From Tracie: -4AM Vanessa's Story

Sunday, May 16, 2010

-4AM Vanessa's Story

When I was two weeks shy of my twelfth birthday, I was sexually assaulted at gun point, in a church by a youth group leader. Years later at the age of 19 I was sexually assaulted by a man I met in an online chatroom. This was before it was a publicized issue that there were predators online so I thought that it would be perfectly safe to meet him and hang out since we happened to live in the same city. When I went to press charges it ended up being my word against his and my case, like so many others, never made it to trial.

The youth group leader who assaulted me when I was almost 12 told me that I had a beautiful smile. That was something I could never get out of my head.

I went to four sessions of counseling when I was 14 years old but decided that it wasn't for me at the time because I wasn’t ready to deal with the issues dealing with the sexual assault. As a result of refusing to deal with what had happened to me, I struggled with abusive relationships, panic and anxiety attacks, low self esteem, self mutilation, and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I stopped taking care of myself, especially my teeth. As a result at the age of 25 I had to have 27 teeth removed, replacing them with complete upper and partial bottom dentures. All because of what two people did to me.

In April of 2007, I saw a documentary that would change my life in ways that I could have never imagined. That documentary was "Searching For Angela Shelton". I traveled an hour and a half and spent the weekend with my father and step-mother. After the documentary was over, we went back to my parent's house and stayed up until about 3 am talking and really sharing our feelings. It was such a therapeutic experience for all of us, and after that night, I started taking small steps to move out of the pain and fear and move into the joy and laughter.

I had read the secret and joined a group on YouTube called the 100 Day Reality Challenge. The idea was to set a couple of intentions regarding the goals you'd like to achieve or the things you'd like to attract in the next 100 days using the Law of Attraction. I created vision boards, wrote down affirmations, meditated, visualized, and set my intentions. These practices were a HUGE step in helping me to change my negative thought patterns.

Soon after that, I began volunteering for the Army of Angels, and was the team leader for the Ontario chapter of Angela Shelton's JOY! Campaign. Our goal was to get Angela Shelton's book, Finding Angela Shelton, out to as many bookstores, libraries, schools, crisis centers, and shelters as we could.

Instead of being the quiet, withdrawn girl I had been, I found myself becoming something of an advocate and gave a presentation on Angela Shelton's work to a local crisis center. I went on to organize two rallies in front of my local courthouse. One was for the Victim's Rights Rally in February 2008, and the other was the Report IT Campaign which was held on April 29th, 2008. I also attended two Take Back The Night Rallies where I proudly carried a sign and chanted at the top of my lungs.

A number of women from the local crisis center and the women's center at the university came out to show their support for the Victim's Rights Rally. The Victim's Right's Rally was covered by the local newspaper, radio stations and we even made the local evening news.

On April 29th, 2008, a small group of us braved the cold and encouraged survivors to come down to the courthouse to Report IT!

We didn't have as big of a turn out because of the weather, but that didn't matter. As we were getting ready to pack our signs up, an elderly man in his 70's stopped us and asked what were were wanting people to report. I explained that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes and that we were encouraging all survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence to speak up and report it. He kind of froze in place for a moment and then said "Thank you". He then shared his story of his abuse with my friend Alex and I. I remember thinking that we had done such a great thing for that gentleman - that he knew he wasn't alone, that there were people willing to speak up for him even if he couldn't yet do it himself. That was when I really began to see how one person really could made a significant impact.

I soon began slowly coming off of my anxiety medication as I found new, healthy ways of dealing with my anxiety - breathing techniques, meditation, and jewelry making. I found jewelry making to be the most effective way of dealing with my anxiety. In April of 2009, I registered my business name and really started promoting Fluttering Designs. I was surprised at how quickly my sales were taking off and since I was only doing this as a "weekend job", I decided to start donating a percentage of every sale to The Angela Shelton Foundation.

My life has taken a complete 180. As a matter of fact when I think about my past it's almost as if that happened to someone else...and in a did. I am no longer a victim or a survivor.

I am thriving, striving, and doing what I can to make this world a better place by encouraging other people to speak up and to speak out about the epidemic of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The more you tell your story, the less power it has over you and in turn, the less power you are giving to your assailant(s).

What happened to you does not define who you are as a person.  If other people want to judge you based on what someone else did to you, then that is their loss.

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