When I said “no,” the first boy didn’t stop. He told me he knew I liked being touched that way. I was a girl in eighth grade staying after school to work on her art portfolio. My parents would go on to blame me for any instance where I was alone with a boy, which only confused me. I grew to feel guilty and misplaced. I forgave him for what he did because he didn’t know any better. There was a dark purple bruise on my lip and red marks down my back when a friend in high school asked if I was okay. I wasn’t. I was a sophomore transfer student who had just moved from New York to Florida. A senior in one of my classes took to me instantly; he said there was a girl in my grade who lived just up the road and that he wanted me to meet her. When I showed up, there was no girl – only a dog who tried nudging me away before the door to his bedroom. I expressed fear, I expressed hesitance. My body became immobilized at the impact of violation. Rumors went around the school that I had slept with him, but stories also surfaced about the things he had done to other girls. My friend wanted to go to the police. I told my rapist that he took something from me that didn’t belong to him; he said that I had broken his trust, that we were even. He was beloved and charismatic, and who would believe me? At nine months to the date, when I was sure he had gone away to college, I told my father. He maintained that I needed to accept accountability for my actions and was sincerely concerned with whether or not I’d turn out gay. I forgave him for not understanding in that moment. My adolescence became increasingly lonely. I started university at age sixteen, began working in corporate at age nineteen, and graduated with my bachelors degree at age twenty. I loved learning and had some truly amazing opportunities when I started my career, but something wasn’t right, and it abruptly changed the course of my life. As an intern, I was connected with a man in my department for a license to use a particular software. He promptly looked me up on LinkedIn and began making inquiries about my age, then comments about my appearance, which grew into sharing his fantasies about my sex life. He was a “writer,” so I chalked it up to eccentric character development. The summer was ending, and I didn’t think reporting him would do any good because I didn’t think they’d bring me on full-time. They did. In April of 2022, I had to attend a client conference run by my company. Although budgets were tight and he didn’t have reason to be there, the man messaged me that he was in the lobby of the hotel I was staying at and wanted to meet me. I was cautious but could not deny meeting in a public setting for the sole reason that I was working at the event. It wasn’t terrible, he was just gross. I explained that I was happy to maintain a friendship but that I was not interested in him otherwise. The final night of the conference, he sexually assaulted me in my sleep. I had just made program manager, and I just wanted to do my job. My family knew, and they had to respect my decision not to report it. In tears, I told my manager at my mid-year performance review, profusely apologizing if it had impacted my work at all. She was shocked, she had no idea. She also had to respect my decision not to report it but said something to the effect of, “We hear all these stories about the horrible things women at other companies experience, but we don’t know the right thing to do when it happens at our own company.” Two months after my coworker assaulted me, I started seeing my boyfriend. I laid it all on the table: my sexual abuse traumas, my eating disorder, my anxiety. I explained how, after I was raped at age fourteen, I sat down in the shower and never felt clean again. I gave voice to my worries that maybe I was a disgusting monster, undeserving of love, but he calmed every one of my fears. In the months following my assault, I got sicker and sicker: I went to doctors and tried different medications, I was referred to a cardiologist where they attributed my condition to stress, and I had episodes where I felt like I couldn’t get enough breath in my lungs. Although I held out amid massive layoffs in the tech industry, I had also sent out roughly 175 applications elsewhere until I landed an offer that felt safer for me. I wouldn’t say that running from your abuser alone is ever the most sustainable approach. I moved far away from the boys in New York, I started college early to get out of my high school in Florida, I pivoted to another company in an entirely different industry, but why didn’t I ever feel relief? What, after all these years, would finally make me happy? The most important thing I’ve learned from my own story is that you can’t just treat the symptom, you have to treat the root cause – that takes conscious effort and hard work daily. I predominantly worked with colleagues outside of the U.S. and felt obligated to explain what happened to the few people I thought should know. The resignation was clearly out of character, especially when I was celebrated by team members who genuinely mattered to me. While my manager in Germany was devastated to hear what he did to me, my director in the U.K. cried. She said she had wished I confided in her sooner. In that moment, my heart broke. I knew there were good people out there, people who would believe me, people who would help. My family and my boyfriend had become my greatest support system in the year following the incident, but there were others out there in the world who cared, too. It made me feel a little less alone in all of this. My situation was shared with a woman previously in my organization who felt very strongly about this topic, and she urged me to do the “right” thing. After attracting the eyes of two C-suite executives at the company, I shared my story with HR and moved on. Most parties involved had never handled a case like this, and it was highly doubtful that anything would happen to my abuser. It was bittersweet to leave a company that had given me so much over an individual who took from me an equivalent amount. I left quietly, gracefully, and with my head held high. In separating from a place where I grew to feel so unwelcome, I no longer had to worry about onlooking coworkers and their perception of me versus him. They didn’t know, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference now. Although I felt anger, resentment, and frustration, I also recognized the kindness I was paying to myself. I was giving myself the permission to start fresh. I was making a sacrifice for the safety of my inner child. I was sighing a sigh of relief. I decided that I was going to change my life. My biggest regret is staying silent because I didn’t feel strong enough to act otherwise. I can’t tell you that I had ever felt empowered as a survivor before despite the countless resources that are out there for us. I only felt shame for so many years and after so many opinions – discourse on “asking for it,” the beliefs of others, any idea that I was “too smart” for something like that to happen to me. I became exhausted by the weight of it all. But there is love out there, and there is love in yourself – one doesn't have to come before the other. You can heal now. Your story is yours to create, so make it a beautiful one.