Stephanie's Story

“When everything happened to me, I dealt with it as best I could. I acted ‘normal,’ was a good student, my parents didn’t have any idea. I kept pretending everything was fine; I put it in the back of my brain.”

Stephanie was sexually assaulted by her uncle on a regular basis between the ages of four and twelve. Her parents both worked full-time, so her grandmother took care of her during the day. Her uncle is nine years older than her and lived with her grandmother.

Her grandmother caught the abuse happening once early on, but did not tell Stephanie’s parents because she was afraid they wouldn’t let her babysit anymore. Stephanie’s uncle threatened that if she told anyone, she would be in trouble.

Headshot of Stephanie

She waited seven years after the abuse ended to talk about it; she first told her husband, whom she was dating at the time, and some close friends. “It was something I had kept to myself for so long. It really molded a lot of my thoughts, my feelings, my behaviors. It was this huge burden.”

Stephanie suffered from anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of the abuse. “Depression lies to you and convinces you that you’re not worth the effort, that it’s not worth getting out of bed.” She found counseling and anti-depression medication helpful.

In college, she started speaking to groups about sexual assault and mental health issues, and sharing her experience became an important part of her healing process. “Hearing someone else talk about it out loud, not hushed whispers, and not in a way that was shameful, made me think that I could talk about it, too. And I did. It was terrifying and liberating.

 

Years later, she learned from other relatives that the perpetrator’s three young daughters may be showing signs of abuse. Stephanie decided to report her own past abuse to the police. “That was the impetus for me to come forward and hope that I was there in time.” That report led to an indictment, and later a trial for counts of rape and gross sexual imposition for the abuse she experienced as a child. Her grandmother was the only witness, and testified against Stephanie in order to protect her son, the perpetrator. They lost the case.

“It’s very difficult, the system does not make it easy to come forward. I was on the stand for two days and I felt like I was the one on trial. I had to defend my words, had to defend my story. It was traumatic, but I would do it over again.”

Stephanie views the abuse as an obstacle she overcame, and not as something that defines her as a person. She and her husband have a three-year-old son, she’s a senior manager at her company, and is surrounded by a supportive community. “It’s a great time of life for me because I’ve had opportunities I’m so very lucky to have.” She enjoys spending time doing photography and traveling internationally.

“What I tell people when I give speeches is if you’re dealing with something like this, find someone to talk to. If you don’t find a good outlet at first, keep trying. It’s not a burden you should carry, and you shouldn’t have to suffer alone. There’s a lot of life to live; it gets better.”

The rape kit backlog is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

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Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported to the police.

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