How do you talk about how you found your voice? Do you start with all the times bad things happened and you kept them a secret? Never telling. Would anyone believe you? I have spent most of my life living in silence with secrets that should have been disclosed or told when I was a child, even a teenager – or even on my wedding night! Unfortunately, I grew up in a time when “those things” weren’t talked about. Because of decades of secrets, I have lived with a lot of shame and guilt. This unfortunately had a huge impact on the person I became. Quiet, insecure, easily controlled.
After enduring a 21 year marriage to a controlling abusive alcoholic, I finally found enough strength to stand up and say “Enough!” My 3 minor daughters and I left in 2010 with only a suitcase each full of clothing. He never allowed us to get the rest of our belongings. So began a 3 year divorce battle with him trying to prove me as an unfit mother at every turn. I worked 2-3 jobs at a time, doing whatever it took to provide. I managed in 5 months to make enough money to get us a little apartment. I felt a bit like I wasn’t providing enough, because it was government housing, but my youngest daughter who was 8 at the time said “Momma I love it. We each have our own room now with a door on it.” I cried. Finally a new start, a place to call our own. I stood up to each accusation made by my ex, and each obstacle overcome. Little by little my girls were watching their mom take back her life.
In the spring of 2012 with help from my parents, we were able to buy a small home just perfect for us. Finally, a real home. I was still working several jobs to make ends meet, showing the girls that I would do whatever I had to do to take care of them. Around this time I began spending time with some of my friends after work a few times a week. On one evening in August 2012, I met with some “friends” whom I trusted. That evening forever changed my life. I was raped by the 3 men whom I thought I knew. I had trusted them. How could this happen?! It was just drinks! 3:00 am is a time that still haunts my thoughts.
For the first few days after the rape I was in shock! Disbelief! Was this real? Did this really happen? A few days later I was able to confide in a friend who inquired about the bruising on my arms. They said that I needed to go to the police. I did about day 6 after the attack. I guess it was at this point in my life that I truly found my voice. I went to police and agreed to file charges. So began what has turned into a nearly 5 year battle for justice. From the very beginning evidence was not properly handled. The police never attempted to obtain the phones of my three attackers which contained pictures of that night which they had shared with their friends. The detective assigned to the case decided early on that he didn’t believe my story, so he delayed investigating the case and following through on the leads he had been given. The sheriff also failed to follow up with the detective, thinking he was doing his job. New District Attorneys were assigned to the case in 2014, and they decided that now too much time had passed, and there wasn’t enough evidence to follow through with a trial. But I stood my ground in a big way. I did research. I found laws. I went to the news media, who in turn did their own investigation on the detective in question and found evidence to prove that he had been fired from previous jobs for his lack of gathering evidence or because of his attitude. They helped me bring this to light in 2016. By now, I had already appeared before 2 grand juries who found my story convincing enough to bring it to trial. In addition, there was also a preliminary hearing before the judge who heard my story and said she would allow it to go to trial. During this time period I had demanded a re-investigation of my case. The new investigator looked deeper into my case but unfortunately because of the length of time, little evidence was found. Finally, in February 2016, two of the men came to trial. With no physical evidence besides the pictures I had taken of myself after the rape, the jury found them both not guilty. The 3rd man is still awaiting trial which I doubt will happen now.
I had realized early on in this process that I wasn’t going to get justice in the traditional sense, but I fought anyway. I stood up and found my voice. I have had many opportunities in the last few years to use my voice to share with others in a positive way. I found my voice through much change. I found my voice through loss. I found my voice through grief. I found my voice through sadness. I found my voice through healing. I spoke up for my children. I spoke up for others who could not speak for themselves. I spoke up for MYSELF, finally! My hope is that good will come from such a horrible past. I want to share my story so that others will see that they too can find their voice and find the strength and courage to stand up for themselves.
My outcome has not been what I hoped for when I started this journey. I had hoped that justice would be done. That those who had done wrong would be punished. Maybe at some point they will be. At least they have all been put on notice. I stared my attackers in the face and didn’t back down. By my speaking out maybe they will never harm anyone else. Maybe the authorities involved will step up the way they handle victims of assault.
I have found so much healing through the Nashville Sexual Assault Center. They have been with me on this journey since October 2012. I am forever thankful for their part in my life. I have met many wonderful people over the last 5 years that are advocating for changes for victims of crimes. Along the way, I met Verna and Valerie from Tennessee Voices for Victims. They have stayed in contact with me and helped with different aspects of my journey.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.