It is still difficult for me to look back on my story and not feel that shame and embarrassment that I linked with the events time and time again. Difficult, but not impossible. My story is not one isolated incident, it is three stories piled into one. Some would say “I did not learn my lesson the first time”. Despite those people, I will share the entirety of my story. Gory details and all. For the first time today. And as painful, as challenging, as inevitability “embarrassing” as the past may be, it needs to be told. I have come to believe there is strength in sharing. Power. There is the potential for healing. 15. My high school crush invited me to the homecoming game and then dance. What fifteen year old girl wouldn’t be thrilled. The beginning of the night was wonderful, and my feelings continued to grow. Then my crush decided to pursue more than me, he decided to pursue being intimate. Physically. I knew I was nowhere near ready. But it turns out it was not up to me. One day at lunch he tried to touch me. I was firm, telling him ‘no’. Despite the observable anger reading across my face, he tried again. I reacted, with a slap across the check and a quick exit. We never spoke again. 19. After spending a year together, I ‘knew’ he was the one. This was the man I would marry. We planned to spend time together like any other Saturday night when he was home from school, only this time his parents would not be home. We started to kiss, then we started to progress. When he insinuated going further, I honestly answered that I did not know if I wanted to. He responded with seemingly-kind false reassurance, “don’t worry, it will be okay. I love you”. I did not known what I wanted. What was best for me. So I told him, and he echoed back “don’t worry, it will be okay. I love you”, as if I had not spoken at all. I watched his frustration build as I finally stopped objecting. I was afraid he would stop loving me. He did, that night when he stole my virginity. 23. About one month and several dates later, he had already pushed boundaries. I was uncomfortable, but convinced myself that if I had not yet been clear, then how would he know the limits? It was not his fault, so I forgave him for pushing. The red flags were there. But so was being desperate to find love. So I ignored the warning signs in pursuit of a relationship. Despite my gut feeling, I invited him over that night with the intention of cooking us dinner, followed by a movie. At this point, I was not ready for our physical relationship to move beyond kissing. I was not ready. I was very clear. When I told him about my past, he responded with a tone of understanding, apologizing again and again for anything that may have been too far. Yet during the movie, he suggested seeing my bedroom. I quickly disregarded the option, saying it had to be an early night. It was a work night, so let’s finish the movie. He was persistent. And I stood my ground. At some point, he self-justified going to my room without my permission. Keeping it light, I suggested we continue the movie as I casually followed. When he tossed me onto the bed, I laughed, nervously. Then as I tried to get up, I felt his hands push against me. He forced me back down and started to kiss me. My memory is scattered at best from this moment forward. I have no memory of how my body ended up fully on the bed. I have no memory of his clothes coming off. I have no memory of my own clothes coming off. I do remember pleading as he laid on top of me, “Please, don’t”. Again, “Please don’t”. He gently lied in my ear, “Don’t worry. I won’t”. He stole my sense of safety that night. In my own home, my own room, my own bed. When looking back at my past, the people in it, the choices that were made for me—I could see darkness. I could feel hopelessness. And while I have, but I do not today. Since these moments in time, my brokenness has been transformed into a mission. My voice used to help others. My experiences making an impact. I now choose to see power, strength, even beauty in my story.