The Story Behind The Story

My Story:

Rage is based upon the real trauma I endured from being in a sexually abusive relationship when I was 19. I had to change the details of my story to write the novel for a variety of reasons, mainly to protect myself legally, but the gist of what happened to me is in the book. (Unlike the book, my ex was six years older than me, and we did not go to school together.)

I did get the idea for Ashley’s story when I was in middle school and each time I read through the novel, I could not figure out what to do to continue Julie’s story.  I forgot about writing the book until after what happened to me. I had started going through counseling, and my therapist encouraged me to write it out. I wrote a very raw, graphic, and profane version of Rage, and it felt great. As I wrote it and reread it, my story had started to become very clear. I had spent much of the time in the relationship confused as to what was happening to me, and writing it out gave me the outsider’s perspective. I finally grasped what I went through, as horrible as it was. Writing my story was a very difficult thing to do as I had to relive it with each revision, but it was also therapeutic. I decided to use Julie to tell my story, and that’s how I wrote the rest of the novel. It’s my way to thank God for saving my life. I don’t know where I would be if He didn’t rescue me . . . and I shudder just thinking about it.

I had been shocked with how little dating violence is talked about. It’s treated as something that rarely happens but if it does, then the victim must have erred in some way to deserve it. Society has placed such a stigma on victims of sexual abuse, and it must stop. The myths and lies about abuse prevent people from speaking out all the time. People constantly wonder why the battered woman stays with her abuser, and why did it take the rape victim so long to go to the police or the hospital, and why did she never tell anyone? Well, that’s because of you. If you believe that she was “asking for it,” or “girls always say no when they mean yes,” or “girls just claim rape because they feel guilty or the sex got too rough,” or “she shouldn’t have been at the gym/bar/party,” or “are you sure you said no and fought him off,” then you are part of the problem. You place doubt and fear and humiliation into a very broken and vulnerable person . . . something that their abuser has already accomplished. You encourage victims to remain silent. You encourage victims to keep their horrible tragedies to themselves. You have turned your back on them. You have no idea what it’s like to be attacked and violated, and yet you feel a sense of entitlement to judge the rest of us. You think that you know the law, and how the cycle of abuse works. If abusers were so easy to point out, then why does it happen so much? Violent relationships rarely start off that way. Abuse usually starts with emotional and mental games to bring down a person’s defenses and subtle ways to control the victim. By the time the physical violence occurs, a lot of damage has already taken place.

Oh, and by the way, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, and incest know no socioeconomic, financial, or racial boundaries.

I suffered from a lot of regret over the past ten years. I cannot tell you how many times I wish I did things differently, like running away from him and going to the police sooner. During the violent relationship, I was too afraid to report him, especially since he was too smart to leave any visible bruises. I didn’t think that anyone would believe me. I didn’t know that I could be protected from him. I didn’t understand how something so horrible could happen to me. Since I didn’t understand, how could I expect anyone else to?

After the last time he assaulted me, I drove while sobbing to my friend’s house. That was a huge mistake. I should have gone to the hospital. Since I did not, when I finally went to the police, I did not have a lot of evidence to prove that he hurt me. My ex and I lived in different counties, and I had to report him in the county where the last incident took place. The detective listened to me and asked some humiliating questions, which made me very uncomfortable. Then he brought me to the prosecutor’s office. She had zero patience for my case. She completely bullied me into changing my story. It took me a long time to forgive her, especially after that when the detectives turned on me. She and the detectives told me that I just felt guilty for having sex, and to get over it. I could not give a decent answer to the prosecutor or the detectives to these questions: “Why did you wait so long to report this incident?” and “Why didn’t you ever call 9-1-1 after he hurt you?” and “If he really raped you, then why did you stay with him?” and “Why did you go to your friend’s house instead of the hospital?” My response was: “I don’t know,” because they had beaten me down emotionally and mentally so badly that I did not know what to say. I didn’t know how to prove that I was telling the truth.  They accused me of lying. They thought it was weird that after the first incident, he said: “Oh my god, did I just rape you?” but again, they just wanted me to go away.

My real answers were (and still are): “I did not know that I could go to the hospital,” “I did not call 9-1-1 because he threatened me not to, and I did not want him to kill me,” and “I don’t know why I stayed with him,” and “I knew it was wrong because I screamed and yelled and tried to fight him off, but he did not listen,” “I never imagined someone stealing my virginity,” and “I was too scared that I’d be treated like it was my fault and that no one would believe me.” Those people just reinforced everything I had been afraid of. I mean seriously, how did they expect a teenager to explain exactly how he tore down my underwear and he shoved himself inside me, after I screamed and begged him not to? Or how he held my hands over my head so I could not fight him, and then he’d let go to flip me over and hurt me even worse. Or explain how he forced me down on his lap, because all I could think about was not vomiting. She wanted every single tiny detail and all of the correct, technical terms. I did not know I’d have to treat it like health class. I could not even stand to say his stupid name, let alone describe each incident. I could barely remember my name at that point.

Then my ex continued to harass me for many months because he knew that he would not get caught. He called me from different phone numbers and stalked me online using fake names. I always knew it was him. I kept answering because I hoped I could make him admit to what he did. Anyway, because of that, I decided to report him again. Since this stuff happened in a different county, I had to go to another police department. I did not go alone because I did not want to endure any more humiliation. However, from the moment I walked into that department, I was treated with dignity and respect. The first officer who I talked to actually offered me a glass of water. Instead of making me go through my whole story, he politely interrupted and grabbed two detectives to talk with me. They each said that they did not want me to repeat myself too many times. I was able to explain the entire story without judgment, shaming, or bullying. They apologized for what happened to me, and they were going to do whatever they could to help me. The detectives did not waste a second and immediately got in touch with the prosecutor’s office. Feeling terrified, I said did not want to talk to a prosecutor and I told them what happened the last time. They apologized to me again and said that I did not deserve to be treated that way, that they believed me, and real detectives and prosecutors do not behave in such a disgusting manner. I was shocked to say the least.

The detectives set up a pretext phone call where I’d be connected to a listening device and I’d call him looking for some answers, praying that he’d confess. My ex was too smart for that and he twisted everything I said. Then I continued to ask him so many questions about numerous incidents, and he snapped. He said that he pleaded the Fifth Amendment, to which I said that he was not in police custody nor were they interrogating him, so he did not have any rights. He started swearing at me, name calling, and made sure I knew he regretted ever knowing me. At this point, the detectives looked at me and wrote on a piece of paper that my ex was crazy and to hang up. Although we did not get a confession out of him, they did not want me to endure any more of his abuse. I did enjoy challenging him, so whatever he said did not hurt me. That was the moment I knew I got my control, my power, and my voice back. The phone call shattered my feelings of shame and guilt. He knew I did something about it.

I went home after that, and waited for the detectives to call me. Of course, I feared my ex would go by the house or follow me to school, but he didn’t. The prosecutor said that unfortunately, he could not prove a rape case because there wasn’t any physical evidence . . . If only I had gone to the hospital. He did not want me to suffer a trial consisting of “he said/she said,” and he gave me the chance to share my thoughts. I agreed, and I did not want to go through it either. I was really disappointed, and surprisingly, so were the detectives. The next day, they called my ex but he did not answer. They called him either later that day or the next day, and his lawyer called back. The detectives told the lawyer to tell his client that he’s forbidden from contacting me ever again. If he so much as breathed at me, they would pick him up and charge him with harassment and sexual assault. The detectives said that although everyone believed me, they could not do anything else and I understood. I was not interested in filing a restraining order because I preferred for the detectives to take care of him. They also told me that my ex got a lawyer because I scared him. I never heard from him again. To the best of my recollection, their final words to me were: “this is how law enforcement is supposed to treat sexual assault victims, uh, well you’re no longer a victim. You’re a survivor.”

God used many people to get me through my healing process. The first thing I quickly discovered was that He doesn’t want us to go through life on our own. After what happened to me, I had a lot of walls built up because I vowed to never allow anyone to control me ever again. I hardly trusted people, and I did anything I could to protect my heart, which included not being my true self. I realized that I had become really good at hiding how I felt or how much pain I was in. I deceived myself into believing that I could move on and never talk about what happened to me again. Then, in 2008, God stepped in.

He wanted to free me from my past so much, that He started to tell my close friends about what happened. I will never forget the first night I had dinner with a new friend I met at a church I had started going to. Near the end of our meal, she asked me if I had ever been sexually abused. I could not believe that she had the nerve to ask me such a personal question, but I knew in my heart I had to be honest. She handled my story quite well and our friendship offered hope. It took some time, but I started believe that I could trust people again. I did not have to hide my pain. I could be myself and people still liked me. She, along with many others, would make a significant impact on my life because I let them help me tear down the walls.

Sometimes we don’t know what to say to a person who has been through a traumatic experience, and it is okay! Anyone who has suffered anything would prefer the simple question of: “How are you doing?” versus denial, ignorance, or mere lack of communication. The only way we will end the cycle of abuse is to be supportive, encouraging, and by talking about it. Others prefer to not ask these questions because they don’t want to know or they are afraid of our answers. I understand that, but it’s a selfish attitude because the person is more concerned about their feelings than the other person.

I understand that twenty or thirty years ago, people did not talk discuss such issues. This silence enforced a false notion that victims must have brought the abuse upon themselves. To this day, people still look for ways to blame the abused because rape, molestation, or domestic violence does not happen without provocation. These lies have trapped us for far too long. We do not need to be ashamed, carry guilt, or in any other way bear some responsibility for what has happened to us! It is time for those burdens to shift back to the perpetrators because they are the ones who made the decision to commit a criminal act, not the victims.

For any specific details about the criminal justice system or procedure, you may talk with the prosecutor’s office, the victim advocates, or the police. Sometimes the states vary a little bit in their procedure, but it generally works the same way. If you’d like to know more about my case, I encourage you to read my novel(s). Yes, I had to change some details and I left out a couple of very disturbing incidents. I also wanted to finally settle the question in my mind: “What if I reported him the very day he hurt me?” I used it to help me have closure, and I really wanted to send the character, Scott, to prison. If Scott reminds you of someone you know, do not date them and if you’re with a guy like Scott, then please end the relationship. If you are with someone who makes you feel afraid to anger them, that’s a warning that you should NEVER ignore.

Disclaimer: I am not offering legal advice, I am just trying to make it sound a little less scary; and I highly encourage all of my readers to seek help from a licensed and practicing attorney in the area where you live, local law enforcement, a pastor, or some other professional counselor. I’m also not trying to be a minister or a counselor, I am just sharing the truth and the miracles God has done in my life. My prayer is that you may discover healing and that together, we can eliminate the horrible myths and cycles of abuse.

If you find yourself, or someone else, in a similar situation, please get help, NOW. Don’t wait, it only gets worse. A lot has changed in 10 years, and in some ways, it’s a smoother process to report these crimes.

Please help me get my book into as many hands as possible, especially to those who have been through a similar situation or are in one! If my story saves one person’s life, being this vulnerable is worth it. Enduring the hardship of writing and reliving my horror over and over is worth it to save another. If you don’t know what to say to someone in this situation, let my book guide you. Join me in sharing the truth about abuse, and giving hope to those in need.

1 Response to The Story Behind The Story

  1. Pingback: It’s Scary Being Vulnerable | angelasheffield

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