Desarae’s Story

“Follow your gut—if you feel like you need to share your story, just do it. I know it’s scary, but the freedom and power you feel after is not something you can comprehend until you do it.”

Desarae Garcia is a social worker, mother, podcast creator, storyteller, and survivor of child sexual abuse.

Desarae survived years of abuse from her stepfather, who would use grooming techniques to manipulate her into not telling the rest of her family.

“He taught me to be very good at lying and hiding things.”

At almost 15, Desarae asked her mother to let her have a lock on her bedroom door. When the perpetrator tried to enter and couldn’t, Desarae decided that the abuse could not continue any longer.

“I remember laying there, terrified. I didn’t want to move. It felt like I didn’t take a breath for an hour. I didn’t want him to know I was awake. I prayed and thought, ‘I can’t go through this anymore.’”

She planned to take her own life to ensure she didn’t have to endure the abuse, but did not go through with it.

The next day, she told a friend, who was also a survivor and encouraged Desarae to report the abuse to a teacher at school. The teacher then reported it to the school counselor, who didn’t believe Desarae and told her teacher that she was lying and being dramatic.

Discouraged by this hurtful and unsupportive reaction, Desarae didn’t want to continue with the reporting process. The teacher she reported to intervened, saying that she believed Desarae, even if the counselor didn’t, and that due to mandatory reporting laws, they needed to report the abuse.

“A detective showed up to the school and asked me questions. She said she needed to make sure I was telling the truth. I kept crying, saying I promise this is what’s happening. I definitely was feeling a lot of emotions at once; it was terrifying, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Desarae also received a sexual assault forensic exam.

“The experience wasn’t horrible overall. The doctors and nurses were actually very kind and understanding—they took their time, I would ask for breaks. But the law enforcement part was hard. I was questioned; they weren’t 100 percent sure if they believed me. I even had to take a lie detector test. It was very traumatizing.”

Soon after Desarae reported and received the exam, the perpetrator was arrested.

Life at home and at school was still difficult for Desarae. Her family was experiencing secondary trauma from learning about the stepfather’s abuse. Soon after, Desarae transferred schools after being bullied by classmates who found out about the abuse.

 

“A girl I had a lot of problems with yelled down the hallway ‘Desarae has sex with her dad.’ That’s the first time I realized people will never understand what happened. I felt like I couldn’t talk about it with any peers at my school.”

A couple months before she turned 16, Desarae entered a residential treatment center where she stayed for two years She learned coping strategies for living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and dissociative identity disorder, and learned more about how they related to the sexual abuse she experienced growing up.

After treatment, Desarae rarely spoke about what happened to her and tried to continue living her life. She got married and had two children and still didn’t talk about it.

Over a decade later, the perpetrator was released from prison, despite Desarae asking the court to extend his term for her own protection. Last year, Desarae found out that he has been stalking her as well as collecting child pornographic photos, cutting out her face, and then placing them on the faces of the victims in the photos. She chose to tell her family and, like always, they were extremely supportive.

The release of the perpetrator resurfaced mental health challenges that Desarae hadn’t dealt with in many years. She decided to talk and be open to her husband and close friends about the abuse, and they encouraged her to speak out about her survivorship so that it could help her and others to heal. She started a blog, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. Then in March 2019, she released her own podcast.

In the first 48 hours, almost 3,000 people listened to it.

“I was contacted by so many people. They told me that listening to my story and my voice changed their lives. That was a profound moment when I sat there and thought: ‘This is what I’m meant to do with my story. This is my purpose.’”

Her podcast, Candle In A Dark Room, now has two seasons and is growing. Desarae features guests who talk about their experiences with sexual violence and similar trauma and are seeking to tell their stories to raise awareness. The podcast has played a huge role in her healing process and has created a community of survivorship and support.

Because of her own experiences, Desarae has dedicated her career to the trauma field for the past 10 years by helping survivors and families through their own healing journeys. Doing this work has also helped her gain a better understanding of her own family’s experience of secondary trauma after learning of the abuse.

“My mom and I have been able to have more conversations. She’s been on my podcast. She’s still not completely ready to tell her full side of the story. But she wants to reach that point of healing. She was the worker, had three jobs, my stepfather was also physically and mentally abusive to her—she was in survival mode. I just try to have empathy for what we’ve all been through.”

Desarae wants parents to teach their children that they are in control of their bodies and that it is okay and safe to talk about what happened. When parents can also be perpetrators, it’s important for professionals and other trusted adults in children’s lives to be able to recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse.

“I’m a huge advocate for people to be trauma informed. If someone tells you they’ve been abused, believe them. If it’s too much for you to handle, find someone else who can help.”

Desarae is also a proponent of therapy and seeking mental health professionals in order to address trauma, which not only affects the mind, but also the body. Desarae has found self-care to be important for her physical and mental health during her healing.

“I like to live by the mentality that, even if the perpetrator took my past, I won’t let him take my future. I’m taking my power back.”

Desarae finds healing in helping others through her job as a social worker, creating her podcast, and speaking in front of audiences about sexual violence. She loves spending time with her two children and the rest of her family.

“You’re not alone. There are so many of us who can relate to your situation—don’t be afraid to ask for that help. Listen to, and care for each other.”

For more survivor stories of hope and healing, please visit rainn.org/stories.

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