It was a sunny day and I was walking home from where the school bus dropped me off. I had taken a different bus, only because I wanted to stop at the park to enjoy the weather and ease my mind. I continued walking with my eyes staring at the ground and my earphones blasting.
But what seemed like such an ordinary day soon turned into a nightmare. A guy stood in front of me, his arms outstretched as he whistled in my direction. I only giggled. See, I knew this man, he was a friend and I thought he was joking around as usual. I hugged him and when I did, he seemed to survey the streets for any wandering souls. We were alone. At that moment, every nerve in my body was screaming run, but as I tried to push away he only pulled me in closer.
He covered my mouth and pushed me into his truck. Someone else drove it into a garage and in a matter of seconds he took my dignity even as I fought for it. Maybe I was hallucinating or maybe he did, in fact, say sorry twice. At that moment, I gathered every ounce of strength I had left in me and I ran to the door leading to the house. I ran and he didn’t chase after me. He didn’t say anything, and he never tried to contact me again. I never saw him again.
To this day, I still feel shivers run down my spine every time I pass by the road where it happened.
I never spoke about what happened to me with anyone. I suffered in silence because I felt that nobody would believe this man, someone everyone liked, could do such a thing to an “ugly” 14-year-old girl. Maybe they would say something like, “She was probably asking for it,” and that was the very thing I feared. I was ashamed and embarrassed, and couldn’t confide in my parents, my friends, or the authorities.
After the incident, I became overly aware of my body and I began to hate it. I would purge every time I ate. I would physically harm myself to replace the emotional pain with physical pain. Drug consumption became my only escape. I lost myself in depression and anxiety.
Eventually I decided to turn my life around. I focused on school and pushed myself to strive for success. I met amazing people who became my best friends and who helped me to laugh and feel joy again. I joined the Public Service Academy at my school and met the most amazing teachers who helped me find my true passion. I got involved in my community through clubs and organizations that raise awareness about political and social issues. I ended up discovering that I want to help people that have been through similar experiences as me, which is why I am majoring in psychology. For me, giving up is not an option.
I am all too familiar with the desperate solitude that depression leaves. I have felt the anxiety attacks that occur at the most unexpected moments. I was lucky to have found support in teachers and friends. But, looking back, I wish there would have been more access to professional help, a place I could have gone to talk and be honest about the cause of my insecurities and depression.
Every day is a battle to push these incidents to the back of my mind. I won’t let this define me or my future. I am a survivor and every person who experiences sexual assault should be empowered to let their voices be heard.
I want to help the eastern Coachella Valley. We shouldn’t be afraid to walk down the streets of our neighborhoods. We shouldn’t be afraid to hug a friend. I know for certain I am not the only one here living with these issues in silence. It is time for that to change.