Tilitha Tilly Rivera Ulzi Story

Tilly

The birth of my son triggered me.

I was 6 years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. He was my brother’s best friend, our neighbor, and also happened to be a P.E. Instructor at my elementary school. I can’t recount exactly how long the abuse took place, but I do remember telling my mom and older brother that I didn’t like him and that he hurt me.

My mom recalls me showing her how he pulled on the inner sides of my underwear but didn’t ask any questions. I remember my mom telling my brother “You don’t think he did this do you?” and my brother said “What? No. I don’t think so.” They both got up and left, and in that moment I felt totally alone. And with 5 siblings in a 2-bedroom house, that feeling didn’t occur often.

I think most of my friends and friends parents knew something was “off” when I was a child but, like most people, probably just summed it all up to “everyone’s different” or “well she never says anything bad” or “her family is so sweet.” Which were all true… but I was also being molested. I often wonder what would have happened if more people asked questions or if more people spoke up.

But as life went on, the abuse subsided and those memories faded into a distant haze.

Before I knew it I had graduated high school early, had finished my first marathon race, and was about to receive my Associates degree. I was 17 years old and so happy.

In the middle of that November, my sister gave birth and I was an auntie (again!). It was the first birth I had ever been present for and such a sweet and special night. I left the hospital late and when I came home and walked into my room where a man who I called a friend was waiting for me.

I told him about my sister’s labor and we joked around and starting singing that ‘baby baby’ song by Justin Bieber. I felt pretty sick though and told him I was going to go to bed. I went to bed and he did too, or so I thought.

I woke up in the middle of the night to him raping me. I was so confused. We were strictly friends and had never been sexual in any way with each other. I told him “stop” and “no” over and over again and dug my fingernails into his back as hard as I could trying to get him off of me. My little brother was in the room next door and my dad was in the living room, and the last thing I wanted was for them to witness something so horrible. So I pushed back as quietly as I could… and then he was done.

I spent the morning throwing up.

Later that day we met up and went on a drive. I needed clarity. I asked him why he did that if he knew I didn’t want to have sex and he said “I raped you.” I hate that it took him saying “I raped you” for me to believe my own truth, but it did. He had told me he had “kinda had sex” with another person and I asked him what he meant by that. And he told me “well I did to her what I did to you.” And I asked him point blank if he raped her and he said yes.

And I wanted so desperately for that to be the end, I wanted that clarity to be the end, but it wasn’t. When I gave birth to my son, in the same hospital where my sister gave birth the night I was raped, it triggered me.

The. birth. of. my. son. triggered. me.

When job applications asked to list my degrees, and I couldn’t put “Associates degree” because I didn’t show up to the one final I needed to earn my degree — it triggered me. It made me angry, livid, sad….

Deciding to report him was one of the hardest decisions of my life. When I reported, I didn’t think he was a BAD person and I think that was hard for some people to grasp. I thought he was a person who made horrible, horrible choices out of, what, ignorance? A person who could make anyone sing and dance but also a person who had proven to be abusive, malicious, and vindictive, to not only myself, but to another as well.

I read my statement in front of the court room FULL of his friends, family members, and supporters. I felt so alone. I remember looking up, trying to dry my eyes for just a second so I could keep reading my statement and meeting eyes with one of the deputies standing off to the side. He was wiping away tears and gave me a little nod.

Someone, SOMEONE in that room felt with me, and that gave me the strength to keep going.

My perpetrator was charged with felony rape, sentenced to 3 years in prison, and life on the sex offender registry.

It always makes me feel weird when I say that because it kind of feels like a moot point. I was raped and he was the man who raped me, and if he hadn’t been charged with rape or sentenced to prison, that wouldn’t have changed.

But I continue to say it because every time I say it, it brings power back to victims and survivors of abuse. It just maybe stops him from doing it again to someone else.

You can report and you can be heard. You deserve justice.

It shines light on all of the people along the way that didn’t just stand by, but who supported me and gave me the strength to keep going, even with a silent nod. They are all a part of this story, our story. 

There are too many stories of attackers, perpetrators, child molesters, and rapists getting off scot-free and this isn’t one. There shouldn’t be one.

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April

Little by little as I began to speak my truth, I began to reconnect with the person inside that I thought was lost and beyond repair.

My rapist wasn’t a stranger. I’d known him since I was 16. He’d been a boss, a mentor, even acted as a protector against the inappropriate advances of another manager. He was a friend… someone I grew to trust and confide in.

In reality he was none of those things. He was cunning and manipulative, controlling and punishing. By the time I realized what he really was, it was too late .

It wasn’t the first time I’d been hurt by someone I should have been able to trust, but it was, by far, the worst assault I had endured. I was 20 years old, 8 months pregnant and something inside me had been broken in those hours, and I had no idea how to fix it.

His threats and my shame silenced me instantly. So instead of reaching for the help I so desperately needed, I went home, got in the longest bath I’d ever taken, and walked back into my life as though nothing had happened. I wore sweaters with extra long sleeves until the bruises healed, and for over 20 years I threw myself into being the best wife, mother, and employee I could be. I graduated from college and was even hired as a manager. To most people, I appeared driven, successful, and was the sort of person who always put others first.

Inside, however, I was broken, ashamed, and fearful that the illusion of my happy life would come crashing down around me. I suffered in silence with anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. Over the years I learned to cope by developing a binge eating disorder.

Year after year passed, and I excused my panic attacks, I covered up my flashbacks and the agony in my heart. But in the end the mental and physical exhaustion took its toll and I ended up in inpatient treatment for the eating disorder.

Admitting that I was powerless over my unhealthy coping mechanisms was the thing that saved my life. Little by little as I began to speak my truth, I began to reconnect with the person inside that I thought was lost and beyond repair.

When I began to truly believe I was not beyond help, I stopped asking God why, and began asking him what it had all been for? What was the purpose for all the years of pain? And the answer came. I had become a woman overflowing with compassion and empathy, God had developed in me a heart to walk alongside other women who were seeking healing of their own.

Today I am living my life again, I am finding peace, I am able to recognize the strength it took to survive, and I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside women who have survived sex trafficking as they seek healing and restoration of their own.

The pain I endured  that night was admittedly worse than anything I have faced in my life. But given the choice, I could not in good conscience ask to have been spared of it. Why? Because by no other road would I be the woman I am today. A woman who can sit with another in their pain, knowing what it is to feel broken and helpless…. but able to share with certainty that there is hope and new life after sexual assault.

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Bailey

I have faith in the inherent beauty of people and that we have the right to be our best, true selves.

It happened over 40 years ago when I was in college.

I was walking home from school when three men approached me. They were coming up on me fast. I turned to face them and decided to confront them, mostly because I suck at running. But they started circling and then reaching for me. I remember not waiting to be attacked… I became the aggressor.

I remember fighting with my brothers when I was young, I knew I had to protect myself, and I ended up hurting one of them as he lunged. But that’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up later in the hospital. I had apparently been beaten up pretty badly and I had a few broken things, cuts, and now, scars. Luckily, I wasn’t conscious for most of the attack, so I don’t have a whole lot of the horrible memories. It was more of a fight-or-flight response for me (thank you my brothers and neighbor boys), and I fought because that’s all I know.

What hurts most about it is that I was attacked for things I am – a woman and clearly, a lesbian.  I was attacked for what I inherently am in my soul and I’ll never be able to fully understand that.

But I’ve found out that I can still give back and help others with my experiences. If I can give someone the strength and hope to keep pushing forward, the reassurance that he or she is going to be okay, then it’s worth every memory, writing, or speech about it.

Despite what I’ve been through, I see the world as such a beautiful place. We can’t hate everything because some people are evil and sick. And mercy, some people are super uber sickos.

I have faith in the inherent beauty of people and that we have the right to be our best, true selves.

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Lara

No. Not your fault. His fault.

My rape happened when I was 18 years old and a freshman in my first semester at college. My story is the same as many young women’s. I was on my own for the first time. My roommate was a friend from home so I tended to follow her around like a puppy. I am shy in big groups and she helped ease me into the college scene.

She was a little sister for one of the fraternities on campus, so she was invited to all their parties. My friend took me over earlier in the week to meet “the guys.” Most of them ignored me, except one guy. He was not my type – a jock – but I was lonely and grateful not to feel so alien. We chatted a bit – he seemed nice. He complained about his English term paper being a mess and I volunteered to edit it for him. He was very happy for the help and invited me over to his dorm room later that week to read it. I went over the next day and essentially rewrote it for him. He was grateful and, I thought, seemed to really like me. He invited me to the weekend frat party at the house.

I had not attended a fraternity party, ever. I also did not realize that the frat had a reputation as a hard partying group. I did not drink in high school so my tolerance for any alcohol was very low. The party was already packed when my friend and I got there. I knew no one so I kept looking around for “John.” I had dressed up – skirt, sweater, boots and a leather jacket. “John” appeared but ignored me. Feeling a bit hurt and very nervous about the crowd, I started drinking. I don’t remember what I drank or how much I drank, I just drank. I was drunk pretty fast. I could hear the music but it was muted and I felt off balance. I sat on a couch and waited for my friend, so could go home.

A couple of guys sat next to me on the couch, they remembered me from the other day. I mentioned “John” to them and they got strange looks on their faces. I was not sure how to read them. “John” then came into the room and gestured to me as he went towards the door – “You coming?” I looked at the guys sitting with me and one of them said, “I wouldn’t go.” I went anyway.

I followed “John” 5 blocks to his dorm, stumbling as I went. I don’t remember if we talked or if he helped me to his room. I was tired and I was obviously drunk. When I made it to his room, I flopped onto his bed and passed out. I woke up to “John” on top of me. I think my underwear was off. I felt him pushing his fingers into me. I was so confused. I did not know how we had gotten to this place. Did we kiss? Had I said anything? I was slurring my words and could not speak clearly. He kept asking me, “Are you ok? Are you ok?” as he fumbled with his penis. I did not understand what he was asking. Ok, with this? Ok, with what?!?! He finally said, “Are you fixed?” Birth control. He was asking if I was on birth control. I mumbled, “Yes,” and then he pushed himself inside me. I didn’t feel much, maybe a blessing. It was over quickly and to tell the truth, I was still so confused. When he finished, he got up and threw a towel at me. “Clean yourself up.” I think I did but I cant remember. I do remember starting to sober up. I laid next to him in a twin bed waiting for the sun to come up so I could leave. I was embarrassed, horribly so.

I snuck back to my room as soon as it was light. I kept trying to go over what had happened. But I could not piece it together. The next day, he asked to talk to me. I was angry but had no idea what to say. I went back to his room (what the hell was I thinking!). He stood in the room looking a little contrite. “I am sorry but I miss my girlfriend and I just pretended you were her last night.” I was so caught off guard I started laughing. “Fuck off,” was all I could get out and I left.

For the rest of the semester, I thought about it as a bad decision on my part, my fault, my choice. Apparently, “John” felt it necessary to tell his friends about that night, and they would follow me around campus yelling slut and other wonderful sexist slurs.

For the rest of the school year, I did not think of it as rape – I got drunk. I went back to his room. I failed to take care of myself.

My second year, I was cast in a play called Extremities, a play about a woman’s attempted rape and her revenge on her rapist. The cast talked about their own close calls or actual rapes. I was asked if I had a story. “Of course not,” I said. They were surprised. To join in, I told this story. There was silence. A woman leaned forward and said, “That’s rape.” I gasped. Rape? “It was my fault,” I said, “My fault. I should have been more careful.” She said, “No. Not your fault. His fault.”

That day I acknowledged that, yes, I had been raped and it was not my fault. It was his. It does not matter that I went with him. It does not matter that I liked him and had been alone with him before. It does not matter that I chose to drink and got drunk. What matters is that he chose to take advantage of all of that to commit a crime. His fault, not mine.

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Madison

To see a special video version of Madison’s story, click here. Madison Weiss Ulzi Story

The Aftermath 

There’s a certain point of consciousness, where you’re no longer asleep, but you aren’t close to awake yet. 

Where your body seems to sink, still, heavy into the mattress. In this unsteady place, my body feels dense; I’m stuck. 

A reddish hue pushes into my eyelids, and the light from the window pulls me a little further out of sleep. 

I open my eyes slightly, rays of sunlight rest on my face as they light up the room. I lay awake watching the dust settle along the billowing white down comforter. With my fingertips, I can feel a twisted sheet. I’m in a foreign bed. 

There’s movement next to me. The haze of the previous evening begins to fade. My head pounds and I can hear nothing but my own heartbeat. 

Lying next to me, he smiles at me as if he’s not a stranger. The image of him getting dressed in the morning glow is fuzzy and warping before my eyes; my head pounds. 

My eyes are open but my body does not feel like it should. I am frozen, as if my joints don’t remember how to move, as if I cannot shift my weight, like a baby learning to walk. And all at once a rush of pins and needles consumes my body. I have every desire to leave, yet I am still, with my heart between my ears. 

He walks around to my side of the bed, and I close my eyes hard. Sick to your stomach hard. He whispers in my ear, kisses my forehead. The kind of kiss someone gives to inspire trust. Comfort. Stability. 

He leaves. And I look down. Like a watercolor of rough brush strokes, my blood is spread across the stranger’s white comforter. I fold the sheet over quickly to hide what has happened here. What happened here? Did he see? Does he know? But no matter where I seem to fold the sheet, there are bloody handprints. A rush of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment cloud my eyes and I am frozen once again.  

Usually, when you wake from sleep, you still know yourself, you know what your body should feel like. 

I have to pee. My mind is aching still as I force my legs to swing over the side of the bed. Just get up and pee, Madison. 

I roll the stained sheets aside, tucking them into the edge of the bed in hopes that no one will notice. I walk toward the bathroom, avoiding all mirrors. With each new step, a pain follows, chasing out the last with a newer, sharper moment. I just have to pee. 

It’s in my nature to cope, so that’s what I do. 

My legs. My knees. My thighs. My groin. My hips. Everything aches and my breathing is slow. Not steady, but slow. “I just have to pee.” I keep telling myself. “Get to the bathroom and pee.” 

I can’t sit on the toilet. My legs are too bruised. Too painful. I hover, praying that everything still works properly. A sharp, burning pain consumes me. I’m cut. Everywhere. The stinging blazes through me while my thoughts lose track of themselves and my legs begin to shake. 

It happened. What happened? The stories you hear on the news? The stories you don’t? No. 

Who’s still here? Paralyzed by fear that I will screech out in pain, I abandoned the whole bathroom situation altogether. Find my clothes. I just need to find my clothes. Find my phone. Find my clothes. 

I put on what I have. The dress from last night. All at once, I’m hyper aware of how tight it is, forcing me to press my thighs together. The bruises find each other, every step reopens another cut. I clench my teeth. Be quiet. Get out. 

Text someone. Call someone. Who? Do something. Madison, just do something. 

My best friend. She slept in another room. She’s in the other room? My cousin. She’ll get me home. She’s asleep on the floor. My cuts burn. The ache seems to shift up and down as I walk. 

Get her and go, just go get her and go. Leaving behind the evidence, the bloodied handprints that cover the stranger’s bedroom. The scratch marks. The blood dripping down my legs. The embarrassment. The shame. The confusion. The haze. The loneliness. The morning glow. 

We leave in silence. I enter the car in silence. I return home in silence. I shower in silence. Still unable to pee. My cousin drives away and comes back with Plan B. Damage control. But what happened? 

 

The Assault 

My name is Madison Weiss, and I was 16 when I was raped. 

It was a Saturday night. There was a house party, and my friends and I were going to have a good time. I didn’t know the “host”, but his parents were out of town, and as many high schoolers do, we took advantage of that fact. There must have been 50 or 60 of us, scattered in just about every room of the house. Some friends, some strangers. 

I was always the responsible kid. Parents and teachers knew me as a well-rounded student. My mom and I had a good relationship so she trusted me when I’d ask to go out.  

I drank to be social in high school too, enough to know my limits, but I rarely smoked weed in the same setting. This night was an exception. 

The combination of the two had me disoriented to say the least. I was, to put it frankly, fucked up. A lot of kids were older than me, and as the baby of the group, I guess I felt the need to prove myself. Little did I know I was sedating myself beyond control. 

Trust is a funny thing. I don’t think you realize how powerful it is until it’s taken from you. So unknowingly, I gave it away. Innocently, I let everyone have it. Ignorantly thinking that everyone deserves it until proven otherwise. That night. I was proven otherwise.  

I had no reason to mistrust my friends and classmates, I trusted them completely. I trusted myself completely. I was trusted completely. I believed I was safe. In a crowd of people who’d grown up together. 

It’s been 5 years since that night. My story, my truth has never been shared, never been written down, never been told, until now. So here I am, unable to let go of even the smallest element of the worst night of my life. Like a book I’m forced to re-read, or a horror movie I can’t turn off, I’m condemned to recall and replay every detail. 

I was trying to get away when he jammed his fingers into me and dug his thumb into my pelvic bone, dragging me back across the bed as I clawed for escape; the sheets sliding under my fingers. When I finally got a grip on the edge of the bed to pull myself away, I felt his cold boney fingers wrap around my ankle, and he yanked me back towards him. Confusion and pain. Vigorously raped by his fingers over and over and over again. His dirt-covered, unmanicured fingernails, scraping off layer after layer of skin. As I started to bleed, it started to burn. My head slammed against the headboard, his hand on the back of my neck, forcing me down, repeatedly asking, “Do you like that?” 

Then the transition from his rough, stained fingers to his raw, uncovered penis. His only words, “It’ll be fine, it’s better this way.” 

I remember struggling to breathe through the feather pillows. I tossed and turned, rotating my hips from one side to the other, trying shake him off me. You know those dreams, the scariest ones… the ones where you scream but nothing comes out? That was my reality. 

Fighting wasn’t working, so I gave in. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I gave him what he wanted, he would stop. If I began to fake it, if I tried to believe I was okay, maybe the pain would stop. 

I remember that moment. The one when he slid into me. I remember the exact moment because to me, the rest didn’t matter. I felt life draining slowly out of me, like a trickle from the end of my fingertips. It didn’t matter how much longer it would last or how much pain I was in. The moment he entered me was the moment I was defeated. I was not a virgin, but in that moment I lost my innocence. In that moment I became a victim. A victim. A word that felt so toxic it’s remained hidden for 5 years. And so the decision was made for me, to keep secrets, to put up walls and trust barriers. Sex, a previously enjoyable experience, was now haunted. 

I woke when the morning light seeped onto my face. My vagina was pulsing; echoing the rhythm of my heartbeat. I reached down to pull the sides of my vagina together, trying to close the cuts and stop the bleeding, pause the pain. And I laid there, trapped in bloodied sheets, with no recollection of how I got in that position. I did not cry. 

Where were my friends? Anyone? In a house with dozens of people, how did I end up so terrified and so alone? Fighting moment to moment to keep his hands off me and out of me; enduring his weight, his strength, his force. Where was my best friend as I was crawling, grasping at the edge of the bed trying to pull myself away? Where were the people I came with when I was watching myself give up? Let go? Like looking through the window of an exhibit in some of out-of-body experience. 

Where was I, when I released all muscle function in surrender, letting him finish what he had started? Where was I, when I needed me most? Where was I, when I froze and let the light fade from my eyes. 

In a stranger’s bed. The same stranger who cornered me at school the following Monday just so that he could tell me how much of an inconvenience it was for him to wash the blood off of his sheets. How many times it took to wash the blood off his sheets. How I owed him for washing my blood off of his sheets. Did he know how many times I tried to wash the night off of my body, his house off my body? How many times I scrubbed and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed until my skin turned raw. Raw like the cuts on my body. Raw like the way I was penetrated. Was he aware of the nights I spent curled on the floor of my shower, letting the water burn my skin and run over my eyes, my hair being pulled toward the drain? Of the STD tests I had taken to make sure I was okay, to make sure I could have children? Did he know about the months I went unable to be touched? Of the series of troubled decisions I made as a result of my distrust in men? Did he know? Did he ask? 

I wager he’s out there right now, still conveniently suppressing what he did that night. Spinning it so effortlessly, “She wanted it.” Perhaps recalling his grand conquest with some pitiful fondness. I wonder, does he recount to his friends how he confronted me the following Monday, demanding that I reimburse him for ruining his sheets with my blood? Does he think it’s funny, or is he mad that I never paid him? 

He shattered my innocence. My peace of mind. A piece of my mind. 

 

The Conclusion 

This is my truth. It’s five years later. And I choose now to share. I know you’re going to ask me why it took so long to share my story. I guess all I can say to you is that for five years, I’ve been frozen. Slowly defrosting, waiting for someone or something to do better by me. But I realize now that it’s not about what has been done to me or for me, but about how I can do better by others.

I was introduced to Ulzi my junior year of college and about a year after being dedicated to its mission, this community has inspired me to share no matter how my story may be received, or how I will be judged.

My goal is not only to share my experience, that it may help others as I have been helped, but to be part of a solution that seeks to provide protection for all of us in the form of community.

It has always been in my nature to cope. But no longer do I have to just cope. I can live and thrive and heal and be part of this revolution. A revolution that is changing lives, as it has changed mine. Because if my story can change one, inspire one, or help just one, I will have done right by that Saturday night. By sharing my story, and to be part of a bigger solution for all, I will have done right by myself.

I am no longer frozen. This is my story. And like most stories in life, I know that there is more than one version. So here I am opening the door for conversation. To speak freely without guilt or shame. To keep an open mind so we are able to learn together and grow as a society.

My name is Madison Weiss and I stand as a survivor, a storyteller, and a proud member of the Ulzi community.

To see a special video version of Madison’s story, click here.

Madison Ulzi Stories

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Hannah

Kids are sponges. They take in what they see, they mirror what they observe. When a child is exposed to trauma, they might accept this as part of life, something they must learn.

So, imagine an 11 year old girl not understanding what was going on when her 13 year old sister’s boyfriend started touching her.

Imagine what this experience was supposed to enter the child’s mind as: Normal? Then why does it feel so awful? Wrong? Then why did it happen? Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong? Did I bring this upon myself? Did I give the sense that I owed it to him? Did I owe it to him?

11-year-olds are capable of a lot, but processing trauma isn’t something they’ve learned to do yet. This 11-year-old girl just joined an overwhelming statistic of people who, at some points in their lives, will experience sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape. And she hasn’t gotten to college yet. Hasn’t had her first kiss, hasn’t known love in a romantic capacity…. No, she would experience those things only after discovering that her humanity falls second after others’ entitlement to her body.

At 12, a boy she had a crush on pressured her into kissing him, and wouldn’t let go of her when she didn’t like it.

At 13, a school friend messaged her and asked for a blowjob. She didn’t know what that meant.

At 14, a neighborhood friend decided her new nickname would be “legs,” because damn she was growing up so fast.

At 15, she dated a nice guy that she couldn’t bring herself to be comfortable with. The relationship ended before it got anywhere.

At 16, she called the cops on a man who was masturbating in a car, parked behind her while she was taking photos at the beach.

At 17, she was cornered in a coffee shop for 20 minutes while a 40-year-old repeatedly asked if she had a boyfriend and if she wanted one.

At 18, she flipped off a group of cat callers, who then came up to her and asked how such a beautiful girl could be acting like such a bitch.

At 19, a man twice her size followed her from work to her car in an unlit parking garage. She had a panic attack as she drove home.

At 20, an employee at an auto shop asked if he could give her a ride home instead of the company shuttle. He could even give her a ride in the morning too.

At 21, a stranger tipped a glass of wine into her mouth and told her everything would be okay.

Every day and night, this same girl checks over her shoulder and calls her mom in LA when walking to her car at night. She takes screenshots of Google Maps while in an uncomfortable Uber ride and sends the pictures to her sister in Mississippi so that someone has her “last known location” if anything happens. She tells her roommates that she’s going on a date, and to worry if she’s not home by 9, and sends a picture of the boy to them in a group chat.

This woman, at 22, lives in an apartment with her boyfriend. Every time she is alone and there is a knock at the door, she checks the peephole and wonders if she should sacrifice safety for politeness, because that stranger outside could hear the TV on in here.

She doesn’t go out to drink without her boyfriend, because “no” doesn’t guarantee anything. She never gets too drunk because what if her girl friend needs help getting away from someone at the bar. She covers her drink when walking through the crowd to get to the bathroom; she thinks about how sharp her heels are in case the people behind her on the walk home aren’t just other people out for drinks; she gets home and locks the door and checks her phone to see if her friends made it home safe too.

This woman was 11 when someone first violated her body, her trust, took away her right to peace of mind and steady emotions.

And this woman is 22 when she decides to call out to others who have experienced the same violation. To find comfort in community, support in friendship. To prompt a dialogue and stimulate a call to action. To tell others, including her friends and family and people that never really understood, that rape and sexual assault is a trauma. And it has happened to many people you know.

Survivors are entitled to their feelings, and Ulzi Stories is here to give them a platform to share.

My name is Hannah, I am an Ulzi Stories team member, and I want readers and survivors to know that this platform is for them. It is a community for the people that never had one, or need a little more. Because survivors are strong. Supporters are strong.

Consent needs to be taught, reported crimes need to be taken seriously, stigma needs to break, and solutions need to be found. We’re starting here.

This woman will be 23 next month, and things are going to change.

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Nicole

The following material is a story of rape as told by the survivor, Nicole Huffman. She was the first storyteller on our platform.

I was a junior in high school when it happened.

We were at my mom’s house and she was upstairs. My little sister was home too.

I was really quiet, because I was really scared. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to be inconvenient to anybody. I didn’t realize it was sexual assault at the time.

He was someone trustworthy. He was so weird, so awkward, someone like me. I felt like he was genuine.

After it happened, I put the blame on myself. I didn’t talk about it until 2 years after, and even then, it wasn’t on my own terms. It was forced out of me by law enforcement in front of my mother and father.

However, after opening up about it, it was like breathing again.

A weight was off my chest. I became more comfortable talking about it when I learned that people so close to me were also experiencing what I had experienced. I didn’t feel so alone with a sense of community.

What I realized is that I can talk about what happened to me and provide support to others, which in turn feels like giving power back to myself. I’m gaining self-worth back by sharing my story. But survivors don’t owe anyone their testimonies in order to change a culture.

Being a sexual assault survivor gives me a unique vantage point to educate and empower those who’ve also been through it. College campus assault culture is, to put it simply, backwards. People, especially in the news, have the tendency to ask irrelevant questions.

Why was she walking home late at night?

Why didn’t she have someone come with her?

Why was she wearing what she was wearing?

As if somebody doesn’t reserve the right to walk home and not be attacked.

Survivor Nicole HuffmanWhen survivors speak up and create community, the abundance of stories can change the way society perceive victims. The phrase “I was sexually assaulted” should be treated like the crime testimonial that it is, and handled just like mugging and robberies are. Conversation about it can be easier to have if we spurn victim-blaming and stigma.

I believe the power to change this culture is really in the hands of the people, the listeners. Survivors have been telling their stories all along, but the culture can only change when people choose to listen.

People have the misconception that once you’re sexually assaulted, your life is ruined. For me, the rape hasn’t ruined my life– it’s just changed the course of it. Lots of survivors like myself find purpose in speaking out and demanding accountability. For me, sexual assault is just one happening in what will hopefully be a really long and really happy life.

And I will continue to work with survivors and supporters to create a world where the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be assaulted during their college career will be eradicated.