Rena Romano, a talented speaking and leadership coach, volunteers for the RAINN Speakers Bureau. Rena was sexually abused from childhood into early adulthood, and is now sharing her story “From Survive to Thrive” for the RAINN-SABRE Survivor Stories initiative.
Not only am I a survivor of sexual assault, I am also a survivor of child sexual abuse. I now know that the years of child abuse played a massive role in my lack of self-esteem and self-worth. While in my early twenties, I was raped by a colleague from work. I didn’t understand the magnitude of what happened to me because it had been happening throughout my childhood.
It wasn’t until years later - while in counseling that I began to fully comprehend the choices I had to protect myself - and to perhaps fight the rapist at the moment, or in a court of law. Because of my history and pattern of abuse, I didn’t understand or feel that I had any right to fight back, or to speak out. I actually believed that if I did, I would be the one blamed and shamed for that night. Does any of this sound familiar?
In my early 20s I was working as a receptionist at a landscape nursery. I was the only female employee. There was one man in his early thirties who would secretly flirt with me. He often made statements that he ‘knew where I lived and he was going to break into my house and do whatever he wanted to me and I wouldn’t be able to stop him.’ It was frightening and humiliating the things he said to me, however he never said it in front of the other employees.
He was careful to make certain that no one else heard what he was saying to me, because he was married and had children. Deep down I knew he wasn’t joking.... I would cower and shrug off his intimidating remarks, secretly hoping he would never follow through on them.
His threats became reality one night, long after midnight. He broke through a sliding glass door. Asleep in my bed, I woke up and his hand covered my mouth. He was on top of me. My arms were pinned down and I couldn’t move. Quietly, with a sadistic laugh he said, “I told you I would get you.” He was taking sheer delight in his victory over me. He was having what he declared he would take from me for months.
Not moving a muscle, I just lay there limp. Once he knew I wasn’t going to fight him, he took his hand away from my mouth. I was so frightened, yet I didn’t call out for my roommates, and I didn’t even try to fight him off. Laying there lifeless, I waited for what seemed like a century for him to finish and leave.
After he left I showered and climbed back into bed. I quietly cried myself to sleep. The next day at work, this rapist was strutting like a peacock with full dress feathers, mocking me the entire day - and every day after reveling in his conquest. It was sickening, and I felt like I couldn’t say, or do, anything against him. Again, I didn’t believe I had any rights. In fact, there was no one to report him to; the owner of the company was sexually harassing me as well.
It only happened the one time, but that one assault stripped me of any self-worth I might have had left. I loved that job but I felt defeated, and I eventually found new employment to get away from both the rapist and the owner. At that time (in the late 1970s), awareness of sexual harassment and sexual crimes against women was gaining a voice politically and socially, but I felt I had no source of support legally or otherwise to get help or speak out.
Thankfully today is different. Victims / survivors have resources locally, and can receive help by dialing 211 or 911 and nationally calling RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization.
As we all know, there is still a stigma attached to rape victims - which continues to keep them silent and not receiving the help they so deserve.
I want other survivors to know it is not your fault, no matter where you are, what you are wearing, or what time of day it is. This is a horrific crime that no one should endure. Please report it. My only regret is that I did not report my attacker, as more than likely, he has continued his barbaric assault on other women, and that thought saddens me deeply.
Now in my late 50s, I am a “Thriving Survivor,” and after receiving many years of help, I have a strong sense of self-worth and I will do whatever necessary to protect myself – and YOU! I recently launched a “NO MORE SHAME CAMPAIGN,” and as a professional speaker I am sharing my story to encourage other abuse victims to release their secrets, and to “Get Help, Get Healed and Get Happy!” It’s your life, so use your voice and take back your power! One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Dr. Maya Angelou - “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
It’s my mission to help other survivors understand that they are not alone, and I encourage them to speak out and report these heinous and brutal crimes. The more we speak, the more our voices will be heard and the more we can regain our power and dignity. I am a professional speaker, a published writer, YOUR advocate, a wife, and a loyal friend. And - I am determined to make a difference.
Rena Romano is the author of His Puppet No More!: a memoir. She is a Professional Speaker and Member of the National Speakers Association, a volunteer for the Speakers Bureau for RAINN, and a Certified Speaking and Leadership Coach. Rena had the great honor of sharing her story on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in October of 2009.