Trigger Warning: This piece discusses a sexual assault, which may be triggering for survivors. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please seek help. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for assistance or visit RAINN.org for additional support.
For seven years, I struggled to accept myself and my body after I was raped at the age of twelve. When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t recognize myself. I felt impure and unworthy. Frankly, I was angry and didn’t understand how my fifteen-year-old classmate could get away with such a horrible assault. Too young to understand how to cope with it, I was afraid to tell my family or teacher. I attribute that to the fact that I was raised by a Latina mother, who was a rigid Catholic. Religion, faith, and family are deeply rooted in our culture. Upon birth, I was given my first Rosario (rosary). When I was old enough to comprehend the ritual, I was taught to say fifty Hail Marys and our Father’s. I always was a good Catholic girl, eager to attend mass and Sunday school rain or shine. Receiving all the sacraments, including my Baptism, Reconciliation, and First Communion.
Much like Gina Rodriguez’s character Jane Villanueva in the hit TV show “Jane the Virgin,” I grew up with two Latinas as my role models. My Mom and my Aunt, Tia, as we called her in Spanish. In the opening scene of the show, Jane’s Abuela (Grandmother) uses a pure white gardenia as a metaphor for saving one’s self until marriage. This served as a defining moment for young Jane as she vows to remain pure until marriage and does not yet understand the complexities and relationships to come. Similarly, I was given the talk. Instead of my Abuela — my grandmother passed away due to cancer prior to my birth — it was my Tia, our family matriarch, who took the role upon herself. She instilled the value of remaining pure to honor my future husband saying it was God’s will and my responsibility as a daughter of Christ. To this day, the words are ingrained in my memory. “Mija permanece pura y honra a Dios” After I was raped, I pulled away from the Catholic church, and its “purity-centered culture.”
When it came time for my Quinceañera, a traditional Mexican ceremony symbolizing a young woman’s coming of age on her fifteenth birthday, I wanted to avoid the traditional mass, but my family refused. They were unaware of the life-altering event that shattered the vow I made to my Tia and God. I couldn’t help but feel like an imposter and someone who was not deserving of the ritual or my pure white dress. This haunted my sleep. All I could think about was: How would I be able to go before my family and the church to profess my virtue? When it came time for the ceremony, I sat and cried alone in the wedding dress my Mom picked out. Reflecting on my crumpled flower and lost innocence while staring at the intricate floral lace. I composed myself in procession to the church. Telling myself I could do this, I held my head high and took a deep breath.
The person who did this to me took away a part of what felt like my identity. I was no longer able to share my first time with someone I loved. As a result, my view of physical intimacy changed drastically. I no longer felt it was sacred, but rather it was tarnished that something I couldn’t bear the thought of. Throughout junior high and high school, I certainly had crushes. I let boys into my life to an extent. But after starting a relationship, I would put up walls. I would text them but suddenly stop before it would ever go too far. After years of going through this, I realized I had a choice. I could either let what happened define me and my self-worth, or I could help others who were unable to speak by telling my story unashamed and encouraging others to remain persistent by recognizing that there should be no time frame or stipulations upon one’s healing journey.
I am proud to be a part of survivor-based advocacy and contribute to a solution for a better and safer world both by sharing my story and creating a mobile application called Safe Squad. With no formal background in tech and survivor role models to look up to, I started out with a legal pad and a sharpie to achieve my goal prior to the Women’s March or #MeToo Movement. I sought to ensure that my app would address the personal safety of users and provide peace of mind for their loved ones via an automatic SOS messaging system that will alert the user’s chosen emergency contacts with their location. Through my app, I want to ensure that the next person out there does not have to say #metoo and join the club that no one wants to be a part of. For me, that was the best part of healing. In turn, I became the role model that I’d always hoped to see.
Now, as a freshman in college, entering the dating sphere, I have my first boyfriend. I didn’t initially plan on telling him what I’d been through until we established a stable relationship built upon honesty, mutual trust, and chemistry. Given the nature of my app and its presence on the internet since its launch in July of 2019, he found out through a google search. When he asked me about the app, I vaguely stated that I had an instance regarding safety. But I could tell at that point he already knew. I had a pit in my stomach, worried that he wouldn’t look at me the same or would see me as damaged goods. Instead, he said, “It wasn’t your fault. You’re worthy and deserving of love regardless of your past,” I was fortunate to find someone post-assault who doesn’t treat me like I am broken. Instead, he acknowledged and celebrated my strength to be open and vulnerable by sharing my story with him.
I hope my story can serve as an inspiration to other survivors to help open their eyes to their strength for overcoming adversity. For more information about Safe Squad please visit our website: https://www.safesquadmobileapp.com/ or our Instagram handle: @safesquad_app
Safe Squad is free and available for download on the App Store and Google Play: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/safe-squad/id1471988389