20-year-old Rachel King was sexually abused in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. The abuse spanned eight months from the fall of 2008 to the spring of 2009. Here’s her story:
We don’t forget tragedies. For me, the date was February 22, 2009. A Monday. A day forever ingrained in my mind. I hid under my covers trying to shut off my mind and calm my racing heart because I knew it was now or never. So I got up, trembling as sure as I was sweating, and walked to my parents’ room. They were still awake.
“Mom, Dad… there’s something you need to know.”
My survivor story begins during my freshman year of high school. 97% of all sexual abuse cases happen by someone known to the victim. In my case, my perpetrator went to my church. Our families had become close friends and ultimately one thing led to another. How a 14-year-old could be sexually manipulated by a 46-year-old man over an eight-month period was something beyond my comprehension. My faith was rocked. I quit going to church because I was mad at God. I quit playing basketball, withdrew from community activities, smiled less, stopped dancing, and fell so far behind in schoolwork that college – let alone graduating high school – was out of the question. The aftermath of abuse was exhaustingly trying but I knew I couldn’t let it defeat me.
And that’s just it… there is an all-caps, boldface “but” to my story that evidences a life which has defied the odds, achieved the so-called “impossible” and risen above the crippling, costly effects of tragedy. I have come a long way since February 22, 2009 and if I had been made privy to peek into my future from my fragile younger years then I would be in utter disbelief. My story turned into a platform for making a lifelong dedication to causes that serve victims and celebrate survivors.
After taking my case to court, I testified before the Ohio House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee proposing an amendment to an existing state law that would increase penalties for offenders. During my sophomore year of high school, I joined a team of visionaries to help establish The Center for Family Solutions, a local nonprofit that counsels victims and assists their families through the legislative process. My role as a teen mentor allowed me the chance to empower others by paying forward what others invested into my healing process.
In the meantime, I rediscovered my faith and my grades improved to a point where I was back on track to graduate. I set a (seemingly impossible) short-term goal of finishing high school ranked in the top 25, and come graduation day I walked across the stage in front of 630 fellow peers as their #13 with a 4.3 GPA. It was a moment I’ll forever remember, and I am forever grateful to the village of people who helped make that aim a reality. College was no longer out of the question, so midway into senior year I dared apply to my dream school, Vanderbilt University. It was a giant leap of faith because due to counseling expenses and my dad’s recently lost job, my parents did not have the finances to send me there even if it did turn out that I was accepted.
But (…there’s that wonderful word again!) I didn’t just receive a watermarked Class of 2016 welcome letter. I was chosen as one of two females from a worldwide pool of 968 applicants to attend Vanderbilt as an Ingram Scholar on a full-scholarship granted to students who demonstrate a commitment to serving and learning. It was a dream within a dream, and the best part of it all was that this dream literally came true for me on… February 22, 2012. Exactly three years before, I stood as a wet-eyed mess with my parents wondering if I would have any future at all but the tears on this second life-changing February 22 were only happy ones. Life really is stranger than fiction, and there really is nothing quite like God’s perfect timing.
Flash-forward to now, Vanderbilt has opened doors that I never imagined would open because of my “broken” past. Thanks to the Ingram Program I am able to spend my summers abroad conducting projects that pertain to issues I am most passionate about. The summer after freshman year I traveled to Uganda on behalf of an organization called Teach Twice. While there I lived in the Nakikungube village and collected field research on education opportunities in rural communities. This past summer, I was in Cambodia with a friend from school working for an organization called Children for Change Cambodia in one of Phnom Penh’s poorest districts. Together we piloted a social action curriculum engaged at-risk youth in various community service projects. I’ve been blessed to travel all over the world, and I’ve fallen in love with its diverse people. My hope is to eventually live in Southeast Asia working for a faith-based anti-human trafficking organization, but as I’ve learned (the hard way), it’s always possible that life will get in the way of my plans. If, or when, it does, I have a choice to fall apart or stand strong.
Of course, if I had it my way, I wouldn’t wish my abuse on me. But the fact of the matter is that it happened. I can’t change the past, but I can choose how I’ll let it affect my future. For me, I’ve found much peace in the words of C.S. Lewis, who is one of my favorite thinkers and theologians of all times. He says that there are better things ahead than anything we leave behind. I absolutely believe it, because that’s been the story of my life.
SABRE asked Rachel how she would describe where’s she’s at in life right now. Here’s what she told us:
I am currently finishing my third year of school at Vanderbilt University. I was recently nominated and selected as a national finalist for the Truman Scholarship, a competitive scholarship granted to U.S. college juniors for demonstrated leadership and commitment to public service. This semester I am interning at Q Ideas, a faith-based TED-style organization based just outside of Nashville. I stay busy volunteering at the local homeless shelter where I teach a songwriting class, serving as a Resident Adviser to first-year students, sitting on the University’s Speakers Committee, and developing English lessons for the Vanderbilt-Pakistan Connection, a Skype program that connects university students to students in Pakistan for the purpose of sharing education and exchanging culture.