Rachel’s Story (2019)

Rachel is a high school senior from a small, rural town. She is active in after-school activities including sports. Rachel has been recognized for superior academic and athletic achievements and is viewed favorably by people around town.

She begins to make friends with a group of people in the “big” town that is about 20 miles away from her hometown. In this group of people is Ross. He is a popular boy in this larger school and is well known in the community. He is one of the stars on the high school boys’ hockey team.

Rachel and Ross meet and are interested in one another. They go on a double date and enjoyed the time spent together so they continue talking. Rachel’s friend Monica decides to throw a house party one weekend when her parents were out of town. Rachel and Monica mutually decide to invite Ross. Rachel went to Monica’s house early to hang out and they began drinking alcohol. By the time more people showed up to the party, Rachel and Monica were already slightly drunk. As the night continued, Rachel got more and more drunk. She passed out around 10 pm.

Around midnight Ross goes to find Rachel and recognizes that she is passed out. Monica notices that Ross is drunk but has not been drinking as much as other people at the party. What she doesn’t see is Ross carrying Rachel from the basement to the second floor where he puts Rachel in Monica’s brother’s room. He then goes back to the party and continues drinking. When Monica wants to go check on Rachel, Ross doesn’t let her and instead says he will go check on her.

Ross then decides that he is going to stay the night at Monica’s with Rachel (who is still passed out and is alive but unconscious). He moves the dresser in front of the door so nobody else can enter the room. Ross then proceeds to have sex with Rachel. At this point she is entering in and out of consciousness.

The next morning Rachel wakes up before Ross and does not remember anything from the night before. She realizes that they are both naked but is too embarrassed to ask Ross what happened. She was also too scared to admit what might have happened and instantly feels ashamed for putting herself in such a vulnerable position. Rachel had never had sex before so this further perpetuated the embarrassment and ashamed feeling surrounding the conversation. She didn’t feel any pain or soreness and what Rachel had heard is that after the first time you have sex you are sore. So nothing could have happened, right?

Rachel and Ross date for a few months and eventually have consensual sex. They decided that since they were going to college in different states they were not going to stay together. On their last date, Rachel asks Ross some random questions to fill conversation. When she asked him, “What is the most embarrassing moment in your life so far?” Ross answers, “that time that we had sex at Monica’s and you were passing in and out of consciousness.” Rachel instantly feels mortified and a flood of emotion arises yet she recognizes that they are in a public place and decides to suppress the emotion. She doesn’t address Ross at the time but Rachel immediately recognizes that she was raped. She wonders what she will do. It’s been almost three months since the event so there is no possibility of evidence if she wanted to pursue a rape conviction. Is reporting the rape even a real option? She also knows what she is up against – a popular athlete in the county where the case would go to trial. She knew it would be a he said/she said case. Ultimately Rachel decides to not pursue legal action because she didn’t think anybody would believe her word against his. What she didn’t know is how much this event would impact her everyday life and leave her wondering if legal action could have provided her with more closure.

That’s my story, or at least part of it. I am Rachel. This is how I have processed my story. I critically analyze each piece and try to figure out the why … why did this happen to me? How could it have been prevented? Were sports to blame? Was it his family life? I have written several papers in graduate school about the topic, trying to find research to make sense of why this happened to me.

“Ross” went on to get married and, according to social media, appears to be living a pretty great life. Does he ever think about what he did to me? Probably not. Did he ever tell his now wife? Did he assault someone else after me? Am I responsible for that if he did because I didn’t tell anyone?

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that I did confront “Ross” about the assault over instant messaging. He had tried to contact me to ask if we could stay together even though we were going to different colleges. I didn’t respond for a while because I just couldn’t. When he eventually asked if he did something wrong or to upset me, that’s when I confronted him. I told him that he raped me and he denied it. I told him that he had robbed me of so much: safety, trust, connection, and so much more. I asked him what was I supposed to tell my future daughter, if I ever have one, about my “first time” when she is expecting some special story based off media representations.

While “Ross” is off living a great life, I am left with the impact of his actions that I am sure he never thinks about. One of the impacts is my use of distancing and not letting people in or trusting them. My body, my only true home, was violated when I let my guard down, when I trusted people. So I learned I shouldn’t do that again; keep people, especially men, at a distance.

After I confronted “Ross” I sort of shoved this all down and out of my mind. Or so I thought I did. It resurfaced in different ways. Even though I would occasionally share that I had been assaulted, I never shared the details with anyone. Why would anyone believe me? I was drinking so it was my fault, right? But it finally all poured over and I couldn’t stop the emotion when I was at a conference about four years after the assault. I attended a session on sexual violence in sport and one of the presenters was sharing his story. His vulnerability and courage to share his story and claim/reclaim his narrative is what opened the floodgates of my emotional well. One of the facilitators of the session, Mitch, a licensed psychologist but not acting in that role at the time, recognized this and pulled me aside and had me face away from other conference-goers so that they couldn’t see me crying. I remember Mitch saying that if he could find Ross and punch him, he would. That broke my crying and got me to laugh. He then told me that even if I don’t remember the assault, my body does. That’s something that I will never forget because learning about how the “body keeps the score”, as the book title goes, gave me so much insight into all the ways I was not able to connect with partners in all this time.

The person who was sharing his story during the conference presentation eventually became my PhD advisor. I had gone to the University of Tennessee to work with another faculty member and switched over to be advised by him after my first year. There was just a sense of being kindred spirits. I would go on to further witness and experience his vulnerability and strength when he would share his story in sport sociology classes. He used his story to connect to class material and also allowed students to ask questions. This inspired me to do the same; that’s when I wrote up my story as a case study. I began using it in class and the results were mixed. Some students felt like the story was really impactful. Others went right to victim blaming “Rachel,” not yet knowing I was Rachel. It was draining to share my story like that but I knew it was necessary. Why does it take being able to put a face that someone knows to a story in order for a person to care about the issue? Or to see the victim/survivor as a human?

I struggle to identify one moment of hope in my story. I feel validated and strengthened when others share their stories and when people stand with survivors and tell us they believe us. But I also feel pain every time I hear about another assault. Why haven’t we as a society eradicated this issue yet?

Some people have advocated for bystander intervention as the solution. Another piece of my story is that about ten years after my assault happened, “Monica” sat down with me and apologized for not doing more to prevent “Ross” from assaulting me. She said that she has carried that guilt with her all these years. I assured her that I never blamed her for the assault. “Ross” is the one who is at fault. “Monica” sharing that with me has changed the way I educate about bystander intervention. I use my story to help people understand that while they can and should intervene in instances of potential sexual assaults, it is ultimately the perpetrator who is responsible, not the bystander. I also share that it is important for us to intervene in “smaller” moments that perpetuate rape culture and the disbelief of victims/survivors. I feel the most empowerment and hope in moments when people are challenging the fundamental beliefs or norms that allow sexual assault to happen in the first place.

Story and title on view with Rachel’s permission

Still I Rise – A Survivor Story (2019)

I was raped when I was 21. By the person I was dating at the time. The person who claimed they loved me. When it happened, I blocked the incident from my mind. I was in denial. I kept quiet for months.  After all, we were in love. We had been together for years. We talked about getting married someday. Someone who loves you can’t rape you. At least I thought.

Months later, after I broke up with my partner, I was at a conference, and the speaker began talking about garages. The place where you shove all your boxes of shit to keep out of sight and out of mind. Something clicked and it all came flooding back to me. My mind had its own garage. My rape was one of those boxes of shit shoved away in the back corner.

The first person I ever disclosed to was my best friend. I told her about the garage metaphor, and how I realized I had some boxes shoved away. I told her I thought something happened to me with my ex. I remember asking myself, my best friend, and local hotline advocates over and over again – “Was that rape?” “Was that sexual assault?” “Is it possible?”

It took a long time for me to accept that even though we were dating, I was unconscious, I couldn’t consent, it was rape.

I was an active student leader on campus. I knew my resources. I had information on Title IX, and I knew it was never the victim’s fault.

I could logically tell myself that I wasn’t to blame. But that didn’t make the feelings of guilt, and shame, and fear, and anger, and resentment go away.

I was in counseling for a few months. I thought I was fine. I thought I had dealt with it.

Then I spent the summer in the same small town as my rapist, with mutual friends. I lived in constant fear of seeing him, panicking that he would show up at my work, I avoided any place he might be, I withdrew from social scenes, and spent as much time at home as possible.

My solution to these feelings and behaviors: move across the country. I thought that would help. It would be an instant fix. It was a big city, he would never be there, I should feel safe. I didn’t.

Grad school is when the depression set in. Even in an entirely new place, on the other side of the country, I was always looking over my shoulder, any vehicle that slightly resembled his had me spiraling into a panic attack, I started having nightmares, I spent days in bed not knowing how to cope.

I started learning about sexual violence prevention. I slowly began to realize all the ways that my rape could have been prevented – had my family openly talked about sex and healthy relationships, had we debunked the myth that rape only happens by a stranger, had someone explained consent within a relationship, had someone told me abuse wasn’t just physical, but also emotional, verbal and sexual. Maybe then I would have picked up on the red flags. Maybe then we wouldn’t have dated. Maybe then I would have been able to speak up for myself more in that relationship. Maybe then, my rape wouldn’t have happened.

So many sexual assaults could be prevented if we talked more openly about sex and what healthy communication looked like. Our culture needed to change.

If I wanted change to happen, I realized I needed to be willing to speak up. I started working with professors in the field of sexual violence prevention, I focused my class research and projects on issues of sexual violence, I became involved with prevention efforts at local organizations. I began to raise my voice.

I found the power in my story. I recognized my own strength in leaving that relationship, in acknowledging the various types of abuse, and realizing I did nothing to deserve that. I was in a position of a knowledgeable campus leader at the time of my rape, and I was in denial. What about the students who don’t know their resources? Who is helping them? Who is educating folks on sex and healthy communication?

Dealing with my rape was hard, and shitty, and frustrating. It still is. But it gave me a passion to speak up, to seek experiences where I can give other survivors hope. Thanks to Maya Angelou, my mantra is “still I rise.” There is power in advocacy and using your voice to drive social change. No matter how hard the day is, no matter how angry I may be feeling, no matter how grand the mountain in front of me may seem, still I rise.

Story and title on view with the survivor’s permission

The Female Freshman Experience – A Survivor Story (2019)

In therapy I wrote a trauma narrative as a healing mechanism. I sought intense therapy the summer before my junior year at UWO, while the assault occurred within my very first semester. At this point in my journey I still held (and to an extent still do) a lot of shame as I blamed myself for the assault. Here’s my original narrative, edited to redirect my blame at the perpetrator (whose name has been blacked out):

I was the only girl of my friends in Oshkosh for the weekend, but I didn’t want to miss out on the fun (not that I needed a reason) so I went out with my guy friends. Two of them knew me pretty well and the rest were acquaintances. This night I planned to tell one of my close guy friends that I was falling for him, but nothing that night went according to plan but instead I was raped. I drank gin, lots of it, - just like everyone else was doing that night - in order to build up my “liquid courage” and headed out as practically the only girl with a swarm of guys. Next thing I remember is one of the acquaintances (XXXXX) kissing me forcing himself onto me at a party … I swiftly shoved him off and went to find my crush. Once I found him at the party, the group decided to go back to the dorms. I remember it was snowing and cold so I let my crush take my jacket who was only in a jersey and shorts. Next I felt XXXXX put his jacket on my shoulders, only thinking he was being kind - which is what the gesture should have been. When we got back a pizza was quickly ordered and a girl “friend” of my crush was straddling him. At this point I gave up on my plans and soon after the two of them wanted the room to themselves. Next thing I know its just XXXXX, me, and a pizza, so I offered to eat it in my room since his roommate was sleeping and mine was gone - which was normal human decency. I remember chowing down with my eyes barely open and fell asleep with a slice still in my hand. I remember he removed it, packed it all up, and laid me down. He turned off the lights, and I heard the door shut. I thought he was kindly putting me to bed. I thought wrong he would be a decent human being, but he decided instead to take advantage of his incapacitated classmate.

Next thing I remember is a weight on top of me and a tugging feeling at my clothes. I squirmed and tried to move the weight, but I was too drunk falling unconscious and he was too strong. His hands were rough and pushed hard on all parts of me. I began to whimper and whisper for help, which he either was too drunk to notice or ignored it decided not to acknowledge my obvious lack of consent. When I was down to just my bra and underwear, my fury finally rose up out of me and I could finally speak. I said quickly, loudly, and forcefully “I’m too drunk, I’m too drunk, I’m too drunk.” Suddenly the weight my attacker was off of me and I faded into sleep.

The next morning I woke up to being prodded and poked while he told me I was “so beautiful” as his fingers entered without permission. I gave him a slightly awkward and uncomfortable smile and tried to move his arm but it was rock solid and he refused to listen to my physical cue for him to stop. As he started to slide on top again I frantically said I had homework due and he needed to go. He clearly caught on to my unease at this point and kept asking if he could get me coffee or breakfast while I repeatedly refused and anxiously put clothes on. When he finally left my tension eased slightly, but the physical and emotional soreness lingered as I tried to erase and minimize what happened the past 24 hours. By the time my friends returned that evening, I simply told them my night out was boring and uneventful without them. I now refuse to minimize, refuse to erase this history. Instead I chose to recognize this painful violation of my body and then, I chose to heal.

Story and title on view with the survivor’s permission

My Empowerment – A Survivor Story (2019)

It was an incident that actually took me by surprise. I guess I was quite naïve that night. Perhaps it was denial or just me wanting to believe the best. I really thought if I just continued to say no and set boundaries that he would stop, but I guess I was wrong. Hindsight is 20/20.

Again, surprisingly, but for the better, was the support I received from my roommate, best friend and parents. With their encouragement and support I felt safe; and strong enough to do what was best for me. Getting the help I needed would not have been as easily attainable had I not had the assistance and consistency of those individuals in my life.

Of course, the help and dedication shown to me by UWO services cannot be ignored. Without Leslie, Kristi, Pam, Becky, Polly and so may others I have come to feel that I do not have to handle everything on my own, but that I am strong and able to if necessary.  Life is a journey and I now feel excited, eager, enthusiastic and empowered to continue learning and growing from all experiences.

Story and title on view with the survivor’s permission

Emily’s Story (2019)

When I was 15 years old, I thought I was in love for the first time. He, we will call him “J” would text me all day and call me at night. He told me I was beautiful, he took my virginity. I thought he was “the one” J was older than me by three years, I was naïve enough to think it was so cool how an older boy would really like me. His friends were all older too, when I would spend time with them, we would drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. At first everything was good, I was still in high school, and had a part time job, but we would spend all of our free time with each other.

After a couple months, I got a message from a girl I did not knowing saying that J had been Snapchatting her inappropriate photos and was being flirty with her. I confronted J about it, and he denied everything, I believed him. But it happened again, and again, and again. I would see girl’s names on his phone or wake up to messages from her with stories about all the things he had been saying to her or doing with her. Every time I would confront him, he would deny it, or get angry with me and somehow twist it into being my fault. I began to feel as though I was the one in the wrong, and that maybe I was crazy. I was constantly walking on eggshells, never knowing if he would be angry that day.

When he first started putting his hands on me, he would grab me by the hands and twist my wrists as hard as he could. Eventually it turned into hitting, and punching me when he was drinking, or angry, or I didn’t want to have sex with him.

When he was drunk one night, he got mad at me because his friend had talked to me at a party. When we were back at his apartment, he pushed me so hard I fell into a closed bedroom door and broke through it. He got angry that the door had broken and while I was down on the ground, he kicked me in the legs and the stomach, until I nearly blacked out.

I spent that summer in long sleeves, and jeans, hiding the bruises he left on me, and coming up with stories anytime my sleeves would be rolled up a little too high.

When I was 17 we attended a country musical festival, at one of the concerts I went to talk to a friend, when I turned around to go back over to J, I saw him and there was a girl kissing and dancing with him. I went and confronted him, he pulled me away and pinched the skin of my stomach and ribs until I was in tears. We were camping so I didn’t have a mirror, but the next morning I was wearing a bikini top because it was hot out, someone noticed the finger shaped bruises around my stomach. They called the police, and he was arrested for abuse of a minor. He spent that weekend in jail, and on Monday he got released. I would never admit to it until now, but I lied to the police in order for him to not be charged, I said I got bumped around in the crowd, and that he would never put his hands on me.

J controlled every aspect of my life, from what I wore, to who I talked too. If I didn’t text him back within minutes, he would send hundreds of texts and calls.

When I came to UWO my freshman year I thought things would be better, we would be spending time apart, and I figured it would be good for the both of us. But he became even more controlling, he would show up in Oshkosh unexpectedly and wouldn’t leave for days. He would accuse me of cheating on him, he would hack into my social media accounts and message people pretending to be me, and then block them so I wouldn’t know about it.

After nearly failing my first semester of college, I broke up with him in December of 2016, and to my surprise he stayed away for a while. A few weeks later, I went to visit home for the weekend. When I was about to leave on Sunday night, I noticed his truck sitting in my neighborhood with the headlights off, when I pulled out, he began following me. I tried to turn off another road to lose him and I thought I had, but when I was on the freeway, I noticed him coming up behind me. He was driving recklessly, speeding, flashing his headlights, and LED light bar into my back window and swerving at me. He was throwing trash out of his window trying to hit my car. I didn’t know what to do, but just continue driving. When I got to my dorm building, I ran inside and called campus police, but when I came back outside, he had already sped off.

I thought that would be the end of it, I told myself I knew that he was not good for me, I would go for weeks without talking to him, but he was manipulative, and he knew just how to pull me back into talking to him or seeing him. I felt like no matter what I did, I could not get away from him and that I would be stuck in this cycle forever.

Fast forward two years, and I am okay. Some days I still struggle, but I now have the resources to know how to cope with it. I went to counseling, I learned mindfulness techniques, I fell in love, for real this time, with someone who would give me the world and then some.  It took a long time for me to cut the ropes he had tied so tightly around me. Sometimes I still even feel the slightest tug, but I am stronger now, I know how to break away, I know that it gets better.

Story and title on view with Emily’s permission

Consent (2019)

Post it Notes

Hand written statements from UW Oshkosh students responding to questions about consent and imagining a world without sexual violence

Inkjet prints

From a New York Times article titled 45 Stories of Sex and Consent on Campus

Jayla’s Story (2018)

My sister and I were very close.  We spent all of our time together when we were young.  She was my best friend.  She is older than me, so I had a difficult time when she left for college.  I remember the first summer she came back home from college, I was so excited.  She was too.  The only difference this time was that she now had a boyfriend she met at college who also lived in the same town as us.  All that summer my sister’s boyfriend would come over to our house and hang out while my mom was at work.  Many times he would invite his friends to come over and they would party at our house.   

One day he came over and my sister wasn’t home.  He said he wanted to wait for her so I let him in.  He sat on the couch and I went up to my room.  I remember hearing him come up the stairs.  He came into my room and sat on the bed next to me.  He started saying things about how I looked and asked if I had a boyfriend or if I liked girls.  He then grabbed my wrists and pushed me down on the bed and tried kissing me.  I fought and kicked him and screamed. I bit him on the arm and he yelled. He let go for a second and I was able to escape.  I ran into the bathroom and locked the door.  He sat outside the door pounding on it and yelling.  He left after a while.  My sister came home and I told her what happened. She didn’t believe me.  She said I was making it up because I was jealous. She and I haven’t been close since then. She believed her boyfriend didn’t do anything and she asked him.  He said I was crazy and that I was just trying to break them up.  He would still come over with his friends and they would all joke about how crazy I was and that I had issues.

My life was unraveling and I was scared to go out in public.  I thought if I did leave the house that people would judge me. I had just graduated high school and I didn’t know what I was going to do. My mom was too busy to notice and I didn’t think she would believe me because she was so proud of my sister.

I spent a lot of time looking outside and hoping that someone could help me. Nobody came to help, because I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me.  Everyone thought I was just quiet and an introvert.  One day, I was feeling very hopeless.  I remember that it was a sunny, fall day and that I should be feeling better than I did, but it was too difficult. So I sat in my living room looking outside.  That day I noticed a tree outside that I know I had seen before, but this time it looked different.  The leaves were changing and it was like a different tree. I began to think about the tree and realized I could be just like it, I could change how people see me.  For the first time in months I went outside. I went over to the tree and sat under it and felt some kind of release.  That day I decided to talk to someone about my assault.  I found a counselor and she helped me to open up about what I went through. She gave me the tools and support so I could take back my life.  I applied for college and was accepted.  I just finished my first year and everyday I am getting stronger.  I still have flashbacks about the assault, but I am able to look past it thanks to the support of my counselor and my new friends at college.

Printed with Jayla’s permission

Tejia’s Story (2018)

Growing up I didn’t have a chance to have an actual childhood. My mom was sick, mentally and physical health wise. She had severe gamma seizures and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Being the oldest of five siblings it was my responsibility to take care of my siblings whenever my mother would get sick or stay in the hospital. I was eight years old making bottles, changing diapers, making doctor’s appointment, and knew everything about my mom and siblings. When I say everything, I mean as in their birthdays, social security numbers, illnesses, allergies and etc. I never had the chance to be a child because I was too busy looking after my siblings and taking care of my mom. I thought it was my responsibility to take care of my siblings and help my mom out because we had no family. Both my grandparents (on my mom side) were diseased, and my aunt and uncle lived in Florida. Aside from my mother’s illnesses, I also watched her get abused by my little sister’s father from age four to about six years old. I have seen my mother lip busted, black eyes, and bruises over her body. I witnessed my mother almost get electrocuted by my little sister’s father and remember my life flashing before my eyes. Luckily, she got up just in time. He used to lock us in a room all day and would not let us eat or use the restroom. Due to my mother experiencing domestic violence, we were homeless many times because of her attempts to escape. Living in different types of shelters was hard to understand as a child, but I knew it wasn’t my home. As my mother had more children, her seizures were worsening and particularly during her pregnancy with my youngest sister. My mom was so sick, she had to be hospitalized for almost three months, and my other siblings and I had to live with my little sister’s family (whose dad abused my mom) while she was in the hospital. During our stay there, I was sexually abused by my little sister’s uncle and cousins. I was only ten years old and was experiencing sexual abuse and assault not realizing it due to my age. When my mom was released from the hospital we reunited and went home, but without my youngest sister because she was premature. My mom was severely depressed and was experiencing postpartum depression. At this time, I was eleven years old, and my youngest sister was six months. One night my mother was explaining to all five of us how she planned to kill us and herself. It was very graphic as in how she planned to kill us. warning graphic details: she told us that she planned to shoot all of us in the head and then herself in the head and wanted someone to come find us. That following morning, I faced my worse fear and nightmare- I found my mom dead. Her childhood friend came over in the middle of the night and tried waking my mom up, I knew she wasn’t a hard sleeper, so I knew it was something wrong. I woke up, and went to her room and there she was, stiff, cold and blue. At that time, I didn’t know that’s what death looks like, until her childhood friend starting panicking. The ambulance and police came, and I would never forget them trying to do CPR and revive her, and hearing the words “She’s gone, she didn’t make it”. My heart literally shattered, and my mind went blank. One of my sisters was only two years old and was sleeping alongside my mom. I was devastated. I didn’t get the chance to tell her what happened to me while I was at my little sister’s family house. It’s a lot I didn’t have a chance to tell her. The guilt was eating me alive.

After my mom passed away, my siblings and I were all separated. I lived with my father’s mother, my grandmother, ever since my mom passed away. Living with my grandmother has been one of the best things that has happened to me. My grandmother did everything for me, and showered with me nurture and love, something I was not used to. I gave my grandmother hell, but she never once judged me or blamed me because she understood I was going through grief. My grandmother has become my best friend and she has raised me to become the woman I am today. Teaching me about life, and female things that my mom wasn’t able to teach me or talk to me about. I was the only child in my grandmother house, so it was always me and her. She spoiled me with everything I never had, and I am forever appreciative. She has influenced my life in so many ways and I am truly grateful that she took me under her wing. Aside from living with my grandma, during middle and high school, I suppressed my feelings and grief by participating in sports. I was a student athlete and for the most part, I used it as an outlet and a way to ignore the grief that was creeping up on me.

During my senior year of high school to my freshman year of college, I was in an abusive relationship, something I promised myself to never be a victim of as I watched my mom get abused. My ex-boyfriend assaulted me on campus; he choked me until I could breathe, slammed me on the floor, and repeatedly kicked me in the head, leaving me with a severe concussion (or as the doctors put it, a close head injury), marks on my face and body. It was a nightmare that came true, I was in shock for a while. That incident affected my memory during recovery, and I had a concussion that lasted months. It was a horrible experience. I didn’t let that stop me, and I knew I had to stand up for myself and for my mom as well (since it was hard for her to escape) and I wanted justice. I pressed charges and went through the court system and have recently accepted what happened to me. It wasn’t easy, and it still has me scared to trust any male figure in my life, and it is hard for me to attach to people. From this incident, I became very suicidal (not that I wasn’t during the grief process of my mom) and that led me to being hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. It was a scary experience but now I look back on it, it has helped me cope. It’s like all of the feelings I suppressed during my childhood, during my grief with the loss of my mom spilled right out of me all at once. I was on medications for depression, anxiety and mood swings. After going through therapy and psychiatric appointments for three years, I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, depression and anxiety. I am not ashamed of the mental illness I have because I know I had a traumatized life, and I know that the way I was feeling was not normal. I have accepted my mental illness after years of being in denial and I am at peace. I am stable on my medications and therapy sessions and I feel better than I have in years. I know how it feels to be happy, how to keep friends, how to cope with things, and how to experience a healthy way of living.

I am a walking testimony, that your past doesn’t determine your future. I have been through bad things and have seen bad things, but I didn’t let that determine who I am today and what my future will look like. Now, I know that every day isn’t going to be sunshine and rainbows but not every day will be cloudy and rainy. I appreciate my past because it strengthened me and gave me a voice to share my story of life. Look at me now, a first-generation college student who’s a junior with a major in Human Services & Leadership in hopes to become a social worker. My story does not define me as a person, instead it defines my strengths, weaknesses, resiliency and perseverance.

Your past doesn’t have to determine your future. You can use your past as insight to change your life and make a better life. Although I will never forget where I came from, leaving the past as the past and focusing on my future has opened my mind and allowed me to live a life I always wanted.

You are in control of your life. You can do it, don’t give up.

Printed with Tejia’s permission

Sunflower’s Story (2018)

I grew up in a psychologically abusive home with very controlling parents which was the reason I was so excited to come to college. I was excited to finally gain control of my own life but then this guy took it from me. During my first week of my freshman year in college, I was sexually assaulted by a friend, or someone who I thought was my friend. He took control of my body and the thoughts of that event took control over me.  The weeks, months, and year that followed was a rollercoaster for my mental health. I wrestled with figuring out what happened to me and most importantly if I consented to it. My friends were divided, some of them told me it was my fault and others told me to get help. It would be months until I sought help and told my therapist. Within those months I fell into some really bad habits and I struggled with those habits throughout the rest of the school year.  I found myself drinking a lot more, every weekend and even during the week in an attempt to forget the pain. I found myself overly attaching to people, trying to find some kind of comfort or love that would fill the dark and empty pit inside me. But none of that worked. It was like I was stuck in this hole in the ground, struggling to climb out, but as I grabbed the walls more dirt just fell on me and made me fall back down again.  It was horrible and draining. I wanted to give up.  But then one day, I had this sudden realization that if I wanted to control my life, I could.  It would take work but I could do it if I really wanted to and believe me I really wanted to. So I started making changed. The first being going to the Counseling Center more regularly again. Which led me to a trauma retreat with other girls who had experienced something similar. I didn’t know what to expect but it was better than I could ever imagined. It was so refreshing and validating to be understood by other people. And the resilience of these girls was so inspiring. Since then I’ve been really focused on me and taking control of my life. I was done letting the assault hang over me. I’m still haunted by it especially since this month marked the one year since it happened. But I am in such a better place than I used to be and I’m so proud of myself for that.

Printed with Sunflower’s permission

Ruth’s Story (2018)

I’m a mother of three, two daughters and a son. All of who are grown with children of their own.  One would say that I have a successful career, I have held various management roles in Quality Engineering, Manufacturing and Director of Operations on a Global platform. 

Many who know me would never guess the life I lived “behind the door” as I called it.  To the outside world, I appeared happy, and successful, one might say I had it all together.  But honestly, I was living a lie.  Until “That Night on July 24, 2013”, it was the night when I once again said no more, you need to leave, he left, but he took nothing so I knew he would be back. 

When he returned, he was intoxicated, mumbling about how he was tired of always being a loser…. He stated that he would be better off dead.   Normally I would praise him and try to convince him otherwise…but that night I sat silent.  He left the room…. I breathed deeply.  Shortly after, he returned yelling you don’t care, you would be happy if I died. 

I no longer had the strength or the desire to try to prop him up, tell him how he was worthy, loved, would be missed.  He took my silence as concurrence, which is when the beating began.  He slapped, punched, spit at me, pushed me, held me down, kicked me and then started to strangle me.  As his hands where wrapped around my throat and I was struggling to maintain consciousness, he looked down at me and said, “We will both die tonight bitch”….the look on his face is one I will never forget.

I remember the moment I stopped fighting and thought, Oh God if this is your will, if this is the way I will be free so be it.  

Next the thing I knew is I was outside at neighbor’s house I had never met before begging for them to call the police.  I don’t know how I broke free from his hold…. The police came, they took me to the ER where I was treated.  The Detective stayed with me the whole night, recording my statement. It was then that he told me about the Christine Ann Center for Domestic Abuse.  He stated that I should stay there until my abuser was apprehended. 

Crazy as it might sound my reaction was Oh no I don’t need that, I need to go home, it is now 4:30 in the morning I need to get ready for work.   After treatment, I requested to go. The detective escorted me home, upon arrival I stayed in the car while the officers did a search of my house.  They found him pasted out in the shed outside.  At that time, he was arrested and taken into custody.

As for me I fell into my routine, I took a shower, put on make-up, lots of it, got dressed and went to work like nothing happen. Honestly most of that day is a blur.

When I returned home that evening, I knew I was safe for now he’s in jail.  You would think I could relax. Instead I started thinking about, what happens when he gets out?  When someone controls you, you’re always calculating your next move in efforts of maintaining peace.  I looked down, there on the table was the pamphlet about the Christine Ann Center. I read it and pushed it aside thinking I don’t need this, what would people think?  The next morning, I could not force myself to go to work, pretend all was fine.  Instead I went to the Christine Ann Center…. It was there and then my journey to recovery began.  

I met three ladies that to this day probably do not know the impact that they have had on my life.   Stephanie welcomed me without judgement, gently guided me through the restraining order paperwork and process.  She helped with creating safety plans.  Fran, a legal advocate stood by me through the multiple trial processes, she educated me, reassured me it was okay to tell my side of the story and held me when I cried. 

Then there was Julie, she provided healing through Education and the establishment of Boundaries.  She introduced the “Power and Control” wheel.  It describes our relationship to a T. His use of intimidation, the institution of fear.  The emotional abuse of humiliation and quilt, the denying and blaming, the isolation. The coercion and treats, against myself and my children.  The Violence.

The more I learned the more I was like…Oh My Gosh how did I get here?   Being with people who understood, who had no judgements, helped me to move past the pain.  Tools provided so that I could re-discover me, learn, and plan how to approach relationships differently was the gift Julie gave freely.

Today, 5 years later I am in a healthy and loving relationship!  My husband humbly endured the scrutiny I put him through when we were getting to know each other.  I did not trust words, it was actions and reactions that I looked for.   It was the respect of my boundaries and faith, that I tested him on.

I am a survivor of Domestic Abuse.  And I want you to know that there are organizations such as the Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services that can help you should you have a need, please reach out.   But even more important they are there to educate and advise.  Please learn the boundaries of a healthy relationship. Learn the signs of an abuser before entering any relationship.  

Printed with Ruth’s permission

Sarah’s Story (2018)

My most recent sexual assault happened by someone I thought was a friend. I didn’t expect it. He was blackout drunk and I was going to give him a ride home from the bar he was at. Out of nowhere, he came up to me, pulled down his pants, and started thrusting himself at me, backing me into a corner. He held his arms out on either side to prevent me from escaping. Eventually I did and was able to get out after what seemed like forever but was probably only a few moments. I’ll admit, I started crying and wanted to hide. I wanted to become so small no one would be able to find me. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to apologize for my presence in that space. For showing up at all. I felt weak and pathetic and like a child. If you would have asked me 5 minutes prior what I would have done in that same situation, I would have said “oh I’d punch him in the face! I’d kick him in the balls! I’d scream so everyone knew what was happening.” But the difference between hypothetical and reality is big, and in reality none of that came to my mind. I was in fight or flight mode and my body knew I couldn’t have won a fight against him, so I ran. I cowered. I shrank. His friends excused his actions, saying he was blackout and didn’t remember what he did. They said he felt bad, said he wanted to talk, why wouldn’t I just talk to him? They said he’s a good guy and was probably just messing around. It wasn’t that serious. I shouldn’t be that upset. I shouldn’t be victimizing myself. I shouldn’t be crying. I should have fought back. I believed that rhetoric for a while. Until I didn’t. I made myself a promise that I would build up my strength and beat the shit out of the next guy that tried that on me. I’m planning on taking boxing classes and am focusing on upper body strength. I stopped drinking. I’m never going to let that happen again. I’m tired of falling victim to this shit. It’s getting old and I’m getting tired. But the point is, women DO have a plan for if (and when) they will be attacked next. Crying and shrinking wasn’t a part of my plan, but I’m not going to feel bad for my reaction, either. I am finally learning to take ownership of my stories. I don't owe it to anyone to be silent. To all the women out there who are dealing with the repercussions of someone treating your body like an object - I’m with you. I’m here for you. I will fight by your side. We will rise, ladies.

Printed with Sarah’s permission

Have You Forgotten? (2017)

As we grow our understanding of family changes. Sometimes that understanding is driven by the transference of a traumatic event from one family member to the next. This transference creates a cycle, that unless broken will carry on throughout generations. With this piece, I wanted to talk about memories and how generational trauma can affect those memories. Specifically, which memories fade away and which memories stay with us.

Mikayla’s Story (2017)

I remember when I was a teenager, that I would stare out my bedroom window feeling like nobody could see me. I would open the window and stick my head outside, but still feel like there was something blocking people from seeing me.That feeling stayed with me for many years, and it wasn’t until I graduated from college that I realized why I felt that way. I grew up in what you would call an ordinary family, a mother, father and older brother. What I didn’t realize was that our family dynamics where not ordinary and that my mother was the driver behind those dynamics. Being the only daughter, I looked to my mother for guidance and how to act, etc. However, she wasn’t one to show patience, love or affection. Instead, she kept us on a tight schedule, no time to relax or talk about your day, everything was work, work, work.

My dad, brother and I all worried about how my mom would respond if we were late or if something didn’t work out the way she planned it. She would yell, break dishes and tell us that we all disappointed her and that she was the glue that kept our family together. It seemed like my dad and brother were always able to look past my mom’s outbursts, however I couldn’t. Maybe it was because I was the daughter and I felt like I disappointed her more. Or maybe her expectations were different for me than they were for my dad and brother. I didn’t really know. I felt like I was funneling down an endless tunnel of turmoil. No matter how hard I tried to patch things up, there was no bandage that I could use that would help heal our relationship.

After years of verbal abuse from my mother, I wanted to re-frame my life and create a boundary between myself and the trauma that filtered through my family. With the encouragement and assistance of a friend, I was able to find a counselor who helped me recognize that I had a choice and that I could make things better for myself and my relationship with my mother. This meant, though, that I had to confront my mother.

Last year, I did that very thing. I was extremely nervous, anxious, I was a teenager all over again. Nonetheless, the counselor helped me develop some skills to cope with my anxiety, which allowed me to talk to my mother. My mother wasn’t receptive at first, in fact she was very dismissive. What I found out in my counseling sessions that my mother’s behavior was possibly a direct result from how she was treated by her mother. My grandmother was not treated well by my grandfather, he would belittle her in public and expect that the house was kept a certain way. In turn, my grandmother would yell at my mother if she would mess up the house or if things weren’t done in a specific order. I brought up my grandparents to my mom and she immediately shut down. I knew it was difficult for her, but I wanted her to know that I was feeling the same way she did as a child and that I would no longer be afraid of disappointing her. It was the first time I saw my mom breakdown and cry.

It has been a long year, and my relationship with my mother has gotten much better. I was able to convince her to go to counseling with me and it has helped us to begin to heal. My dad and brother have come to several counseling sessions as well, and it has made all the difference. Our family dynamics are much better and are they moving toward what you might call ordinary.

Printed with Mikayla’s permission

David’s Story (2017)

When I became a father for the first time, I thought I knew everything there was to being a parent. After all, I came from a large family and I saw my father parent myself, two brothers and two sisters. However, after several years, I found out that I had no idea on what it meant to be a good parent. The key word here is good. It never really occurred to me that my father wasn’t a good role model as a parent, until I noticed a reoccurring pattern among my nephews and nieces. It was the same pattern I was seeing in my own children, recklessness - avoidance - lack of confidence - detachment.

Growing up, my dad would talk about how his mother, my grandmother, would discipline him. He would say that it was the reason he was a real man, and it was called tough love. This tough love, involved being locked in the bedroom, spanked with a paddle and various forms of public shaming. And in my father’s mind, the fact that it was coming from his mother showed she cared. My dad’s father passed away when he was young, which left my grandmother to raise my father, aunts and uncles on her own. My grandmother never remarried or even dated anyone after my grandfather passed. She said it was because her father, my great grandfather, made her believe that she would never do better than my grandfather and that she was lucky to have him.I of course didn’t think any of this had any bearing on who I was. Thankfully I now know that is false. Before I met my wife, I had spent most of my life doing reckless things to get attention. I thought that was what I was supposed to do, that is what real boys/men do. I avoided any emotion that wasn’t related to aggression and felt that if I didn’t win at something that I was a failure. All stuff that I thought was normal. All stuff that my father insisted was essential to being a man. And the only way to make sure I would succeed was through tough love. My father made sure my brothers and I were punished the same way and that my sisters were also punished, but for them it was because they weren’t good enough for a real man.

For years I felt like I had built a wall around the moments in my life where I felt genuine emotion. Any moments where I felt vulnerable needed to be hidden from everyone. I felt like they were some sort of terrible secret. So here I am, now seeing that the way I respond to my children is affecting their behavior in a negative way. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own, in fact it took years of comments and concerns from friends and coworkers for me to realize what was happening. There was this mountain of history that I needed to pass and I was stuck at the base. One of my good friends helped me without even knowing it. I was at the hospital with him when his daughter was born and be began crying. At that moment, I thought to myself that this is a real man, someone who can express true emotion. And that is what lead me to seek out some professional help. I started to see a psychologist. She pointed out that there is a link between what my great grandfather said to my great grandmother and to how I am treating my family. That link runs through my father, aunts and uncles to me, my brothers and sisters and on to our children. From there she gave me the keys to understanding the effects of my actions and emotions on my family.Thankfully I have been able to start working through what I have come to understand as trauma. I have been attempting to mend my relationship with my wife and children. And have also began talking with my brothers and sisters, with the goal of changing our children’s future through genuine love and affection.

Printed with David’s permission


Hurt (2017)

This sculpture is about history. The idea that hurt can be buried under layers of history. With this piece I am asking what happens if our hurt were to reveal itself and we were to put it on display? Would we be able to move past it and begin the healing process?

Family Room (2017)

When we look at our family what do we see? Do we all deal with hurt the same way or do we mask it? Pain within a family can be difficult to see, sometimes we choose to not see it and other times we are blind to it. The same type of pain can look different to other family members, hence making it more difficult to address.

This piece discusses the subject of generational trauma through the eyes of the viewer. The mirror located in the middle of the piece is designed to engage the viewer and to place them inside the artwork. When the viewer looks into the mirror their reflection is framed along the pictures of the family. In addition to the mirror is a table with a box of potpourri. The scent from this box symbolizes an awakening, a cleansing. This process of standing in front of the mirror and gathering the aroma from the box is meant to give prominence to the idea that our awareness can open the door to the healing process.


New Growth (2017)

Imagine a world without sexual violence, what would be different? This question was asked to students on the campus of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh via a vision wall which moved from building to building over the course of 6 weeks. Seen on the wall in this installation are the written responses by students to this question. This piece talks about finding a new way to flourish. Much like a plant that is just starting out, it needs to be nourished and cared for. It needs attention and dedication to see it reach its full potential. The leaves on this branch are slowing wilting, symbolizing that if we don’t care for it they will eventually die. Much like the plant, imagining a world without sexual violence could become a fully realized idea, but it will take everyone’s dedication or it will wilt away.


The Story of Reach (2016)

Reach Counseling has a 40-year history of meeting the needs of individuals, families and communities throughout the Fox Valley. Established in 1976 as the Winnebago County Sexual Assault Response Team, the agency was dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse, incest and rape, and to offer advocacy and support to victims.

With an ongoing commitment to the well-being of the Fox Valley, the agency became a licensed outpatient mental health clinic in 1993. Adding long-term, outpatient clinical services to prevention education, advocacy, counseling and offender treatment programs created a systemic approach of prevention, response and treatment. By 2001, Reach was working with hundreds of individuals and families annually through counseling and advocacy, understanding how incidents of sexual and physical abuse create trauma responses in the body and mind.

Reach has been a leader in identifying changing needs and responding with innovative programming in education, outreach, counseling and treatment.

Printed by Permission of Reach Counseling Services

Copyright © 2018 Reach


Brooke's Story (2016)

From a young age, there was no structure to my life. Moving every year since the age of 3 due to my parents’ divorce, there was no stability. Sure, my parents loved me, but they never really displayed it. In school I was a high honor student involved in every student club imaginable, sports, and theatre where I spent 14 hours a day. Home was another story. When I lived with my father most of the time I was left home alone with no contact from him- getting drunk, high, and being on the unable-to-consent end of sexual relations with friends’ older brothers. From years of being moved around and my parents not being open, I could not find the support or courage to tell my family what was happening. The more I got in trouble, the more my parents blamed each other, so I just gave up trying to get their attention or approval.

I never thought about these instances as sexual assault or abusive relationships because I believed in the rape myths or blamed myself for it all happening because I never really said no (even though I realize now I was unable to). I never thought about rape until the first month of my freshman year here at Oshkosh. I was raped by a frat member in his dorm room after a house party a few blocks away. It was the first time I really said no and stood by my gut feeling, but was dismissed anyways because “I needed to let him finish.” After this I had daily anxiety attacks, had trouble going to classes or leaving my dorm room, and my GPA decreased from a 3.1 to 2.3. Once a star honor student was now skipping classes and drinking 3-4 days a week to deal with what life has thrown. That summer led back to my days of weekly binge drinking and drugs, and ending up pregnant.

Flash forward 3 years. This same person is now involved with numerous social advocacy groups on campus, doing better in classes. Life still isn’t the easiest, but she’s still doing better than before. November 2014 changed all of that once again. The night is still a terrible blur and something that brings me so much anxiety, pain, and anger. Throughout my walking blackout I still remember his voice, the words he kept repeating, his force, and the shame of being surrounded by hundreds of people while being assaulted. When he put me in his car, the only thoughts I had at that point through my intoxication is that I was going to die. When I came to again, we were completely submerged in red and blue lights. I had no idea if I was even in Oshkosh at all, what time it was, or whose car I was in. When an officer took me into his car I thought everything would be over, but it was just the beginning of a year’s worth of re-reporting, harassment from my perpetrator, and interviews with detectives. Even though my case was dropped with the district attorney, I don’t regret reporting one bit. With the help of our wonderful victim advocate at the time, I was able to be supported through the whole process and after, to make sure I was being listened to and taking care of myself.Facing assaults and abusive situations for 8 years of my short life has been the most trying and difficult part of my existence. In August 2016 I attempted suicide by medication overdose and alcohol. I was surrounded by so much rape culture, victim blaming, and anxiety that the fight to keep going was hindered. There are days where I am feeling so empowered and have so much energy to take on the world and advocate for change, and then there are bad days where I lay in bed with anxiety and depression, trying to clear my mind of everything that has happened to me. If the past months have taught me anything, it’s that I need to really focus on myself and get the help that I deserve. I didn’t choose any of this to happen to me and I definitely didn’t deserve it, no matter what anyone says. Between being empowered and participating in sexual violence advocacy, I know that I have power in sharing my stories and making a big difference someday. I’m still trying to find that feeling of empowerment, inner peace, and strength I once had, but I know I will get there. As my former advocate would constantly tell me “things WILL get better.” It may not happen today, or tomorrow, but it will eventually over the course of time as I continue to recover.

Printed with Brooke's Permission

Ashley's Story (2016)

Someone once said," The prettiest smiles hide the deepest secrets, the prettiest eyes have cried the most tears, and the kindest hearts have felt the most pain," I stumbled across this quote while doing a paper for my English class during my senior year of high school. The word strength has stuck with me ever since.Over 7 years ago when I heard the word abuse, it meant being physically hurt and leaving marks, cuts, or bruises. I never realized that it was actually happening to me. I grew up in a very strict, concealed, controlling environment. My father was at the center of all the control. He not only controlled me but my mother as well, everything revolved around his needs. Yet, the control was mostly focused on me. To the outside world we looked like a typical family but you never now what happens behind closed doors. My own extended family never knew what was lurking when they weren't looking. From the time I was little I would take the bus home after school like any ordinary kid. Most kids would be so excited just to go home and play or hang out with friends. However, my life was far from that of an ordinary kid. I hated getting on the bus because it meant I had to go home. “HOME” to me meant prison; I lived in constant fear.Instead of worrying about typical high school things like what am I going to wear, sports, boys… I would worry about “what’s going to happen today?"; “Is my dad going to be in a good mood?” his questions like “who did you talk to or what did you talk about” weren’t the regular daily questions a parent askes, he was intentionally interrogating me to find out if I shared what had been happening in our home, behinds closed doors.It’s not easy to break the habit of questioning what will happen each day. I still ask myself questions like this everyday.

Even at 20 years old I still am sad that never got the chance to feel like a teenager or let alone really have a childhood that any kid deserves. Most teens have their head buried in their cell phones, building relationships, talking and interacting with friends. I was never allowed to talk to friends without his permission or boys at all. He needed to know what I was doing and where I was at all times. Even when I was with my grandparents I had to take pictures of myself through out my visit with them to prove where I was. If I wasn’t smiling in the pictures he would tell me to retake the picture until he was satisfied. He would even come in my room in the morning before going to work and take pictures of me when he thought I was sleeping. I tried to act like a normal teen but my father would stalk my every move. I went to my first school dance and he warned me that he had people that would be watching me. I was told to not be surprised if he was there watching me himself. After that I never went to another dance or did anything with friends. My parents gave me a phone but it was solely to monitor me. Every phone call, even to my close family, needed to be reported on in tremendous detail. He tried to control who I interacted with and when. I had an iPod as my secret source of communication. To me this was priceless. It was my only connection to family and friends without his control. I was so afraid of him finding it but one day, during his morning checks he found it and exploded. It wasn’t long after that he put up security cameras and set traps to know if I was leaving or if anyone was in the house when he wasn’t around. He would walk around the house and peek through the windows before he would walk in the house just to try to catch me doing something. Many nights went by where I'd cry myself to sleep. I would always wonder if this is ever going to end. Please, please just make this stop. I don't want to do this anymore.Instead of my father lifting me up and encouraging me, I was continually knocked down, called horrible names and swore at. I was constantly belittled, called self-centered and ignorant. Nothing I did was right. You should know that I was a good student, teachers spoke highly of me and I didn’t get in trouble. Years of negativity ate away at my self confidence; I started to believe my dad’s hurtful words. It’s like taking a huge piece of paper and slowly ripping it to a million pieces. I had to find a way to put the pieces of my life together.

My school counselors knew some of what I was dealing with and encouraged me to talk with Jessie, the teen advocate at my school who worked for Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services. We immediately clicked and I knew I could trust her with my dark secret. Through her help and the help of Fran, the legal advocate at Christine Ann, I was able to get the courts to issue a four year restraining order against my abusive father. I moved out of the house on December 20th, 2013 at the age of 17. That was the last time I saw my parents. And, yes, I said “parents”, my mother is still married to my father. I keep my distance from her as well for her well being.

While I still deal with the effects of growing up in an extremely controlling, negative environment and at times the thoughts of what happened haunt me, recognize how much I’ve accomplished! It wasn’t easy, I’ve had to grow up fast but I’m proud of and cherish my independence. Instead of spending my money on fun things (like a typical teenager) I was paying for my own health and car insurance, phone bill and all my basic necessities. I paid for my own education, passed my CNA test and got my first job in the field. But I did it on my terms. Now, almost 4 years after leaving, I have great job and am a proud to say I've been in a healthy, loving relationship for the past 3 years to one of my biggest supporters, Tyler.

But I couldn’t have gone this far without the support of everyone at Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services. Because they came to my high school to work with students, I had easy access to their services. They helped me see I was not alone. My advocate, Jessie, helped me process through my experiences and safety plan, Fran explained the legal process and educated me on how to fill out the legal paperwork to get the restraining order against my father. She also stood by my side, literally, in court when the judge granted the injunction. The advocates at Christine Ann helped me break the cycle of abuse, taught me there are people I can trust and how to recognize and build a healthy relationship. They were there for me by showing me that I had the courage and strength to break free from the abuse I lived with for so many years. I am independent and self-sufficient but know that I can call Fran or the advocates at Christine Ann any time. I can’t express how thankful I am to Jessie and Fran and everyone at Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services and the 2 amazing counselors at my high school, Marcie and Sarah, for recognizing the warning signs and working with Christine Ann to keep me safe. And to my boyfriend’s parents for taking me in during this difficult time and Tyler for standing by my side. They were light at the end of the tunnel and encouraged me to never lose hope or give up on myself. Would I change the past if I could? I truly think everything happens for a reason. My past is what has shaped me and made me who I am today. Through the abuse I found courage and strength. And I’m here to help spread the word that you are not alone. HELP IS HERE!

Printed with Ashley's Permission

Lynette's Story (2016)

I thought we were in love. He said he was and I knew I was. The spanking at first was playful and I didn't think much of it at first. Then it became beatings and worse. I was left bleeding and in pain, but I kept coming back for 13 years. I blacked out at times. Prayed to get through the abuse. He raped me often. I thought I deserved the abuse.Then, one day, I was in trouble with the law and I couldn't see him anymore. I got therapy, started support groups, all after partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient. My friends and family supported me. My sister in law took me in when I lost my home and my job. They helped me eat and take care of myself. She makes sure I go to my groups. Then suddenly about two months ago, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had anxiety, but wasn't as sad. I felt good about myself because I was eating again, exercising and generally, taking care of myself with the support and love of many. I still have criminal charges against me, but I know I can survive, even live.

Printed with Lynette's Permission


Natalie's Story (2016)

I met my abuser in 2007. I was leaving a relationship and Frank made me feel wanted and important, when I was vulnerable and feeling very lonely. He doted on me, paid attention to me. The verbal and emotional abuse started almost right away. I got pregnant early in our relationship. He made me feel guilty if I didn’t make dinner the way he wanted. He forced me to have sex with him when I wasn’t in the mood or feeling well. If I didn’t do as he asked, or if I argued with him, he told me I was abusive. If I talked to the father of my other children, or anyone else for that matter, he accused me of cheating on him.He broke up with me when I was fourteen weeks pregnant. He went away for a couple of days, and when he came back he kicked my daughters and I out of our apartment. He got back together with his ex-girlfriend. Even though he broke up with me, he still called all the time. He wanted to spend time with me under the guise of wanting to be involved with our child. He bought things for me and the baby without being asked and then forced me to have sex with him as payment for these things.

Sam was born in the fall of 2007. Frank had threatened to have Sam taken from me at the hospital but I let him come to the hospital to see his son anyway. He brought flowers and expensive gifts. He wanted to be back in our lives and despite all of the warnings from others in my life, I let him. We started dating again when Sam was five months old.

Frank immediately began to control me again. He criticized me for nursing Sam instead of giving him formula from a bottle. He got angry when I spent more time with the kids than him. He called me names if I didn’t buy the groceries he wanted. He accused me of cheating again if I was talking to my friends or family. In the midst of this, he still told me he loved me. He told me that he was the only person that would ever want me. He asked me to marry him, and had me so convinced that he was the only person that would ever want to be with me, that I agreed. We married the day after Sam turned one. Immediately after our marriage, Frank started pressuring me to have another baby, saying if I didn’t go to the doctor to have my IUD taken out, he would do it. I went to the doctor and had my birth control removed. I was pregnant before we’d been married two months.

The first time he hit me I was nine weeks pregnant. Frank was telling me to take my daughters’ dad back to court for something. I asked him to show me what he was talking about and brought him the computer. He yelled at me and shoved the portable dishwasher into my stomach. I told my oldest child to take her brother and sister into the bedroom and close the door. Frank chased me up the stairs, ripped my nursing bra off and threw me on the bed. He strangled me until my vision tunneled. I think I got my knee in to his groin (on purpose this time) and I got out of the room and fell down the stairs. I ran for the living room, tripping over the baby gate, and tried to find a phone to call 911. Frank came up behind me and hit me over the head with a frying pan so hard I saw stars. He held a carving knife to my throat and threatened to kill me and my kids if I called the police or ever told anyone.

Sean was born at the end of summer in 2009. He wasn’t three hours old before Frank was telling me that we needed to have another baby. My epidural hadn’t even worn off yet. He never hit me that bad again, but he continued to sexually, verbally, emotionally and psychologically abuse me. He continued to anally rape me if I resisted sex with him. He told me I was worthless when I didn’t do something the way he wanted. He continued to criticize the way I kept the house and cooked the meals. He didn’t like the way I got along with my other children’s dad. When I tried to stand up for myself, he said I was being abusive and told me to go to the doctor to get my antidepressant dosage checked. He blamed me for our evictions even though I wasn’t allowed to have access to any of the money and I wasn’t allowed to get a job.

I left in 2011. He had chased me around the house, hit me, ripped Sean from my arms and burned me with his cigarette. All of this was because he didn’t want me communicating about my other children. I made a plan with a friend who got Frank out of the house for an evening. I went to the police and filed a report. I brought my boys to a shelter for the night and took them to a friend’s house the next day. He found me anyway and filed child abuse restraining orders against me. He lied to the court and was effective enough that he had my kids taken from me. His allegations included that I took the kids from him without cause and that I was still nursing Sean, who was sixteen months old. The court sided with him.

He told me that he loved and missed me. He promised me he would change and that we would go to counseling together. I believed him and dropped the charges against him. I took him back. He decided we would move in with his parents in Appleton. He said I needed help with the kids and that we couldn’t afford our own place because I was reckless with our money. It was the same reason he’d given me for why we were always evicted. He never went to counseling with me.

Frank was more careful about the abuse at his parents’ house. He continued to rape me. He continued the verbal and emotional abuse. He rarely hit me. When I got bold and stood up to him, I was regularly told by him and his parents now, that I was being unreasonable. I was told that my antidepressants weren’t working. They enabled him to treat me badly.

I finally had enough in 2013. I’d gotten calls about him cheating on me with his ex-girlfriend from high school, from her husband. Frank denied the claims and threw them back at me, requiring me to give him the log in information for my email and social media accounts. Two days before I left, he screamed at me for two hours over the phone because I wasn’t home when he got home. I had been visiting his sister’s family. When I got home, he threw me around our bedroom, he told me that I was worthless and that I deserved to die. I had already been planning my escape for weeks, this incident pushed me over the edge. The morning I left, I woke up at three in the morning and put my belongings-clothes, computer, some other personal things-in garbage bags and put them in the trunk of the van. I asked my in-laws to baby-sit the boys so I could go to counseling in Green Bay. I left them a two page letter with an explanation and information to care for the boys, doctor’s phone number, etc.

I couch-hopped; I looked for a job. People I thought were my friends stopped talking to me because they believed his story. Frank called me on that first day flip-flopping between begging me to go home and threatening that I would never see my sons again and that threatening that if he couldn’t be with me then no one would be with me. I got dozens of emails saying the same things. I didn’t react the way I should have. I was numb. My antidepressant dose was so high, that my emotion didn’t match my words. I was devastated, but looked numb. I was terrified but always was very nonchalant about it. Because he had required access to my accounts, he was able to do with them as he pleased. He had a key-stroke tracker on my computer. I had to factory reset it to be able to use it safely.

I filed for a restraining order; he filed for one in retaliation. They were both granted. I went three months after I left not being able to see my kids because he wouldn’t let me see them unless he was present. I filed for divorce. Frank made false accusations about my mental stability and my ability to take care of my kids, making the divorce more complicated. He told anyone who would listen about what a horrible mother I was. Our custody evaluators felt that I couldn’t care for my kids because of the accusations he had made against me-even though they were unfounded. I got off of the antidepressants and I was able to feel again, I cried when I missed my kids or when I was scared. I could laugh and play with them again. 

It’s been a hard road, but I’ve been taking my life back since I left in 2013. I’ve had my job for three years this coming November and been promoted twice this year. I was accepted to UW Oshkosh in 2014 and even though I’m taking this semester off, I’m excited to come back in the spring and continue to work toward earning my Microbiology degree. I got a lawyer, finally, a year and a half into my divorce. He has been amazing, and has fought very hard for me and my kids. My divorce was final the day before the two-year anniversary of my leaving him. I finally got full custody of my sons this past August. My significant other is one of the most supportive, understanding, gentle and patient people I know. He accepts me and my kids for who we are and understands that we come with A LOT of baggage. 

I have my friends back, and my family. I still have challenges; I don’t like going out after dark or being home alone. My ex knows where I live and where I work. I worry every day that he’s going to come after me. I worry that he’s going to try to take the kids. I fight those fears every day. I get up. I put them on the bus. I go to work. I remind myself that I got out, that I am healthier, stronger and safer now than I have ever been.  I have reached a point where even though I’m not ready for this-telling my story- I know I need to. I know I need to tell people what happened to me because it might help someone else get out. It might help someone else not feel so alone. It might help me feel not so alone. I’m not ready for this, but this is what it means for me to take my life back, because he shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind my silence any more.

Printed with Natalie's Permission


The Christine Ann Story (2015)

She was born on the Fourth of July, and every year there were fireworks on her birthday. She was one of those "later in life" babies, and her older siblings doted on her. She was a shy kid, but when it came to performing she said she didn't mind being in front of a group of people at all, as long as it was music that put her in the limelight. She grew into a gifted musician, playing piano, French horn and singing in high school. She concentrated her energy on the French horn in college and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with a major in music education. She taught for a few years and was well loved by her colleagues and the children whose lives she touched, but her career as a teacher was cut short when she died as a victim of domestic abuse.

Christine Ann Clark had about as normal a life as anyone could as she grew up just outside Fond du Lac. Like many of her friends, she met her husband, Alan, in college and they were married just after Chris graduated. She had studied music and so began teaching elementary music. Alan soon became abusive, but she only hinted to her family about her problems. Much later, Alan acknowledged that he had twisted her arms, pulled her hair, slapped and punched her, causing black eyes, bloody lips and sore areas on her head.

Nothing she tried seemed to make a difference, although he would apologize and promise never to do it again. At one point, Chris ran away for more than 24 hours, but Alan convinced her to return. However, the abuse seemed to escalate, and he told her if she ever left again, he would take their daughter and Chris would never see her again and threatened to kill the baby. Finally, out of fear for the welfare of her child, Chris left and checked into a domestic abuse shelter in the Milwaukee area. From there, she called her parents and told them about some of the abuse she had suffered.

After thinking carefully about her options, Chris went to live with her parents and filed for divorce. Although Alan became involved with a group for batterers and said that he had been helped by the group, he wouldn't leave Chris alone.

Claiming to love his daughter very much, Alan settled for biweekly visitations with their daughter, saying that it was too much trouble to drive from Milwaukee to Fond du Lac weekly. Meanwhile, he plotted what he would do. One day, when he was to return the baby to Fond du Lac, he wrote that he would like to change the regular meeting place. Using the baby as bait, he lured Chris to a secluded outdoor spot where they had spent time in the past.

When some people walking near the area noticed things were not right, they called the police, who found the baby asleep in the car and Chris' body several yards away. She had been murdered by multiple blows to the head with a tire iron. Alan told authorities that he and Chris had been attacked by a stranger, but the evidence at the scene didn't match his story.

One year later, Alan was convicted of first degree intentional homicide and first degree sexual assault. He refused to admit any responsibility for the crime, although he changed his story several times. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Throughout the ordeal of her relationship, Chris drew on her own strength to do what she thought was best to survive. She was resourceful and leaned on friends, family and helping agencies. Her desire to protect her daughter from a life of violence and sexual abuse caused her to end the marriage. Her death reminds us of the need to remain constantly vigilant in our work and never to underestimate the potential for deadly consequences. It also reminds us of the losses our community endures. We lose the feeling of sanctuary in our homes, the productivity of adults who are victimized, and the future well-being of our children. We see the grief of family and friends, the high costs of medical, legal and helping services and the expense of criminal justice when we deal with domestic violence. The greatest loss of all is the cherished life of one of our friends.

Printed by permission of Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services

Copyright © 2007 - 2016, Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services


Katie's Story (2015)

I have a fear of basements. It sounds so irrational when I put it on paper, but I do. I hate them. The musty, damn smell, the darkness that seems to linger in every corner, I just hate them. Now, it’s not every basement. . . it’s.. a basement like my old one. My bedroom was in the basement, and so was his. Down the stairs and to the right was a cellar, to the left were two bedrooms. Mine was on the left, his on the right. I remember when I was little; I would run down the stairs as fast as I could, run into my room and slam the door. My room. MY room. It was mine, it was safe and it was mine. No matter what chaos was happening in the world outside my room, it was safe inside my room. The teddy bear boarder that lined the ceiling, the closet full of my clothes, the twin sized bed with pink sheets and toys in the corner. . . it was mine. I still hated being in the basement but it was mine and it felt safe . . . for a while anyway. The one window in the room was one of those windows that has the area dug out in front of it, even though it’s below ground. We had those plastic domes over it so the leaves wouldn’t fill in that area. When I think about what happened, I think about that plastic dome; my bars. I ran down the stairs and into my room as fast as I could, just like I always did. I changed and got into bed and snuggled in deep. The sheets were cool and so was I. I waited and waited until I started to feel warm. I must have fallen asleep at some point because the next thing I remember is feeling something on my bed. When I rolled over I could see it was him. 3 years older than me, he always scared me a bit. He picked on me and was always so mean. He hated me. I was the foster kid his parents brought into HIS house. Why was he in my room? Why was he in my bed?I told him he shouldn’t be in here. I was going to tell Mom and Dad if he didn’t leave. He told me to just be quiet it was okay. It wasn’t okay, and it wouldn’t be for a long time. I stared at the plastic dome covering my window. It felt like prison bars as I tried to block out what was happening. “Don’t tell anyone.” He slid under my covers, his body pressing against mine. The leaves clung to the dome. Yellow, brown, green, orange. They were pretty normally, why did they feel so ugly then? “It’s okay, it’s what step brothers do.” Hands and mouth on my little body. I could see the dome moving as the wind blew against it. I thought to myself that I could squeeze through that window. I could get away. I could make it stop. But I couldn’t, and he didn’t. “Stop crying, you’ll wake Mom and Dad.” I tried to cry as he put his hand on my mouth. “Stop it, I’m not hurting you but if you tell anyone, I will hurt you!” But it did hurt. He was hurting me. I stared at that dome and those leaves and the water droplets from the earlier rain, run down the plastic like the tears on my cheek. “Put these back on, and keep your mouth shut about this. No one can know.” And just like that, he was gone.

My room no longer felt safe. It was no longer mine. It felt like a prison and that, damn plastic dome was my bars. I always felt. . . trapped. And for so many years, I would re-live that nightmare as I would once again feel the pressure on my bed and my eyes would find the plastic dome.He was eventually caught in my bed one night, and they blamed me. He told them that I asked him to come in and I was too scared to tell the truth. He told them it only happened once and I was too scared to tell the truth. The fear he instilled in me kept me silent; trapped in the dark, dampness of my secret.

That life was so long ago and I have come so far. Trapped, I am not. Sure, I still struggle and I still hate plastic domes over basement windows. I can’t look at them without feeling annoyed, but that has transitioned so much. Once upon a time, I used to throw up whenever I’d see them. So I’ll take annoyed. People say, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” and it’s nice of them to say so, but I’m not sorry. I’d never ever wish that on anyone but if I took that part away from my past, would I be the person I am today? Probably not! I believe everything I’ve done and everything that has been done to me, good or bad, has shaped who I am. I like the person I am and the abuse is all part of that. It’s made me a strong advocate for survivor’s rights. It has made me strong, passionate, resilient . . . and yes, it’s left me with anxiety and issues with control but that is me. I’m happy with me.

Printed with Katie's Permission


Morgan's Story (2015)

I was asked why it took me more than 6 months to report the incident. If you realized you’ve been assaulted, wouldn’t the logical thing be to report it immediately? Why would it take you more than 6 months to come tell us, complete strangers, the most personal information you’ve ever told anyone? Why would it take you that long to stand up against someone who could instill fear in you? You didn’t report it the next day. It must not have happened....

Don’t let them silence you. There are people out there who will do everything they can to take your voice away. To try to make the problem go away, to try to make it seem like this problem doesn’t happen in our community. They will try to make you believe that nothing happened. They will try to make you doubt yourself. They may not have played a hand in the violence, but they are doing everything they can to recreate it by taking your voice away. We learn in the first few years of our lives, to listen. Be a good listener. Don’t just hear, but listen. Well I am going to tell you that one of the bravest things you can do is stop listening. Stop listening to the voices that make you doubt yourself. Stop listening to the people who want to silence you. They may not have bad intentions. They may be telling you to hold back out of fear for your safety, or out of fear that speaking up may cause you more pain. Yes, talking about it isn’t easy. Talking to people, to complete strangers about what happened to you may be painful for a while. But we can’t heal unless we…..

The worst thing we can do is be okay with what they are telling us. To settle on doubt. To settle on, ‘well it was a he-said-she said and there was no evidence.’ To settle on, ‘well I did go over to his house, or into his room.’ To settle on, ‘well I was dressed like that.’ You are not worth settling for. You are worth every ounce of love, self worth, respect that you can give yourself, and that the people around you can give. If you have to, wake up every morning and tell yourself that you are worth it. Tell yourself that you are strong. You might not even believe it right now, but you will.

There are people out there who need to hear you. But they can’t hear you if you are silent. If you listen to everyone telling you to stay quiet, even if it’s only yourself right now. There are people in here right now who need you just as much as you need them.

Printed with Morgan's Permission

April's Story (2015)

I have always gone out and done things by myself. I like being independent, in fact it is essential to who I am. My independence was threatened 3 years ago and every day since then I have faced the fear that I will never be as strong as I once was.

About 3 years ago I began working as a waitress at a local restaurant. I primarily worked the late afternoon shifts and was usually done by 8:00. I was also going to college, so I was taking classes in the morning before work. My typical day was up at 6:30 at class by 7:45, finish classes at 11:30, go home eat lunch then head into work at 3:00. I would work 3 to 8 then go home change and go out running by 8:30. I always felt comfortable running in my neighborhood and had been doing it for years. I knew every square inch of it. My neighborhood was well lit and there was a park that I ran through that had large overhead lights by the baseball fields, parking lot and entrance to the park. My route was always busy with other joggers, people biking, walking pets and so forth. So I never really thought it was unsafe.

With the comfort level I had, I may have let down my guard because one night everything changed. As a waitress I had seen my fair share of familiar faces, returning customers and some of them I got to know pretty well. One person specifically would come in a couple times a week around the same time. He would come in by himself and always sit in my section. He would always try to strike up conversation with me, I was always cordial but was vague with my answers to his questions. This went on for a few weeks until I started seeing him in random places outside the restaurant. I saw him in the grocery store, the coffee shop by my apartment and I even ran into him once on campus. Each time he gave me a reason why he was there, sighting how funny it was that we kept running into each other. He was very nice, so I assumed it was some sort of crush and wasn’t too worried about it. Nonetheless, in order to try and get some space from him I told him one day that I had to go because I was meeting my boyfriend for dinner. I wasn’t dating anybody at the time, but wanted to make something up in order to send him a message without being blunt.

I didn’t see him for a few weeks after that and I thought everything was okay. But it wasn’t because I ran into him one night after work. I was running my normal route around the park and as I made my way to an area with some dense trees he stepped out from behind a tree. I stopped and screamed in fear, not necessarily because it was him, but because it was so unexpected. He said he was sorry, and that he didn’t mean to scare me, he was just walking in the woods and was on his way home. I said “okay, well see you later”. He said “sounds good” and he began walking towards the parking lot. I watch for a few minutes to make sure he was leaving, then I started running again.

I had finished my run and began my cool down about a block from my apartment. Right before I was at the entrance of my apartment, I was grabbed from behind and forced to the ground behind some bushes. It was him. He had his arm around my neck and his other hand over my mouth. He started tearing at my clothes and I fought and fought. I managed to pick up a stick and stab it in his leg. It was enough for me to break free. I began screaming as loud as I could and ran down the street to the coffee shop. He never followed. I made it to the coffee shop and called the police. The police arrested him 3 days later.

My world completely changed. I went for months in fear of being outside, in fear of being by myself. I got a roommate and moved to a new apartment. I got a new job working in an office and I stopped running completely. None of this helped. I still felt frozen by fear and my independence was gone. After about six months of anxiety I was at my breaking point. I wanted my life back. I was tired of being in fear and hated relying on other people to make me feel safe. So I did something about it. I thought about my life before I was attacked and what if was that gave me strength and more importantly independence. It was running. I needed that back. I knew it would never be the same, but it was mine I wasn’t going to let him or fear take that away from me. So I, went out one night after work. I stood outside my apartment with my heart racing and told myself that this is mine. I started running as fast as I could and after a few blocks I slowed a bit to catch my breath. I started to get into a groove and familiar feelings came back, the good and the bad. When a memory or feeling of that night popped in my head, I would run faster and it would disappear. When I finished my run I came back to my apartment with my senses on high alert. Nothing happened. I took back that moment. From that point on I have been running every night. It is different than before, my senses are more alert, but I feel in charge of my life. I have since moved back on my own. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and just started a new job as a physical therapist. I am once again in control of my own life.

Printed with April's Permission


Allison's Story (2015)

Since the day I got married, I was a homemaker. My husband didn’t want me working, he wanted me to stay home to clean, make meals, etc. What I thought was a great thing when we first got married, quickly turned into a nightmare as I realized that he didn’t want me to work because he wanted control over every decision. After being married about 1 month he starting becoming physically abusive to me if I wasn’t doing what he wanted. He set high expectations on what he wanted me to do for him and if I didn’t accomplish them I would get hit. Each time it would happen he would make me tell him I was sorry I didn’t follow his instructions and that I should do better to take care of him since he worked hard to make all the money.

I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it and way too afraid of the consequences if my husband were to find out I had said anything. My life of avoidance lead me to a numbness and ultimate disengagement of family and friends. He had total control over me and I was too afraid to do anything about it. I was alone. I lived behind a vail of physical abuse and worked very hard to prevent people from seeing the physical bruises and scars. I didn’t realize that it was also creating emotional and psychological scars as well.

I looked for an outlet to deal with the abuse. I would write in a journal as a way to let it out. I of course had to hind the journal in a location that he wouldn’t find it, in risk that the abuse would become worse. Every day after he left for work, I would write about what happened the day before hoping that someday someone would hear the words I was writing and help me out of this nightmare. I wrote about what happened to me, but never wrote about my dreams or future, they seemed like something I couldn’t have. I felt boxed in, unable to escape the prison he placed me in.

When my husband was at work, I would go and do errands for him, get groceries and come home immediately. He tracked how much money I spent and where I spent it, so I had to preapprove purchases and the places I made those purchases with him. I couldn’t even stop to buy a cup of coffee without him knowing first. My life was not mine.

My husband disapproved of my friends after we got married and as a result, I lost contact with all of them. I wasn’t allowed to have friends because they would be a distraction and prevent me from taking care of him. I spent a lot of time doing the same routine of going to the same places. Because of this I would see the same people working at these stores and secretly developed some friendships. It was nice to talk to people, even if it was just on the surface, it made me feel normal. It felt good in the moment to talk to people, but the harshness of my life would come back as soon as I left.

One day I was at the grocery store and the same lady who I always talked to at the checkout asked me if I wanted to join her and some of the other cashiers after work for happy hour. I was taken back a bit. I hadn’t been out with anyone other than my husband for 7 years. My instinct was to say yes, but my reality said no. I said thanks, but I couldn’t because I needed to get home. The cashier asked if I was sure, she sensed my hesitation. And I said yes I was sure. How could I go out and enjoy myself knowing that he wouldn’t approve, knowing what he would do to me if I did go out with them.

I went home and that night he once again showed his true colors as he was angry with me for purchasing the wrong kind of deodorant. At that point I knew that I couldn’t continue with this, I needed to do something. The next morning after my husband left for work I pulled out my journal like always. This time I sat there for an hour without writing anything. Instead I read everything I wrote over the previous month. I became angry at myself, I made excuses and blamed myself for everything. I crossed out everything in the journal. Then on a blank page on the back, I started writing about what I wanted in the future, my dreams. I felt empowered. I felt good. I went back to the grocery store. I saw the cashier I talked to the day before and nervously went to her line. She saw me and smiled and said “I didn’t expect to see you until next Monday”. I didn’t know how to respond. I just stared at her. She said, are you okay? I didn’t respond. She looked over at the other cashier and said “I going to take a break with my friend, I’ll be back”. I wasn’t sure what was going on. She called me her friend? I was going on break with her? She looked over at me, smiled and asked me to join her on a picnic table outside. I nervously agreed. When we got outside, we sat down. She touched my hand and asked me if everything was okay. Wow, right here right now is my opportunity have my voice heard. It was too good to be true, could I trust it? What if I said something and he found out? I paused and she said, “it’s okay, I am here for you”. After sometime, I began to tell her of my situation and with each word I could feel a weight leaving my shoulders. My new friend remained supportive, asking questions, each time staying focused on my words. She was so supportive that she went back into the store and told her manager that she needed to take the rest of the day off to help her friend. She invited me to come with her so we could continue talking. It felt good. We went to her apartment. She said that I needed to keep telling my story and that I needed to get out right away. She knew I was scared, but said she would help. She contacted some of her girlfriends and they came over to her house. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by 5 women who I didn’t really know but for some reason they wanted to help me. I had never felt a feeling like this before. The love, support and strength they gave me didn’t have rules or restrictions. I finally felt like I could actually have a new life.

My new friends helped me develop a plan to leave my husband. They contacted lawyers, helped me get a restraining order and ultimately helped me get a divorce. I am finally in charge of my own life, thanks to the caring, supportive and loving nature of a group of women who wanted nothing more than to make a new friend and to see her happy. Because of them I am now living my future, my dreams.

Printed with Allison's Permission


Jeanne's Story (2015)

I had been a previous shelter resident due to physical abuse, and clean and sober for 3 months. I had not been sober for more than 6 months since I was 11 years old. My husband and I had both abused substances throughout our relationship. We had been together since I was 14 years old. I had returned to my husband of 26 years because he said he would work on our relationship and would quit using drugs. After beating me, I went back to the Christine Ann Center because of the previous support I had received.

While in the shelter, I found emotional support in Stepping Stones, a support group for women with substance abuse issues. I attended a Stepping Stones group where I learned that my substance use was used by my husband as a tactic to control and shame me. I learned that I used substances to numb my feelings, and how it left me vulnerable to my husband’s emotional abuse and physical violence. I learned about trauma, boundaries and boundary setting. I began to view sobriety maintenance as a key part of my safety plan. Staff introduced me to the Solutions Recovery club where I attended Narcotics Anonymous. I became an active volunteer in order to support my sobriety. I learned to view myself as a woman who deserved respect.After several months of emotional support, learning how to problem solve, and to trust myself and my skills, I moved to CADASI’s Transitional Living Program. Staff assisted me with obtaining state insurance. As a result, I was able to work with a trauma therapist to assist me with healing from PTSD and medication for treatment of bipolar disorder. Since then I developed sober, supportive friendships through the recovery community, reunited with my estranged adult children, obtained a divorce, celebrated 5 years of sobriety and continue to provide peer support in a sober living home.

Printed with Jeanne's Permission

Nicole's Story (2015)

When I entered this world I was just like everyone else pure and innocent untouched by life experiences good bad or otherwise At my greatest potential. And then life took over and one experience after the next my innocence was stolen. By the time I was five I had been molested on several occasions and sold for sex by my own mother. My mother went to prison but escaped while in a work release program and I never saw or heard from her again. And while it may seem that what happened is an extreme case and not a common occurrence, I need to tell you that is a common misconception.

I always thought that if my life had been a show or movie my happier ever after should have been at 5. When my mother was no longer able to hurt me and when my cousin Nancy stepped up to be that new mother figure. In the show she would grab my little hand and we walk off into the sunset – credit rolls. But life is nothing like television. From ages 7 to 13 my cousin/adopted mom Nancy abused me physically, emotionally and psychologically and then disowned me soon after being arrest for assault of a child.

During the years of abuse, I coped by tying to prove that I was lovable. I did this by getting straight A’s and being involved in many extracurriculars – dance, soccer, played cello and violin, cheerleader you name it I did it. I thought that if I could just be great then she would have no choice but to love me…I escaped into my head and could daydream for hours on how I wish life could be or would be one day.I became fascinated with MLK jr. I idolized his struggle and method for change. To use love and peace to conquer hate and injustice was a concept I accepted at an early age to own and live by. God was not a method for coping even though Nancy took us to Sunday school. I can remember that my comprehension of God and Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a story with no real connection. At that time, it was more of a concept people just live by like a tradition. So when my adopted mom and parts of my family disowned me my whole world just fell down around me. I gave up all my hope and all my dreams. And I had big dreams. I wanted to be like MLK jr. I wanted to live up to the legacy and movement he started. I wanted to fight for freedom and social injustices. I dreamed one day I would be the first woman president. But in my mind if I had two mothers in my short 13 year life and both of them found me unlovable then how could I be the president? No one would ever love me.

I began to do the exact opposite of who I really was. I stole I skipped school I ran away. By 17 I was living on the streets of Milwaukee. Reduced to what is called survival sex. Sleeping with boys for a place to stay, food and clothing. And then on a cold February night 11 years ago I was sold into prostitution. I was sitting on a street curb with basketball shorts on and oversize hoodie pulled over my legs when I was approached by a well known local neighborhood drug dealer. He invited me inside his big warm shiny red lexus and I gladly accepted the offer. As the warmth began to come back to my body he asked me lots of questions like where was I from how did I end up on the streets where was my family and so forth… See I thought he cared about me since no one else had asked me such question while I had been living on the streets. So as I sat there naively and truthfully answering his questions as some desperate attempt to have him rescue me from the hell of a life. I was living. I was actually sealing my fate to years of enslavement. After a lil while he pulled in front of a house and told me to wait in the car while he went inside. A couple of minutes pass and then he came out to the porch with another man talking and looking my direction. Seemly conversing about me. They went back inside the house and then the drug dealer came back to the car. He said he had great news that he got me a job and a place to live that there are other girls who stay here and it’s like a family. My mind started to race with excitement was what he saying true was my life on the street over? As I made my way up the stairs to the house I started to imagine my new life there and felt hope again. As I entered the house I saw three girls my age dressed in heels skirts with their hair and makeup done nice. A man with designer clothes and lots of diamond jewelry on introduced himself as Kelly Mac and began to explain that they were on their way out the door to bring the girl to the bus station and that when we came back he would talk with me. After dropping the girls off at the greyhound station Kelly man began to explain his business. He told me that he was a pimp and the girls who just got on the bus are his hoes and now so was I. He told me the rules to the game. How I would walk, talk, dress and every bit of money I made selling myself on the streets of Chicago belonged to him. IN RETURN HE WOULD PROVIDE ME WITH FOOD Take me shopping and keep me safe and I would call him Daddy. He had me watch movies that glamorized the lifestyle and had me think maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Heck I was already sleeping with boys just for a place to stay was this much different I asked myself. Maybe this would be better I told myself. When the sun started to rise he told me it was time to pick up the girls from the station. They climbed in the backseat immediately passing over the money they made over to Kelly Mac and then instantly fell asleep on top of one another. Their hair and makeup no longer looked glamorous but hideous and their body language spoke of a level of exhaustion I did not want to experience. When we arrived at the house Kelly Mac counted the money and instructed one of the girls to meet him in the back bedroom and then told me to join then. He instructed her to take off her clothes and for me to stand in the doorway. He told me that if I looked away or closed my eyes I would get what she was getting. And for a split second I thought he wanted me to watch them have sex I mean why else was she naked. And then his hand connected to her face with a loud smack. And then over and over he beat her all the while yelling at her and degrading her for not bring enough money back. He humiliated her by checking her private parts for stashed money. I stood there unable to move even if I had wanted to.

Up until this point in my mind I believed that I was there of my own free will and could walk out if I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought I had a choice in this whole pimp hoe thing. That I could go to him and say um actually this isn’t gonna work out ya know me being one of your girls and all just ain’t me but thanks and he would say yeah I understand it was nice to meet you if you change your mind come find me.

But it was then in those frozen moments I remember realizing I was in some deep trouble with no way out I could see. I was trapped with some crazy man who was capable of killing me if he so chose to. And who would stop him or care. Who would even know I was dead and gone no one was looking for me. I belonged now to a world I wanted no part in but was helpless to stop it. So I did what I could to compile and keep from making him upset. Each night he sent me out to the streets of Chicago and each night I returned with his money. After a couple of weeks went by he told me that I was no longer new to the game and need to now bring in 1000$ a night. That night I did not make 1000$ and so I did not return on the bus that night. I stayed in Chicago to only end up the victim of one of America’s worst pimps. For three years he controlled and terrorized my existence and I experienced the unspeakable.

I was able to physically escape from him in late 2007 but years later, mentally, he still torments me. From 2007 to 20012 I continued to commercial sexually exploit myself. That life was all I thought I knew. I convinced myself that it was a game to be won. That winning was to capitalizing of my own exploitation. That if I was in control then it would not affect me in a negative way. This false sense of self-empowerment is common of women and girls involved in the sex industry. 90% of women in the industry were previously sexually assaulted as children.It’s the precursor that sets the stage to enter this illusion of lies. Girls like me have all had that moment of defeat when we realize the sex industry is an allusion of lies purposely webbed to brainwash us into thinking it is a game to be won. That realization that the ones who win are not US but Them (And when I say Them I’m taking about pimps, boyfriends, club owner, porn makers, marketing companies and an abundant amount of the male population that think they can buy women just as easily as you order a pizza and.) is so overwhelming that many of us begin to pimp ourselves in creating a complete fantasy inside our heads that makes it all come together in a way that makes this lifestyle is our choice, our purpose, our destiny.The scientific name is called learned helplessness. Once so many bad things have happened to you…you began to believe bad things will always happen and there is nothing you can do to stop it. There comes a time when you’re in the sex industry where no matter how much attention you receive, no matter how much money you make or clothes, jewelry, shoes, cars, and houses you possess it’s not enough anymore to take not one more step further into that life. The payoff doesn’t measure up to the destruction going on inside your own body. You feel your mind begins to become cloudy, thoughts and feelings get lost in trying figure out how the hell you ended up here. Because you had dreams and plans of being somebody. Your eyes no longer see freedom, beauty and adventure but an invisible prison cell. With no escape in sight, your body grows old you are no longer “new” so compromise after compromise you begin the things you said you would never do. Your heart turns cold after all the humiliation and violence endured.Your body is no longer a place where your soul lives but some mere object or merchandise for others to enjoy. No different than a jar of pickles.

That breaking point came for me almost 3 years ago now. My first born son was about to start school and I had this vision of other kids making fun of him because his mom was a stripper… the kids were saying he had a stripper mom not a soccer mom. And I told myself I don’t want to be a stripper mom I want to be a soccer mom. So I cried out to God and asked him to deliver me from that life and give me new life. I give it all up lord all of the money the control all that was familiar. If you lead lord, I will follow. And ever since the lord has been leading my life.

Printed with Nicole's Permission