I’m a survivor, in more ways than you know

I can’t explain the drop in my heart, the immediate panic and the helplessness I felt the second I listened to the voicemail. The tears immediately came. The emotions I forget and put aside daily came rushing out. The pain that I was forced to endure resurfaced entirely. I was a vulnerable child again. I was that needy, confused, lost, scared child. I was back to blaming myself, feeling guilt, shame and responsibility for something that my brain knows isn’t my fault. But my heart feels heavy because so many lives besides mine were affected in the process. If I could take double the hurt to spare the people I care about most I would. They didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for this. But since it happened we all deal with the consequences daily. We’ve been dealing with the consequences for over 15 years. I’ve mostly dealt with them in silence. Alone.

It was a Monday at work. The Broward County District Attorney’s office was calling me for my statement for the upcoming motion to terminate his probation. This wasn’t the first time Jodi contacted me. The first time was 3 years ago. But my mom had called me first to warn me that she would be contacting me. Jodi struggled to find us. When we moved from Florida to South Carolina we didn’t leave much of a trail. There wasn’t an address or a phone number. Jodi took it upon herself to find us. And she did. I am grateful to her to finally have a voice in my case. Now that I was an adult, my voice could be heard. I was no longer a nameless victim. “A child <16” as I’m referred to in the case documents. I’m Samantha. Sam. I’m a human. I was a girl. I am a woman I was affected. I matter.

Since recently reading through the court documents, there’s a part of me that wonders if keeping a minors identity hidden is also to make it easier to keep emotions out of it. If my picture was there would they have given him more than 10 months in jail? Who can look at the face of a child and their heart not break when they think about what this person did to her? It’s easier when it’s just “a child <16.” I will always be more than that. And now I am. I finally have a voice, even if it’s a small one, to speak about what happened to ME. My family, the police, detectives, counselors and doctors ALL made decisions about MY LIFE. They decided what was best for me. While the intent was to protect me, instead it silenced me. It was treated as “hush hush.” I thought for the longest time I shouldn’t talk about it since no one else did. It kept me ashamed and embarrassed. I am grateful that now every time he tries to terminate probation, the attorney will be there to tell the judge I said NO. Justice wasn’t served spending 10 months in jail. It could be a lifetime on probation and justice for me still isn’t served.

There’s a part of me that wonders if I should even be so adamant about him staying on probation. It doesn’t affect me, really. I will deal with the scars left daily. Regardless of if he is on probation or not. Regardless of if he is in jail or not. Regardless of if he is alive or dead, my heart will still go back to that dark place when I hear his name. When someone asks me about my “life story.” When people wonder why relationships are hard for me. Why I have trust issues. Why I can be cold. When I think about that time… it’s not that actions of what happened. I have mainly suppressed all those memories. It’s the aftermath that makes me emotional today. It’s the ruins of what was left behind. It’s the days I stopped caring. The days nothing mattered. The days I didn’t understand what was happening and why this was happening and why it happened to me. I didn’t know this happened to other people. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I was angry a lot of the time. I thought had different decisions been made, things might have been different for me. I wanted an explanation. I wanted answers. I really think I wanted people to talk to me about it. But no one really did. We dealt with it and moved on. But for me the pain was deeper than that. It is engraved in my soul forever. It is not who I am, but it has made me who I am. Highly sensitive, slightly cold.

I am lucky to be where I am. I am lucky for my family, my absolute ROCKS. The most incredible support system a person could ever imagine. People are often surprised when I tell them my story. Counselors, peers, friends… they are all surprised in a way that I am where I am. That I went to college, graduated, am independent, that I didn’t murder anyone I guess? I’m sometimes offended by the assumption that since something traumatizing happened to me, it should be more obvious. Like people who have experienced terrible things should wear it on their sleeve. I’ve always been good at hiding it. No one ever saw a change in my demeanor, my grades were never affected, I kept going, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t dealing with it. It didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting inside. It didn’t mean I was okay. While my whole entire life was being uprooted and changing, I found comfort in the things that were familiar and constant. My family. School. Sports. They never changed.

We should all have a voice in what happens to us. After all, it is our life. One in five women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. But I can’t name that many. So here is a glimpse into my story. This isn’t even the half of it, but this is my voice. So here it is.