"He's not the sun, you are."
Before I start my story and before you read further, it is important to emphasize how this content could be triggering or potentially harmful to some readers. To be clear, I intend to share my story and bring awareness to sexual and gender-based violence, not to trigger past traumas for anyone.
As this story is a very personal one, I feel that it is best shared through both written and spoken words. That being said, I hope that in hearing this as well as reading it, you feel more connected to me and my story.
My story begins during my freshman year of high school. I entered as a 14-year-old, coming from what I would consider a somewhat sheltered home life. I grew up in a small town attending a very small, private middle school before heading to a much larger high school in a new area. About halfway through that first year, I entered into a relationship with an upperclassman at my high school; he was much older, but that seemed like the ideal relationship everyone wanted. It was ‘cool’ to have an older boyfriend, and it definitely felt like that in the beginning. Being a freshman girl, already intimidated enough by upperclassmen, having someone in that group that made me feel important and wanted was a good feeling. At my school if you dated an upperclassman as a freshman you were immediately deemed more ‘popular’, or at least that’s what I saw through my eyes. These were all just norms that everyone seemed to strive for.
At 14 years old, being in a ‘real’ relationship was new territory. A few months into the relationship he told me that if I didn’t have sex with him soon then he wasn’t going to stay.
So, at a very young age, I had to navigate losing my virginity through an ultimatum, to someone that I thought I loved.
In retrospect, I know I had no idea what love was supposed to look like. Hell, at 14, nobody understands what 'love' actually means. A relationship built on ultimatums forced me to have to grow up way too quickly.
Fast forward to the middle of my sophomore year, we had been together for a little over a year. My family and close friends told me that I wasn’t in a healthy relationship, but every time I heard that it pushed me further from them and closer to him. In retrospect, I should have seen what the people closest to me were seeing. They saw how my partner was controlling and emotionally manipulative, how I was constantly put down and being told I was never good enough, and always being the one to apologize even when I knew I wasn’t in the wrong.
I was in a relationship with someone that did not give me the space to shine on my own or help me be the best version of myself, and that's something paramount to a healthy relationship.
When I look back at that time, I wasn’t even myself. I looked and acted like a different person during that point in my life. I was someone I didn’t even recognize. The relationship was built on fear and anxiety; I was constantly wondering when he would start an argument or find an excuse to put me down. All of these factors led the relationship down a path that I knew wasn’t going to end well. During the end of my sophomore year, I was crying myself to sleep more than I wasn’t. We fell into a cycle of breaking up and getting back together almost every other week. My mom was so concerned she told me she didn’t want me seeing him anymore. However, that didn’t stop me from seeing him. He would convince me to sneak out of my house, manipulating me by telling me I had to in order to be a ‘good girlfriend’ or if I wanted him to stay with me. During one of the times I snuck out to see him in the middle of the night there was an unsettling feeling from the beginning. Usually, we would just park somewhere and hang out, but this time was different. This time, a friend was with him, someone I didn’t really know and wasn’t told before was coming with him. We drove around my town and the towns nearby not really talking about much. He finally pulled over into a Subway parking lot. He turned the car off and his friend got out and walked into the shop alone. He got into the back of the car where I was sitting, and from that point on I really can’t explain what led up to the moment that my clothes were off and I felt tears in my eyes. I have never felt so powerless. I knew what was happening but I didn’t at the same time. I know that doesn’t make sense but when something like that happens to you it's almost like you leave your physical body and you're witnessing what is happening from an outsider’s perspective. I felt helpless; I was too scared to question him or fight back because I didn’t know what he would do if I tried. I felt like I lost my voice and the best I could do for myself was wait it out, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When it was over, he got his friend, they drove back to my house, he said goodnight to me, and I walked away not knowing how those few hours would forever change me physically, mentally, and otherwise.
In the months after it happened, I was on and off again with him, but something finally clicked with me and I ended it for what I knew needed to be the final time. For the following school year, I was trying to find myself again. After I was raped, I didn’t tell anyone-- especially not my parents. I knew that if I had told them they would feel as though there was something that they could have done to prevent it, but I knew none of what happened would ever be their fault. Keeping them in the dark was what I thought to be my best and only option. For the following months, I was numb. I couldn’t cry because I hadn’t figured out how to begin processing what I had gone through, and I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it which made the numbness even worse.
On the outside, I did my best to put a smile on my face and pretend like everything was fine and nothing had happened.
I became good at that, almost too good. Forcing a smile allowed me to convince myself that I was okay and could move on without unpacking my trauma. If you have experienced trauma in your life, not limited to sexual assault: please find someone you can talk to. If you don’t have a family member or close friend to confide in, then there are so many professional resources to help you work through your trauma. I wish more than anything in the world that I had the courage to ask for help after I was raped. Not talking about it and subsequently closing myself off to everyone made talking about it and dealing with it later significantly more difficult. I had so much pent-up shame, which caused me to believe that what happened to me was my fault. I have learned through dealing with my trauma that being raped or sexually assaulted in any way is never the victim's fault. I had convinced myself that what happened to me was my fault because that’s what he taught me to believe. I didn’t start believing it had nothing to do with me until I could finally talk about it: until I could sit in a room with a professional and say, “I was raped”, as extremely painful as it was to relive.
What happened to me affected every aspect of my life moving forward, even in sports. That relationship affected my confidence significantly, especially when moving from high school to college lacrosse. In that relationship, I worked to please him and strived to be the perfect girlfriend; this translated into my relationship with lacrosse, where I also only accepted perfection. Demanding perfection took a major toll on my mental health. And just like my experience with my initial trauma, it didn’t get any better until I started talking about it. This expectation for perfection left me feeling fragile and on edge almost every time I stepped on the field. I had grown to believe that mistakes were unacceptable, so when I made a seemingly meaningless error on the field I would tear myself down to where it felt like the world was ending.
After months of unpacking my experience and understanding how it was affecting me presently, I began to channel such a horrible trauma into a passion and form of advocacy. As an NCAA athlete, we are required to participate in some kind of sexual assault and gender-based violence training annually.
In the fall of my senior year during the first few weeks of school, when I was accustomed to sitting through the hour-long speech that almost every athlete dread attending, the training never happened. This raised a major red flag for me. I reached out to our Title IX coordinator and set up a meeting to discuss why the training did not take place and the concerns I had about the structure and content of the training. After the initial meeting, we began meeting regularly to design and implement a more personalized sexual assault and gender-based violence protocol that I believed to be digestible for student-athletes. I was excited about our plans to change the way these issues had previously been discussed and perceived. We had planned on hosting trainings for each team and coaches after winter break, but when I reached out to the Title IX coordinator multiple times over the break with no response, I started to lose hope. And to add to that, when we received the same dry and impersonal speech in the spring, it felt like a slap in the face. I had worked so hard to raise awareness about sexual assault and gender-based violence and to get student-athletes to actually care about these pressing issues that I couldn’t help but feel completely defeated when it was all tossed to the side without my knowledge.
I am so passionate about issues of sexual assault and gender-based violence; as a survivor, it is my hope to bring awareness to something that is too often overlooked. Even though I had never imagined sharing my story on any platform, this is not about me-- it is so much bigger than me. In the United States, 1 in 6 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime; with the number of people that do not report, I can only imagine what that number actually looks like. What happened to me has shaped me into the person I am today.
However, I cannot stress enough how this does not define me and that being assaulted does not define anyone who is a survivor either. If something traumatic happens in your life, it will be devastating and your world might feel like it's ending, but such moments and events do not define you. I am not, and anyone else who is a survivor, is not just a victim of rape-- I am so much more than that and so is anyone else. I am a strong female athlete, not defined by the actions of my perpetrator. It is my hope that someone reads this and finds comfort knowing that they are not alone, that just one person sees this and feels less shame, and more hope, and that, maybe not today but one day, they will find comfort in their own skin again.
If you take anything away from my story, please know that every person you meet or see is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
I rarely talk about my story and what happened to me, so most people wouldn’t know the struggles I have gone through and continue to struggle with behind closed doors. Be kinder, be slower to judge someone when you don’t know what’s truly going on, and when you feel safe enough, speak up. Speak loudly and do not ever apologize for doing so.
- Molly Little
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*Title quote from Grey's Anatomy Season 10, Episode 24