“I remember running out of the room, scared and confused. He acted as if nothing had happened.”
Julianna Araujo’s stepfather used to babysit her after school until her mother returned from work. It was on one of these afternoons, when Julianna was just eight years old, that he first exposed himself to her. Over the next six years, the abuse escalated, and home became an unsafe environment.
“While most people visualized their house as a safe place, I saw mine as a jail. I felt like I was a prisoner in my own home.”
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are most often someone the victim knows, which can make it difficult for children to recognize these actions as abuse or to come forward about what is happening. Julianna kept the abuse a secret for several years, fearing that she would upset her mother who was so happy to be married to her new husband.
Julianna made several attempts to run away from home. When she finally told her mother the reason behind her fears and unhappiness, she was met with disbelief. “She sat me down from sun up to sun down and kept asking me over and over again, ‘are you sure?’” Shortly after, Julianna’s mother sent her to live with her estranged father. “She had given up on me,” Julianna remembers. “Could a mother do that?”
Julianna’s mother remained married to her stepfather, and years later they had a daughter together. When Juliana's sister turned 9, she began to fear for her sister’s safety. It was then, nearly a decade later, that Julianna decided, to report the abuse to law enforcement in hopes of protecting her sister and achieving justice for the crimes committed against her as a child. “I also have children,” Julianna said. “I needed to protect my sister—and that was part of it. But my own kids were getting older, too. It was a reality check for me as a parent. I would hope that my child would come to me and tell me what was going on.”
It wasn’t an easy process. Investigative and court proceedings lasted two years, and the experience worsened an already tenuous relationship with her mother. “There were multiple times I wanted to give up. My attorney told me that sex crimes are the hardest to convict, and nowadays people want to see DNA.” After multiple trial and plea agreements—some justice was achieved. Julianna’s step-father was finally convicted and required to register as a sex offender. “Seeing his face on the sex registry list was proof of a victory. I did my job of making sure that other people are protected in the best way that I could.”
Today, Julianna is dedicated to creating a safe home environment for her own children. “I try to be present in every moment of my kids’ lives. When I hear my kids say they want to go home, it brings the biggest smile to my face because they feel safe there.” She loves spending time with her family and often organizes group outings with her children and siblings. She also realizes that recovery isn’t a one step process. “The most important thing I had to realize is that every day is a healing process. Every time I think I’m over it, something happens and reopens that wound. It’s important to be aware of these feelings instead of pushing them aside.”
Julianna continues to share her story and inspire hope through opportunities with RAINN’s Speakers Bureau. “It has been such a big part of my healing process. I want to pass along the hope that it took me so long to regain back.”
Julianna is one of seven survivors featured in the RAINN Survivor Series. Learn more about the campaign.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.