By Latanya Williams

Being raped is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone ever endures. It's something you deal with for the rest of your life. It leaves a dark mark that never lightens.

But you must find a way to move on.

I was raped by my stepfather--the man I considered to be my father. I was 13. I was young and very innocent. I did not know how to do anything except trust the ones I loved.

And then my step-father shattered my life. He raped me. I felt nasty, hurt, angry, betrayed and, most of all, I felt like less of a person.

friends & family

Except for my mother, my family was not there to support me. That made it even harder to deal with. Without God, my mother and two very good friends (Cynthia Liccardo, who prosecuted the case and Tracy Cianfrocca, the investigator), I don't think I could have made it as far as I have.

When I used to cry, my mom was there, and when I needed to talk, my friends were there.

afraid to tell

It took years for me to move on. In the beginning, I was always watching my back. I couldn't sleep. Individual counseling made me feel worse. But I started to counsel myself. I made myself believe that it wasn't my fault. I went to school and I went to group sessions at Anchor House, a home in Trenton for runaway teenagers.

After the rape, I told my mother right away, even though my step-father warned me not to. I was afraid to tell because my step-father said that it would destroy their marriage. He gave me money. He paid me not to tell.

But I told anyway. My mother took me to the hospital and called the police. My step-father was arrested, but he got out on bail. The judge issued a restraining order, which meant that my step-father couldn't come anywhere near me. But one day, he followed me to school, and so they put him in jail until the trial.

When I turned 17, I finally started getting my life back in order. But then the case went to trial and in some ways it was like reliving the whole thing. Next to the rape, it as the most embarrassing and stressful thing I've ever endured. It was embarrassing because I had to sit on a stand and tell 13 people--strangers, really--everything that had happened that night. All the details of the rape. It was horrible.

 taking the stand

Things got worse before they got better. My step-father's lawyer tried to say that this really didn't happen. But I knew it did. He tried to confuse me and bring up things from my past that had nothing to do with the case.

The part that really makes you sick is looking at the person who invaded your body. It makes you scared and nervous. I can still remember the feeling that went through me when I saw him in court. I had a flashback and I felt like he could do it again.

a guilty verdict

But I got through the trial with Cynthia's (the prosecutor) help. She talked about everything that would happen. We went to the courthouse the day before the trial. She showed me where everyone would be sitting and she let me sit on the stand so I could see how it would feel. She talked me through the whole thing.

The jury found my step-father guilty. He is serving 10 years in prison. I was glad he went to jail, but I also feel like it isn't enough. I still feel like I have to watch my back. But thanks to a few special people who didn't let me shut myself out from the rest of the world, I have been able to take control of my life.

life goes on

I graduated from Trenton High first in my class. I was able to choose any college I wanted and now I'm in my second year at a private, all-girls college.

It's true that you never get over sexual abuse and rape. But you can learn how to deal with it.

If you have been raped, don't shut out the rest of the world. Talk to someone you trust.

Get help. Remember that no matter what, you are somebody and you can achieve anything you want.

I'm living proof that anything is possible.

If you are being or have been sexually abused, get help! Call the toll free National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (24 hours a day/7 days a week) or RAINN's hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE. Trained professionals will tell you how to get help close to home.