My Duty to Speak

Airman 1st Class Katherine Miller, 7th Bomb Wing Photojournalist Journeyman, shares her story of sexual assault in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Miller, who was 14 at the time of her assault, hopes her story will encourage other victims to break their silence, come forward without fear of judgement and inspire hope. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Guerrero)

Airman 1st Class Katherine Miller, 7th Bomb Wing Photojournalist Journeyman, shares her story of sexual assault in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Miller, who was 14 at the time of her assault, hopes her story will encourage other victims to break their silence, come forward without fear of judgement and inspire hope. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Guerrero)

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

When you’re young and naive, you live in the moment. You rarely think of what could go wrong or if your actions will come with consequences. You long to take risks, not knowing if they’ll come with reward or regret. What’s that saying now, you only live once, right? When you’re 14 and just learning your own identity, more often than not, your judgement is clouded when you’re longing to fit in. As much as I hate to admit it, this was me.

At the young age of 14, my life changed forever.

Often we are told that time will heal our wounds. I can attest to the fact that this is not always true, though I do believe that in time we become stronger. At the age of 23, almost 10 years later, I recall that night as if it were yesterday. I remember every explicit detail, though I’ve tried my hardest to forget them all.

I remember watching movies with my older sister on a boring Saturday afternoon. I remember the cabin fever setting in. I remember my phone going off when I received a text from a boy I had met a few weeks earlier at the local fair.

“We r having a get together at my buddy’s house 2nite. Wanna come?”

Me being that young, naïve teenager, didn’t quite understand what “get together” meant just yet but I would soon learn. Conveniently, my sister, who is only a few years older than I, had recently gotten her driver’s license and an old, tan, beat up Toyota Camry. She offered to drive and tag along.

I texted my friend back, asked for an address and told him we’d be on our way after we got ready.

I remember curling my hair and throwing on one of my favorite outfits—a green baby doll t-shirt, my favorite blue skinny jeans and a pair of black slip-ons with a bow. Little did I know, I would never wear any of those things again.

It was close to 6 p.m. when my sister and I got in the car and made our way to the “get together.” I remember her blaring the music, and me putting my hands and feet out of the car window and feeling my long, curly hair blow in the wind as she sped down the streets.
When we pulled up, there were a few cars in the driveway, as I had anticipated. What I hadn’t anticipated—as we made our way up to the front door—was the loud, blaring music and a house full of teenagers holding beer bottles. Get together, I think not. House party? That seemed more fitting for the occasion.

I was nervous. I had never been to anything like this before. I wanted to leave. It wasn’t worth the risk of getting into trouble, but I knew I couldn’t. I didn’t want anyone to see me as the goodie-two-shoes who doesn’t live a little. I asked my sister what she wanted to do and she wanted to stay. I agreed and we continued into the house.

Inevitably, my sister and I parted ways and I ended up with the boy who had invited me to the party. I was in the kitchen watching intoxicated, under-aged teens play drinking games, which I had chosen not to partake in.

After being there for about an hour, my friend asked me to come with him to where it was quiet so we could talk and catch up. I agreed and followed him to a bedroom just outside of the kitchen area. Thinking we were just going to talk, I sat down on the bed and the two of us began small talk. I noticed his speech beginning to slur and his eyes turning bloodshot. He was drunk. I asked if he needed a glass of water or a trash can. He told me no, and began to move closer to me. He was a short, stocky boy with a muscular build. I would guess he weighed approximately 200 pounds. As he got closer, he put his arm around my shoulder and tried to kiss me. I remember the distinct smell of alcohol on his breath.

I politely asked him to stop and told him I needed to go find my sister. My words meant nothing, as that was not the answer he was looking for. As I stood up and walked towards the door, he pushed me out of the way and locked the door.

It was in that exact moment I knew what was happening.

I can still remember feeling weak as I did not have the strength to pull myself away. I had been overpowered. I was a young, innocent girl at the hands of a cruel, violent boy. I was longing to be anywhere but there. I could barely breathe. I felt lifeless.

That night, my innocence was stolen from me and a piece of me was gone forever.

I remember thinking I had asked for it. The feelings of shame, disgrace and humiliation were overwhelming. I remember saying to myself, “If I hadn’t gone to that party, this would have never happened.”

Months passed, depression consumed me. I just wanted all the memories of that night to disappear forever. I thought talking to a few friends may help, but the blame apparently fell on me.

“But he’s so nice. He would never do that!”

“I think you’re overreacting.”

“You just don’t want anyone to call you a slut.”

“What were you wearing? Were you drinking?”

How did any of that matter? I was taken advantage of. I said no. I was raped.

Doesn’t that matter? My friends, the people I thought I could trust the most, made me feel even more insignificant. Almost as if I didn’t matter at all. That was when I decided to never speak of those events again.

It has been almost 10 years since that night and I am still recovering. Flashbacks, anxiety, fear and guilt often strike at random. The harder I tried to bury the memories and trauma, the more I and my relationships suffered.

From mistrust and insecurity, the trauma soon caused a divide between my husband and me.

This was my wake up call. How could I ever genuinely be at ease when I continued to keep my abuse a secret? Isn’t that exactly what my abuser wanted, for me to suffer in silence? If I didn’t tell anyone, would anyone ever understand that sexual assault happens? If no one understands the signs or aftermath of abuse, would we ever attempt to prevent it or comfort those who have been a victim?

I want to help end the stigma. I want to be an advocate for those who have suffered. I want to be heard. I want everyone to know sexual assault is real and victims should never be forced into silence.

I now understand healing comes with speaking out and accepting the circumstances. I now understand I am not alone. I am not the only person to have been assaulted. I now understand I did not ask for it and I am not to blame.

I feel compelled to share my story with everyone for the first time in 10 years—even those I don’t know personally. The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I’m using it as a platform to get my story out there. Simply sharing my experience has helped me find peace and strength. I have now given myself the ability to be a go-to for others in similar situations. It is estimated one in five women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, which tragically means others will need help from people like me.

For years, I tried to push the memories and trauma away. Still, years later, I am not completely healed and that is alright because today, I am stronger than I was yesterday.

Today, I am optimistic.

Today, I am courageous.