Coming forward about a sexual assault, no matter how hard it seems, is always the best choice you can make.
Although talking about it can reopen the scars you’ve tried so hard to heal, it can help stop other women or men from being victimized.
Coming forward was the best thing I've ever done, even though it has taken me years to come to terms with that. What they don't tell you about coming forward is how long and grueling the process is. It won't necessarily be over quickly.
I was sexually assaulted by the man I called my stepfather. It started when I was 6, and ended when I was 13.
He made me believe what he was doing to me happened to all little girls, and he threatened my mother and my sister when I realized he only spoke lies. I eventually ended up telling my mother when I was 13.
She allowed me to make the choice of when I wanted to go to the police, which I didn't end up doing until I was a sophomore in high school. My court process took almost four years.
Before it could even start, I had to tell my story over and over to multiple cops and detectives. They took notes and did a videotaped interview. When they found they had grounds to charge him, they arrested and interviewed him.
When he finally turned himself into the police after losing the partial custody he had of his sons, he was released for good behavior. A new preliminary trial date was scheduled for a couple of months after.
At the preliminary, I was questioned in a CTV interview room.
After the questioning by his defense attorney, I already wanted to give up. There was no physical evidence. It was a case of he said, she said. It was the word of a girl against that of a man, and my attorney didn’t know if we would win.
I testified for three days in front of a jury.
Although it was hard to go over every detail of everything that had happened to me, it was even harder to do it in front of my grandfather, who had never heard them.
It was still reassuring to have a familiar face in the courtroom. At the time of the official court date, I was 18 and not able to use the CTV room.
This time, I had to testify in front of my stepfather. My sister was called up for about half a day and my stepfather was called for half a day. They never called my mother to the stand.
In less than an hour, the jury came back with a verdict: My stepfather was guilty of all charges.
He was sentenced to three years, minus his time served in prison times one and a half (which turned out to be three years minus 160 days) because I was never penetrated.
Of course, there is more to the story. There's always more to a story.
But I have condensed it, because what happened to me isn't unique. It happens to more people than one can imagine, and most cases go unreported due to fear.
If I can say one thing I have learned through this whole process, it's this: No matter how relentless the trial process may be, no matter how many times you tell yourself it would be easier to excuse yourself from this situation and avoid the pressure, no matter how many times you think to yourself, “This is unbearable and I’m giving up,” force yourself to see it through to the end.
You have to choose the way you want to make it through.
You can let it defeat you, or you can choose to face it head-on like I did. I can't say I'm a strong person, and I can admit there were many instances when I wanted to give up.
There were times I even wanted to kill myself. But after court had finished, I felt I had finally made the 6-year-old me proud.
After all the years where I was afraid of my stepfather, it hit me that he should have been terrified of me. Breaking the silence took a weight off my soul, even though to this day, I am still viewed as a victim.
I’m so much more than a victim; I am a survivor.
Never let anyone scare you out of being your own hero.
The court process is never foolproof, and it isn’t guaranteed to work in your favor. This means you may not win.
But wouldn't you rather go through with it, knowing you have stood up and not allowed this person to get the best of you?
Ultimately, you have to stand up and come forward. You may not be the last person this person assaults, and in order to start the healing process, you have to allow it to happen.
Just remember: You are not weak. You are stronger than you believe.
You can be (and should be) your own hero.