowing.
Once I began to row, I found my niche — my “tribe,” if you will. As a result, I found an outlet for my anger and gained the invaluable gift of family. As a rower, I learned how to harness my anger and frustrations and turn them into my fuel. Thanks to an excellent panel of coaches, I transcended from a depressed kid amongst the masses to an honor roll student hungry to earn a collegiate rowing scholarship.
In my junior and senior years of high school, I completely dedicated myself to each and every workout and every assignment. Until, finally, I was a member of the Nova Southeastern University women’s rowing team, and I knew my hard work had finally paid off.
Now, at 21 years old, exactly 10 years later, I am happy to share that I have come to a point of forgiveness. Yes, I still think about it, not every day, and some days more than others, but I survived.
My message to my fellow brothers and sisters who have survived rape, molestation, or any form of sexual assault, is that you are not alone. I and many other survivors stand strong with you.
If you, or someone you know, is a victim of sexual assault, seek help. Speak to someone you trust or call the National Sexual Abuse Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
You, survivor, are so much stronger than your attacker.
You, survivor, will live to see another day, and you deserve the chance to live.