For the longest time, what happened to me didn’t have a name. It wasn’t called sexual assault to me. It was "sin." It was the deepest secret I held, and I knew I’d be paying for it for the rest of my life. Whenever anything bad happened in my life, it was a direct result of what I’d done. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure it was real. My feelings about the situation were terrible so I knew it must have been my fault, it must have been something bad. So for sixteen years, I told no one. I breathed nothing of what had happened, of what I’d done. But that changed this summer when my cousin wrote me a letter, apologizing for what was done. For the first time, I told someone about what had happened and learned, after all, that it wasn’t my fault. In learning that, I found that there was a way to heal and move away from what had so long hurt me.

My older cousin had come to stay with my family for the summer. Her own father and grandfather had abused her siblings and my parents tried to get her out of the situation, to show her love and give her some space away from the terrible circumstances. California summers were perfect for sleeping out under the stars and that’s what happened. My parents let us sleep out on the deck because my cousin was old enough to watch us, being fourteen when I was just eight. But what started as something fun turned into something I dreaded. The nights we slept outside were the nights it happened. Being touched, inappropriately talked to, and forced to reciprocate. The incidents are blurred, kept fuzzy from my mind and will to unlive it, to suppress what happened to me, to unravel everything that those nights held on to so fiercely in my memory.

The first people I told were my parents. Of course there was anger, feelings of betrayal and sadness. They asked me over and over why when they had asked me all growing up if I’d ever been sexually assaulted that I’d never said anything. Until my cousin brought it up, I’d never felt free to talk about it. I’d never even thought of it as sexual assault. I tried not to think about it at all. But thankfully, speaking up about it, crying about it, trying to figure out how I feel about it has started this healing process I never knew I could find. My feelings about my body have had to be reassessed. There are other things that may have been affected by this that I’m not even aware of. Everyone speaks of a healing process but I’m not even sure of where to start or what that looks like. So, I’m starting with sharing and talking about how to move forward—with my parents, my religious leader, my psychologist. There is a long journey ahead but I’m finding hope in reaching out to good causes and sharing my story.