Anna George had never shared her story in public before.
On Sept. 22, she stood up in front a group assembled by Services To Abused Families, Inc. and took a deep breath.
“I was sexually assaulted when I was 14,” the strong, cheery 22-year-old said.
A recent graduate of Radford University, George was working as a server at a restaurant one night when she served two ladies in town for a conference. Karen D. Brown, Executive Director of SAFE, and Dawn Delacruz had a craving for wings, but they got a more than a meal – they made a lifelong connection that night.
George was at the end of a long shift and when she heard where the ladies were from, she asked if she could sit and talk to them – she had a story to tell.
It was a Halloween party eight years ago – she was 14 and a freshman in high school. Several of her friends planned a party, it was supposed to be just a few silly freshmen getting together for a good time. As it is in high school, word got out. What started as an intimate get together turned into a party. Then students of all grades arrived at the party and eventually alcohol made an appearance.
Met a junior she had previously hang out with before, he started to flirt with her
“I was anxious and excited that this boy might actually like me, and I might end up with my very first kiss,” George said.
Later on the evening, he pulled her aside and said he wanted to speak to her alone upstairs. Being young and naive, she agreed.
“What started off as a friendly conversation ended up being confusing and frightening,” George said. “I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but the answer no was not accepted. He proceeded to take advantage of a scared, young, innocent girl.”
That night changed George. A vivacious, energetic young lady pulled herself into a shell. She told only her best friend, who she swore to secrecy. For years, she held this dark secret inside herself, even while the assaulter was a popular football player at her school.
“This night became burned, etched, a painful reminder of innocence snatched away too soon,” she said. “It was because of this one individual I pushed away loved ones and I never felt so alone in my life.”
She pushed away her family, she pushed away God. Once strong in faith, she questioned why God would let this happen to her.
“My life started to spiral out of control after this night,” George said.
It wasn’t until six years later when she told her mother and her sisters that she began to heal. Now, after meeting Brown and Delacruz, she was able to share her story at the second annual S.T.O.P event at Reformation Lutheran Church. For George, it’s all part of the healing process.
“I think it’s really important to be able to share your story with others,” George said. “I kept this dark secret for such a long time, I want to be able to help other women and men out there. It’s OK to tell your story, you’re not alone and you can be who you want to be at the end of the day. The person who did those things to you is not going to hold you back from the person you are.”
She praised the SAFE organization for being a beacon of hope for other women, and men, dealing with abuse.
“At the time I was in high school, back in 2008, I never really knew anyone I could have reached out to,” she said. “I’m from a smaller town, it’s not a bigger city. Even a small town like this, they have someone you can reach out to.”
She talked about “rape culture” and how victim blaming led to her wanting to hide her secret. A victim shouldn’t be blamed or judged on what she wears, or if she had a few drinks before being assaulted. The victim is not at fault, the assaulter is.
“It shouldn’t matter who they are, a normal person would not do this,” George said. “I want to be who I want to be, I shouldn’t be sexualized because I wear a certain outfit that I want to be comfortable in. I think that’s a really big issue now.”
Brown can empathize with her. Her story is just as heartbreaking, but she too rallied from it. Her mother was murdered when she was 6, her father remarried a year and a half later and she started to get molested by one of her step mother’s sons. She was later assaulted by an uncle and then later in life was in a bad marriage. She since has remarried pastor Gary Brown, of Pilgrim Baptist Church, and now provides counsel to others who are assaulted. She called her meeting George a “gift from God.”
She said that SAFE hears from women like George every day, and by George speaking publicly it helps bring the issue to the forefront of the community.
Our phones are ringing off the hook every day,” Brown said. “Every story is fresh. We don’t compare one story to another. We don’t judge for yesterday, we talk to them about today.”
Talking is key, Brown said. She calls it being “nice and nosy,” asking questions like “are you OK?” and “do you need help?”
“We have to vigilant, we have to talk, we have to educate,” Brown said.
George hopes that her story helps educate others. She worries about younger women being worried about being liked on social media and it leading to assault. If her story can help one young lady not be assaulted, she accomplished her mission.
“I’m here tonight because I want to share my story and to confirm that you are not alone,” George said.
For more information about SAFE, call 540.825.8891 or visit www.safejourneys.org.