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Jackson’s tattoo resembles her freedom as she learns to let go of her past.

When I was a little girl, I dealt with many changes. My once happily married parents were on their way to a divorce when something happened that would change my life forever. And I have lived with the secret for more than a decade.

At 7 years old I was sexually abused. My innocence was stolen and I lived with the shame of being mistreated for years. I did not tell anyone about what happened because of how hard it would be to explain to others.

When I started attending Union High School, I could not get it out of my head. The constant memories fluttering back into my head made me feel valueless. I began to think my body was a vessel and not in my possession. I began to act out by not caring about my choices, trying to make myself feel better, but it only made things worse. Some days after school I would come home and hide in my room while listening to “Runaway Love” by Ludacris and Mary J. Blige and cry myself to sleep. I began to realize how much being raped affected me and I tried to move on and forget it ever happened.

The only problem with trying to forget about him sexually abusing me is when I have to see him every so often. He greets me with a “hello” and a smile on his face. He acts as if it never happened, while I’m wanting to say, “Do you even care about what you did to me? Do you feel bad for what you have done?” Instead I keep a smile and try to avoid being around him.

During my junior and senior years of high school the lingering memories still remained. The thought that he could go on living his life without any regret for his actions or apology angered me, as I live with the pain and questions about why this unforgettable event ever happened. I decided to turn my depression and frustration into fuel and told myself I would not be a victim anymore, instead a survivor of an unjust crime and to let go of the past to move on.

I forgave my persecutor for his actions, even if he was not worthy of my forgiveness. I needed to do this for myself to move on.

Last fall during ArtPrize I decided to walk the blue bridge downtown. I noticed a ArtPrize entry named “Unveiling.” There were several silk sheets on metal stands with words written on them. When I read the first one I saw the words, “I hate He gets to Live a Normal life” and the words, ‘He,’ ‘Live,’ and ‘Normal’ all in capital letters. I realized how much I could relate to this survivor. He lives “freely” while I live here with the pain he has caused. I also thought about how many other women and young girls have suffered and have lived the same life as I. When I read the next silk sheet, it described the events that happened to a young girl. She was 7 years old and she loved her grandfather, and unfortunately her grandfather did not love her in the same way. Instead of giving her the love and affection a grandfather is supposed to, he raped her.

I continued to walk across the bridge reading each silk sheet and the saddening words, feeling the pain within their stories. When I reached the end of the bridge, there was as a stand with a sign describing the art entry and a folder with paper so that other survivors who have endured sexual abuse could write their stories, send them to the artists and let their stories be displayed as well. So I thought, why not tell my story? To allow others to know that molestation can happen at any age, even a 7-year-old. I grabbed a piece of paper from the beige folder, sat down on the grass near the bridge and began to write about that day. I then sent the letter to the artist, but it was too late for my story to be displayed. Instead I made another decision.

My next step to finally overcome everything was to tell my parents. For 13 years, I kept this secret from them. When I noticed the “Unveiling” by Nichole Riley, I thought it was destiny. During ArtPrize my mother and I went to many entries and when we made our way to the Blue Bridge, I told her, “I have to tell you something after we look at this next ArtPrize entry.”

She said okay and asked, “Why don’t you tell me now?”

I told her I would after and we walked through the displays. She read several of the stories, then we walked to the side of bridge. I was nervous and did not want to tell her, and when I did she could not believe it.

“It is hard to think about your daughter having to endure something like that,” she said. She looked at me in sorrow and extended her arms out to give me a hug.

The idea of her daughter being abused pained her. She asked me why I didn’t tell her when I was younger and I replied, “Because I knew you would not believe me, something like that is not easy to tell.”

I recently told my father what happened to me, too. He didn’t know what to say. When he finally did say something, he wanted to know who did this to me. I did not tell him who it was.

“I am sorry you had to go through that,” he said. He told me that being able to tell others about it is one step closer to leaving it behind.

Although it was difficult to tell my parents, I felt better in a way by allowing myself to talk about it. I felt that I could begin to move on and start a life that did not revolve around what happened. I never told the police, let alone my parents, about the sexual abuse because I was young and afraid.

There are many times when I think about how if I didn’t tell my parents, how much this would affect my future. Would I still allow my past to control my life? Would I be the timid and anxious person I once was in high school? Opening up to my parents about what happened to me was one of the many things I never thought I would be brave enough to do. The courage to move forward and suppress the memories is what I have longed for all these years.

Jackson John Rothwell - Photo Editor | The Collegiate

Eight months ago I decided to get a tattoo, but did not know what to get. I found one that said “free” with a bird attached at the end. At first I did not understand the true meaning of it. Getting the tattoo because I was abused was not my initial intention but thinking about the meaning made me realize how free I feel now that I can finally let the past go. The tattoo became a sign of freedom. The freedom to think ahead and to not allow him to control my life. Now I can move on to the next chapter in my life, I do not know where it will take me but I embrace every moment I am able to live, free like a bird.


  1. Yo I’ll be honest, I read the first couple sentences and thought “oh wooow your parents got divorced, boo hoo”. However, by the end of the piece I surprisingly found myself tearing up a bit. I can personally relate to the parent separation and the abuse at youth as well. I feel like a better person after reading this piece, so thank you for that.

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