Elise's Story

“It’s your story to tell, you don’t owe it to anyone. I tell mine because I want my words to give someone else hope.”

Elise Roberts is a professional dancer, dedicated friend, and visual artist in her spare time. She is also a survivor of intimate partner violence.

As a teenager, Elise experienced depression, bullying, and self-harm.

“I seemed like a happy, outgoing person—but on the inside, I was hurting.”

When she was 17, she started dating someone who appeared kind at first, then started to change his behaviors. This developed into intimate partner violence. He physically, sexually, and emotionally abused her. He made her feel like she was not good enough for anyone else and that he was the only person who would ever love her.

Elise didn’t tell anyone what was happening because she was having trouble identifying what was happening as abuse.

“When I was younger, I remember a boy in one of my classes was bullying me, and when I told the teacher about it, she said that boys are mean to girls because they like them and want to get their attention.”

Through comments adults made and from watching TV and movies, Elise learned from a young age that someone picking on her meant they liked her.

“I was only 17. I just thought this is what relationships were. I didn’t know any better. I knew that he was hurting me, but I didn’t know how to talk about what was happening.”

Elise continued to self-harm throughout the relationship and at one point attempted suicide. After the attempt, she went to the school counselor and told her what happened. The counselor held her hand, talked to her, and arranged for Elise to enter a two-week in-patient program and an out-patient program following that.

“After the suicide attempt, I had to teach myself how to be grateful for every little thing. Going through that process made me a better person.”

At first, Elise was hesitant to go to therapy.

“I was worried about the negative connotations of having depression. In my mind, only crazy people go to therapists. I was so wrong.”

Therapy became central for Elise’s healing, especially through developing healthy coping mechanisms.

“I would give my therapist a million dollars if I could. She saved me. She was the person I wanted to tell everything to. I know I wasn’t her best friend, but she was mine. Therapy should be so much more normalized, especially for high schoolers.”

Elise hadn’t told anyone about the abuse she experienced. But after a while, she felt safe to tell her therapist.

“The first person I told was my therapist, who I owe my life to. The first time I ever shared out loud what was going on behind closed doors of the relationship was terrifying.”

Elise’s therapist gave her the number for RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline and told her that what happened to her wasn’t her fault.

“The hotline helped me so much because I could talk to someone I trusted, but I didn’t need to worry about what they would think of me or if telling them would change our relationship.”

Elise was able to leave the abusive relationship.

“I just felt so stupid for being in a relationship that turned out to be abusive. I felt like I should have been able to know this would happen.”

The supportive reaction Elise’s therapist showed made her feel like she could tell more people in her life. She told her best friend, who tried to be supportive by encouraging Elise to report what happened to the police and pursue a legal case. Elise explained that she had thought about it and made the decision not to move forward with reporting because she had heard so many negative stories of others who reported abuse and did not get the justice they deserved.

In Elise’s first relationship after experiencing the abuse, she waited until she was comfortable to let her partner know that she might have flashbacks and he reacted in a supportive way.

“I didn’t feel ready to tell him everything, but I felt like it would help me if he knew that this was something I was dealing with.”

Elise also told her mother, though accidentally. When Elise was waking up from anesthesia after a surgery, her mother asked if she was in pain.

“I said that nothing hurts as much as what he used to do to me.”

When she was awake and back from the hospital, her mom let her know that Elise didn’t have to tell her anything, but that she was there for her and that it was not her fault.

“I’m so grateful for the amount of support everyone has given me. Each person I told made me feel better about sharing my story.”

To help ensure others don’t have to go through what she experience, Elise believes that school, communities, and families should remove the taboo from talking about sexual violence.

“People avoid it because it’s such a hard subject to talk about. But if I had known about warning signs of abuse, maybe it would have been easier for me to tell someone when it happened to me.”

In addition to therapy, having visual art as an outlet has been central in Elise’s healing. She has what she calls an alter-book. It’s an old book that whenever she starts contemplating self-harm, she destroys or alters the book in the most artistic way she can.

“Whatever I’m feeling goes into my book. I’m not an artist by any means. I just put my feelings on the page. It helps me to see my progress when I look through the book, but it’s not linear, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.”

If Elise could tell survivors one thing, she would remind them that surviving sexual violence shows much more about who you are—the strength and resilience in your character—than about what happened to you.

“You are not a victim, you are a victory. Remember— you’ve made it through 100% of your bad days. You made it this far, you can keep going.”

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