Dear Stanford Survivor,
I know you are confused and disgusted. I know you’re scared. I feel your anger. I know it seems like there is nothing anyone can do or say to get rid of these feelings.
I am sorry that these feelings have intruded into your life, and I wish there was something I could say or do to take your pain away, but unfortunately I know nothing can change the way you feel or the way you have been hurt.
I know this because on June 3, 2011, I was raped, taken advantage of, humiliated, and robbed of my self-worth and innocence. Two older, wealthier and more popular boys from my Catholic high school in California assaulted me in my own bedroom. The physical pain was bad enough, but the emotional toll I endured after the assault is what truly broke me.
For three months, I did not tell anyone about the assault. Then my parents found out. They wanted me to report the assault to the police, but the torture at school had already begun. The two boys and their friends would corner me in the halls. They would yell “slut” across the quad when they saw me, and they threatened me on social media. I was terrified. I started having night terrors and panic attacks, and I slept in my parent’s room with the lights on. I never slept in my own bedroom again.
Eight months after my attack, I found out one of my attackers had raped a fourteen-year-old girl. The guilt I felt was unimaginable. If only I had told someone about my own attack, I could have saved her from the hell I experience every single day. I talked to her and told her my story, and decided we both had to report the attacks to the police. I thought things would get better after that, but I was wrong.
People looked at me differently, like they didn’t know what to say. Every news channel was publicizing the most intimate and humiliating moment of my life, and there was no escaping it. I was no longer “Delaney”—I was known as “Jane Doe, the high school rape victim” from that point forward. I hated when people showed their discomfort around me, but I hated even more when people did not believe my story. The bullying at school and online became so bad that I never left my home. My own friends stood in silence as my perfect world turned into a wildfire.
One month after reporting the assault, the torment, guilt, and shame had overcome me. I let it win, and I tried to end my life.
I remember waking up in the hospital and wondering how my life had gone from normal to a nightmare, in just one night. As more people discovered I was “Jane Doe, the high school rape victim,” I decided to tell my story and face the media. But again, this only worsened my situation. I had food thrown at me in restaurants, water bottles thrown at me at football games. People were posting “I hope you die,” and “you hold her down and I’ll spit on her” on Facebook.
The District Attorney told me there was not enough evidence to prosecute one of the two boys, and the other pleaded no contest. One attacker was charged for the other girl’s assault, and I had to testify. I know how it feels to walk through those courtroom doors and face the boy responsible for all of your pain. I know how it feels to get chills because he has been inside you, and has taken everything from you. I know how it feels to be verbally attacked and to have your reputation trashed while trying to defend yourself on the stand about a night you barely remember, in front of twelve complete strangers there to judge your testimony.
I am writing to tell you that I understand your pain. I understand how it feels to have someone you don’t even know overpower you, and use your body like it is worthless. I understand the confusion, and I know all too well what it is like to build a wall stopping anyone from being close to you. I know what it is like sitting in a doctor’s office, having strangers pry inside you with metal tools because I was so swollen and in so much pain the morning after my assault that I immediately went to get tested for STDs. I know what it feels like to have the justice system completely fail you in terms of punishment. My attacker, like yours, only received a slap on the wrist for raping me. There was no justice for you when your attacker received such a lenient sentence. They took so much from us, and justice has not been served for the pain we continue to feel every day.
After the convictions, I received a call from Angela Rose. Angela founded PAVE—Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment—a non-profit organization for victims of sexual assault. That call changed my life. Angela changed my entire perspective on my attack. I was no longer “Jane Doe, the high school rape victim.” I was Delaney, the survivor.
I became a PAVE ambassador, and with the support of Angela and PAVE, I slowly began to gain back my power.
Three weeks after starting college, the power was taken from me once again. A friend of my attackers wrote a rap song that threatened to kill me. He performed it and published it online. He said my full name and threatened that he was coming to murder me for snitching on his two friends, my rapists. The song was downloaded over 22,000 times. The panic attacks, sleeplessness, and constant fear quickly returned.
Angela and PAVE picked me up yet again. She gave me a reason to believe in myself and fight to take back control of my life. PAVE gave me something I had lost a long time ago: hope and a purpose to live.
The writer of the rap song was charged with a felony, and next month I will testify at his trial. I am scared to death to face them all over again, but this time, I have PAVE by my side.
PAVE taught me how to be a survivor, not a victim. PAVE made me unbreakable.
I am writing this to tell you that you are not alone. I understand what you are going through because I am going through it with you. You are truly inspiring to me and to so many other survivors out there. I hope this gives you hope when you need it most, just like PAVE gave me hope when I needed it most.
Your courage and strength will change lives.
Delaney Henderson is an outspoken survivor of sexual assault and Ambassador for the national nonprofit PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment.
"At 16 I was a victim of sexual assault. I was raped in my own home by two boys I went to high school with. That was only the beginning of my living hell. I was threatened, bullied, ostracized, and forced to leave my hometown, my school and my family for my own safety. I attempted suicide and often questioned my self worth until I was contacted by and became an ambassador of PAVE. With their help, I slowly gained back my dignity and realized that I can change my circumstance by helping others. PAVE helped me transform from a victim to a survivor. I have co-founded my own organization called SafeBAE to provide education to students about sexual assault and their rights under Title XI. My goal is to create a safe haven for survivors and to bring awareness of sexual violence."
PAVE is holding a 20-year anniversary initiative to raise $20,000 to help educate 20,000 students. Text "PAVE" to 50555 and hit SEND and follow the link, or visit pavingtheway.net.
Photos via Caroline McKee.
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