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Angela D. Wharton was sexually assaulted by her mother’s significant other in her Baltimore home when she was 14. She was then again assaulted at gunpoint by a masked man at the age of 24 in a wooded area in northeast Baltimore. At the age of 43, Angela now volunteers for the RAINN Speakers Bureau and is sharing her experiences as part of the SABRE-RAINN Survivor Stories campaign. As part of the Survivor Stories initiative, Angela answered some questions.
SABRE: Was this a one-time assault or did this occur over any length of time?
AW: I was sexually assaulted by the man my mom was dating at the time who attempted to groom me for sex trafficking. Then at the age of 24, I was raped in the woods at gunpoint by a masked man.
SABRE: Was this someone that you knew or was this a stranger?
AW: The first perpetrator was a guy that my mom was dating, but I only recall seeing him perhaps once or twice at our house. The other perpetrator was a stranger, or perhaps I knew him which could be why he chose to wear a mask.
SABRE: Was this something that you felt like you couldn’t talk about at all? Or were you feeling like you wanted to seek help right away? Either way, why did you feel that way?
AW: With the first assault, I only told one person which was my best friend as we walked to school the following morning. Outside of her, I told no one until I shared it with the counselor who was facilitating one of our Phynyx Ministries Support Group Sessions after being triggered by what she said. She urged me to tell my mom. So in July of 2012, I told my mom approximately 26 years later. But for years, I did feel like I couldn't talk about it mainly because I blamed myself for allowing him to come to the house to "talk" to me about a job where I could make $500 per night talking to men over the phone about sex, but I also felt that I would get in trouble with my mom as well. At 14 years old, I couldn't make sense of what happened to me let alone know how or where to seek help. I felt so dirty and ashamed that I didn't want anyone to know.
Because the second assault was so violent, I had to go to the police. When I was able to escape and get to the safety of a friend, he drove me straight to my mom's house who then drove me to the hospital. After the SAFE exam, I was given information for therapy services where I could get help, but of course I didn't want to go because I didn't want to re-live this experience all over again by telling someone. So for a long time I just stayed in my mom's room. I knew that he had not been arrested and felt that he was still out there searching for me to actually murder me this time.
SABRE: If you had the chance to confront your attacker, what would you say to them and why? What do you want a person who hurts someone else to know about their actions?
AW: You are ruining people’s lives and you must stop it and get the help that you need. You tried to destroy me, but you were extremely unsuccessful. Please get some help with the issues that are causing you to commit such heinous crimes. I would say this because I believe that hurt people, hurt people and it's apparent that something has taken place in his past that would cause him to inflict such pain on others.
SABRE: What can the rest of us do to make help more accessible, or to make people feel safer to come forward and ask for help? What do you think needs to change to make that happen?
AW: We must destroy rape culture! Survivors do not come forward because we are afraid of being blamed, shamed, judged and we fear that no one will believe us or help us. We must create safe spaces for survivors to come forward and not be in fear, by listening, not blaming and not judging us. We must increase awareness and educate the community. I've had countless conversations with people who don't believe that sexual assault is taking place, and I believe it's because in some cases, people are not sure what sexual assault actually is. I think we need to discuss the topic of sexual violence not only in our schools, but also in our colleges and universities and our places of worship--any place where people gather or you'd have an audience. I understand that this is a taboo subject, but the only way to bring about change, is to make a change.
SABRE: How has this affected you in your life post-assault? Is there anything that you used to do that you don’t anymore? Or is there something you didn’t do pre-assault that you make a point to do now?
AW: I used to love going to festivals, carnivals, etc. where hundreds of people are gathered in one space, but I find it difficult to go because I can't watch everyone all at the same time. Both perpetrators are still on the street. The second one specifically told me that I better not scream, go to the police or tell anyone. He said, I know where you live and what kind of car you drive, I will find you and kill you. So knowing that he has not been arrested, I feel that he can show up at any time and murder me because I did everything he told me not to do if I wanted to remain alive. So I don't go to those types of places anymore. When I go to restaurants, I have to sit where I am facing the door so that I would have a way to escape if needed.
SABRE: What do you think is the biggest misconception about sexual assault and violence right now?
AW: I think the biggest misconception about sexual assault is that it's about sex. Sexual assault is NOT about sex, it's about power and control. There is certainly no love and affection when someone is forcing you perform on him with a gun to your head; that is power and control.
SABRE: What advice do you have for someone who was recently victimized? What do you wish someone would have told you when this happened?
AW: It is not your fault and you are not alone! Let me say it again, the sexual assault that you suffered is NOT YOUR FAULT AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I don't care what the circumstance was; we are not going to give someone the permission to violate us. Help is available, in fact there are countless resources available that were not years ago, and you can access them anonymously. I wish someone would have told me that it wasn't my fault and that I was not alone. Maybe my life would have been a bit different.
SABRE: What are some resources that helped you, and what are some that you want to make sure other people know about?
AW: Prayer and reading the bible helped me a great deal. Journaling helped as well because it allowed me to get what I was feeling out and on paper. I felt such a release when I journaled. Then there is also a book entitled Healing in the Hurting Places by Karen F. Riley and also The Courage to Heal – those are two great books. I'd also like to suggest for those who man need help right now, www.rainn.org, which is the website for the Rape and Incest National Network, which has helped me tremendously. You can speak to someone now to get assistance immediately as well as information and statistics.
Angela D. Wharton is the Visionary Founder and CEO of Phynyx Ministries, Inc., a Christian-based non-profit organization that provides a pathway to healing for women sexual assault survivors through love, support, advocacy, empowerment and education. A woman of enormous faith and a two-time survivor of a sexual assault, Angela is a devoted wife and mother of two young girls on an unchartered mission of healing, wholeness, empowerment and love.
Angela is also an inspirational speaker and best-selling author. She shares in her book, Life After the Silence: From Pain to Power to Purpose, her compelling story of moving from victim to victorious having twice survived sexual violence. She paints a vivid picture of how she moved from the PAIN of sexual assaults, to the POWER gained from her experiences, to how it all propelled her to her PURPOSE – to help others heal.
Angela is dedicated to providing survivors with hope in the face of hopelessness, courage in the presence of fear, strength to break the silence and the power to move to forgiveness – all with the ultimate goal for the survivor to recapture love, unconditionally and heal.