I’m going to tell you a story about a young girl… a beautiful innocent young girl whose entire life would change in only a matter of minutes. I’m going to take you back to her childhood, to a warm summer’s day in June, 1986. There’s a warm light breeze out in the fields and meadows. The weather is beautiful, perfect for riding. This young girl is about 12 years old… she’s excited for she’s just about to saddle a little pony in the large stable she’s in. She is so happy because she loves horses and though her family can’t afford to get the girl her own horse, her thoughtful mother had somehow made it possible for her to take care of the little fella before her. She brushes over the neck of the pony and feeds him a carrot. She takes care of this pony until the stable master, a 60 something year old man approaches her and begins giving her some tips on how to hold the reigns and sit in the saddle properly.

She continues to come to this stable, learn lessons and happily take care of her pony. One day the stable master asks her if she would like to go on a ride on his big horse. The little girl is over the moon because as much as she likes spending time with the sweet pony, she dreams about owning and riding her very own horse one day.

The stable master seeing her enthusiasm, saddles his horse for her, a beautiful golden brown animal. He then helps the young girl up onto the saddle, takes the reigns and starts walking the horse down a sandy path. They walk past picturesque fields for a while until they came upon a shed. The stable master then mentions that he needs to go inside to get something and give the horse a rest for a while. So, he helps the girl down and they walk together inside the shed.

The young girl notices a bunch of tools and personal belongings within this shed. She also sees a makeshift bed and a dusty, rough blanket on the ground. The stable master asks her to sit down on the bed, while he goes off to look for something. After a couple of minutes, he comes back and sits down beside her. He starts a conversation with her… asks her if she has a boyfriend. The young girl says yes, although one would not really call this boy a true boyfriend at her tender age of 12.

The stable master then asks if her boyfriend has ever kissed her. The innocent girl replies “Yes, but only on the cheek.” The stable master then kisses her on the cheek. The little girl doesn’t like it. She feels strange… she’s upset but doesn’t know what to do. Suddenly, the man puts her arm around her and begins stroking her breast. His other hand moves to her knee. She freezes. She doesn’t at all understand what’s happening. She doesn’t feel right. None of this feels right. She tries her best to push his hands away but they continue to grope and move up her leg. His hand creeps closer to that part of her that she instinctively knows no one is supposed to touch. She doesn’t want this man to touch her yet continues to do so. She’s desperate now to escape, she feels like begging him to stop but she holds back out of fear instead she asking him… “Is it not time to go back?” He smiles gently at her and replies… “In a little while…” and then he continues to stroke her breast and breathe heavily upon her, still tries to get his other hand between her closed legs. A silent war goes on within her…. she wants to leave but she can’t for she fears the consequences of defying an adult. Her parents taught her to never defy an adult. So she stayed until the stable master finally brought her back to the stable again.

She goes home that day, afraid, anxious, confused… not really knowing how to process all that had transpired. She’s terrified of telling her parents, worried that they’ll think she did something wrong, afraid that there’d be even greater consequences to face. She’s afraid they’ll be disappointed in her, or worse yet, even reject her or blame her. She doesn’t know what to do, she doesn’t understand at all why this happened to her. Yet at the same time, she knows instinctively that she needs to tell someone about it. So, she decides to tell her friend. Thankfully, her friend convinces her to tell her parents. Her

friend even stays with her when she finally tells her mother about the stable master. The mother listens to her young daughter, attentive yet expressionless. The young girl bares her entire traumatic ordeal to her and when she finishes the story, her mother just looks at her and tells her to never again go there.

Those were the only words this little girl heard. That was also the only time her mother ever talked about her sexual assault. In the span of only a few hours, this young child’s life was forever changed.

That beautiful, innocent, twelve year old girl was me.

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Every year my family and I went on vacation in Austria. We always went to the same place. A hotel high up in the mountains of Tirol near Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was always a trip we really looked forward to. Mountains everywhere, fresh air and amazing food. We had travelled to this beautiful place for so many years that the owners of the hotel considered us family.

The owner liked to drink. A lot. He had developed an enduring habit of drinking welcome shots with the hotel guests. And since the restaurant was always full and the hotel always booked solid, you can imagine how drunk he eventually became. Drinking wasn’t the only bad habit he practiced. He was also known for teasingly groping women’s breasts. Most female guests knew this about the owner and endured his advances, simply because no one felt there was any other ulterior motive behind his so called casually inappropriate advances. He was, more often than not, seen as the drunken hotel owner who liked to fondle women’s breasts. His vice was no secret and no one ever really complained about him simply because he never did anything more than briefly grope breasts.

In the fall of 1988, when I turned 14, we went back to visit this hotel again. The family had built new accommodations for their guests and a new travellers hut further up the mountain. They wanted to show my parents the progress they had. The hotel owner stayed behind to watch over my sister and me.

I never expected for the owner to come at me that day, actually trying to touch my breasts. I was 14 years old. Still an innocent but not naïve. I immediately said NO, then ran away from him. But my voice was not heard. No matter how many times I said no. My feelings didn’t matter. He just kept coming after me, practically chasing me around the hotel. This traumatic ordeal went on for about half an hour until finally my parents returned. I ran to my mother in tears telling her what had happened.

And again, my fear, my shock, my feelings were dismissed. My mother had decided to laugh off the entire ordeal and explain to me that the owner did that to every woman and that he meant no harm. Then in a joking tone, she told the owner that he couldn’t behave inappropriately with her 14 year old daughter since I did not understand that he was just playing around. I was stunned into silence and grief! Once again, my mother had failed me. She had made me feel like a silly naïve girl for not allowing this lecher to touch my breasts. What I ended up learning yet again that day was, my parents couldn’t protect me and apparently it was not only common, it was completely accepted that a man could touch a woman wherever he wanted, whenever he pleased. Women had no say in the matter.

That ended up being the last time I confided in my parents about any serious matters. I just didn’t believe that they were capable of giving me the necessary and appropriate advice and support.

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When I was 15 or 16 years old we had a class in school about sexual assault and where to seek help should this happen. Up to this point I had buried the memories of the previous two assaults deep within my soul. But that day, when we had this class, everything kept flooding back into my consciousness, only this time, I understood, I knew exactly what had happened. And that made it even worse. I remembered the touching, the stroking, the chasing and I remembered how my parents did NOTHING.

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In my early twenties, I became a Country Girl. I loved the music and the dancing. I could not get enough of it. Some weeks I went 4 times. Every Saturday I arrived early at the Rainbow Club, well before 8pm because if you came too late, you wouldn’t be able to get a chair. That’s how popular this Club was. I would throw my jacked over one of the chairs at my dance partner Billy Joe’s table, walk to the dance floor, wave at Mad Dog, the DJ, who would wave back, give me a thumbs up, and then play my song Wild Girl from Faith Hill. Billy Joe would join me on the floor instantly and away we danced for the rest of the night. It was always heaven! Dancing was what I lived for. It was my passion, my drug, my joy.

But as with everything in life, chapters eventually close. The time had come for Billie Joe to go back home to the States… his military stationing in Germany had ended. Unfortunately, we lost touch although I never forgot this amazing time in my life with him. Billie Joe had shown me that men and women can be friends, without any romantically involved. He taught me that I could feel safe again amongst men.

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But that feeling wouldn’t last long. During my happy dancing years, I was also studying hotel business management. I was assigned to work a few months in every department of a hotel. I really enjoyed working in this business. Housekeeping was my favorite part. I loved helping people, straightening out the rooms together with the maids. I felt as if I was making a difference in people’s lives. Eventually though, I had transfer to the restaurant to learn all about meal preparations and service. The restaurant was leased by an Italian with most his employees being Italian as well.

It was while working in this restaurant that I experienced the most disrespectful, chauvinistic and inappropriate sexual harassment in my life. The employees had no sense of personal boundaries, decency or respect for privacy. There were many instances where servers would just walk into changing rooms that had no privacy locks. Several times I had been embarrassed and humiliated by employees who knew full well I was changing yet blatantly disregarded my need for privacy. There was one waiter in particular who, even when I asked him to leave, he would purposely invade my personal space and disregard my protests. Another time, I was in the ladie’s room and that same waiter came into the bathroom and handed me the phone underneath the bathroom stall because my mother had called. Who does that?!? I seriously couldn’t believe the appalling behaviour that went on in this restaurant and could not wait for my training there to finish. No matter where I worked in this restaurant, I always felt very demeaned, insecure and incredibly stressed amongst those employees. I was always on guard, looking over my shoulders.

I didn’t tell anyone about this sexual harassment because it seemed like normal behaviour for these employees and I didn’t believe anything would change if I reported it. Plus past experiences had taught me that I would not get any help anyway in regards to this inappropriate behaviour. I realized with each

year that passed that experiences like this made me feel deeply insignificant and worthless as a woman. To this day I struggle with the emotional triggers these memories cause me.

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When I was 22, I met Roni, whom I had considered a boyfriend. We had met through a blind date arranged by a couple of my friends. We had felt an instant connection with one another and had a good time together. Sometimes, his friend Manuel would join us. Both friends were higher ranking officers in the US Army. Roni, Manuel and I hung out almost every weekend together. We would often go out to different clubs or have game nights at one of the guys places. It was always a fun time. But one night, we were at Manuel’s place and had a bit too much to drink. Roni went home since he had to get up for work early the next day. I decided to stay and sober up before driving home myself since I lived about 30 minutes away.

Manuel suggested that I sleep over since I had been drinking and the roads were icy and slippery that January winter. I agreed he was right and decided to stay. We had known each other for a few months and there was no reason not to trust him. I made myself comfortable and decided to go to sleep in the huge king size bed. There was plenty of space for us to sleep far apart. Five people could have fit in between us easily. I was fully clothed in a t-shirt and sweatpants, drifting off to sleep on my end of the bed when suddenly I felt him next to me, touching my breasts. I immediately told him to stop and pushed his hand away. But he kept on pursuing as I continued to resist and reject his unwelcome sexual advances. I was mortified, in shock, unprepared for this disturbing pass made upon my body. He had never shown any interest in me before and I didn’t know how to make him stop groping me. I was completely distressed by his advances. Eventually he realized how upset I was and stopped. But by now I was very afraid and worried he would try again. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know whether to trust him. I struggled with leaving because I was still too woozy to drive on slippery roads. And I also I didn’t feel right waking up Roni knowing how early he had to get up. So, I took a deep breath, and tried to calm and relax myself. I told myself I would be okay. After a few minutes, I began to get angry and sarcastically muttered to Manuel … ‘Can I go to sleep now or are you going to make a pass at me again? I thought that my anger and sarcasm would be apparent and understood, yet that was not the case. He instantly misinterpreted my flippant remark as an invitation and jumped me.

Before I could even protest, he tugged my sweats down and threw himself upon me. Before he was able to fully penetrate me… I somehow found the strength to throw him off me. I had no idea where that strength came from because he literally flew across the room. It was in that sober moment he finally snapped out of his dazed drunkeness. I jumped off of the bed, wrapped myself in a blanket and began screaming the words rape at him. I was frantic, in a panicked rage, trying to get dressed and leave his place as quickly as I could. I kept watching to make sure Manuel wasn’t anywhere near me. I kept thinking in my head, how could he have misinterpreted my words… I realized then that I should never mock or berate a drunk aroused man.

I decided then run to Roni’s apartment and tell him about Manuel’s unwanted assault on me. I expected Roni to stand up for me, especially since Manuel had clearly crossed boundaries with both his girlfriend and his good friend. But Roni did nothing. I was shocked and terribly hurt by his response. He said he wasn’t going to do anything because Manuel was his friend. Needless to say, I left outraged… that was the last time Roni laid eyes on me.

When I walked into my home the night after the assault, my father was home. He looked up at me and must have seen how distressed I was. And in that moment, he understood what had happened…. I don’t know how he knew but he took one look at my face that day and sad: ‘He tried, didn’t he?’ I just shook my head and said: ‘No, he actually did it.’ My dad just nodded and I turned away to go to my bedroom where I could be alone.

When I emerged from my room later that day, rested and calmed… my father informed me that Manuel had called three times and that he had told him that I wasn’t home. Yet he also said that he could not keep doing this and that I should talk to him. So the next time Manuel called, I answered the phone. He had called because he was worried that I would report him – of course. But I half-heartedly assured him that I wouldn’t do that and hung up the phone, never hearing or seeing him again.

It was after that sexual assault that I began to question and doubt myself. I began to look for reasons why this had happened to me again… Why had I attracted this horrible experience again? Did I not know how to read men? Did Manuel flirt with me at some point and I never noticed or misinterpreted his communication with me? Was I too open and free in my communication with him? Where had I led this guy on? So many questions passed through my mind… all of them self-interrogating… almost self-incriminating. This is what many victims of sexual assault and abuse do. They look for reasons to blame themselves because that they think it’s the only plausible reason why someone would assault them.

No matter how many questions I asked, I realized that I was not getting anywhere with this self-interrogation… so I decided to confide in my friends and report this guy to the military police. And yet again, I was faced with dismissal. My friends laughed my intentions off as ridiculous and predicted that I would not be vindicated and nothing at all would be resolved by my accusing an officer of the military of rape. Instead, they said, I should tell them that I had a relationship with him and had found out that he had a wife in the USA. This, they said, would spark the MP’s interest since they held marriages in very high regard. Needless to say, I did not go to the police since I was quite discouraged by their advice and disturbed by their suggestion for me to lie to the officials about Manuel. Eventually, I sought my dad’s opinion going to the MP and he flat out said to me: ‘It is you against the entire US Army, who do you think is going to win?’ So I dropped my desire to press charges and never again pursued the incident.

My decision to forget the sexual assault happened made me further withdraw from life. I stopped going to the Rainbow Club. I stopped seeing my friends. I felt no desire to dance, I felt no desire to socialize… I felt nothing but fear, anxiety and emptiness. I became more and more overwhelmed by this great need to isolate myself and search for a way to heal my violated mind and body. That sexual assault ended up haunting me for years.

To this day, I still remember how I felt hours after Manuel raped me. Every memory of that night would remind me of the stable masters on my young body. I couldn’t escape all the memories, the disturbing images and feelings that would arise every time I thought of the men who had violated me physically and emotionally. You never forget that desperation. You never forget that kind of fear and trauma. It goes deep into the heart, deep into your very cells. And all it took to trigger those disturbing memories was a simple dismissal, rejection or attack on my feelings.

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The deeper I reflected on my life, the more I felt like everything I deserved had been taken from me. My innocence, my self-confidence, my trust, freedom, and carefree fun-loving nature. All of these important qualities stolen from me. My joys, my love of dancing and horse-back riding…. All the sacred passions of my youth doused by the uncontrollable urges of adult men who were clearly unconscious of how wrong and disturbing their assaults were. When I was depressed, I felt like I would never get back my life, much less awaken to the joys of living again. I couldn’t even imagine truly enjoying the things I once loved, for I always imagined I would remember the buried fear, trauma and ugly, disturbing memories. I couldn’t go to a stable or even see a horse without thinking about being molested as a child. I couldn’t go to a hotel or resort without remembering being chased by a madman who wanted to grope a 14 year olds breasts. I couldn’t walk by men without having a deep fear and distrust of them. These dark haunting memories would follow me everywhere I went for many years.

And so having convinced myself that I would never really escape or bury this trauma…. I just lived my life from within a shell, only going where I had to go, only talking to who I had to talk to. And sadly, years passed before I learned that we should never allow ourselves to be defined or overpowered by our past experiences. Years passed before I was finally able to move through and past my trauma. Because I didn’t know how to deal with the blows life had dealt me, I had given up on life. I had given up on any hope of being truly happy and free of my dark past. Instead I supressed all of the pain, all of the memories, all of the anger, disappointment, sorrow and even my hope of finding someone who would understand my pain and help me. I had completely given up on everyone, including myself.

But we all know that any denial or suppression of our true feelings is an act of self-betrayal and self-sabotage that eventually comes back to either haunt us or resurrect us. Denial and suppression never helps. If anything, it causes increasingly greater pain, fear, anxiety and depression. Eventually the pain becomes so overwhelming that the trauma can no longer be ignored. And this becomes the defining moment when we experience the darkest pain of our lives, the moment mystics call… the dark night of the soul. Such a harrowing experience will either make us or break us. Some souls decide they can’t go on and leave the planet in desperation…. While others decide to rise like the phoenix from the ashes of their painful experiences, become renewed, reborn into a new being.

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The years passed, and I sank deeper into a bottomless hole I thought I would never be able to climb out of. Deeper and deeper into isolation, depression and loneliness I went. Every relationship I tried failed and broke apart. And I always blamed myself for all of them. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of love. With each failed relationship, the sea of despair smothered me, drowned me. Do you know the paintings of ships in high waves? That’s how I felt. Water crashing in on me from all sides, trying to drag me down to the bottom of the ocean. I felt utterly defeated, because no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get rise from what seemed like a bottomless ocean of despair and sorrow. I felt like no one cared about me and nothing could save me. I would at times, raise my hands in the air, desperate for help, pleading for direction, never really knowing who or what to ask yet pleading anyway.

Then one day, a shift occurred… a huge shift I never expected. And from that moment on everything suddenly began to change for the better. I had met some new friends. I liked these people. Especially this one guy. He intrigued me. He was very spiritual and introduced me to a world I never knew existed. He called my soul in a way no one else had. He was also very perceptive. He could see that I was depressed and anxious. One day, I had been experiencing another one of my extreme lows and he

noticed how down I was. Apparently tired of my melancholy moods, he came and stood in front of me, with his hands on his hips and he said, “Get a quart crystal already!”. What?!?… A quartz crystal??? What was he talking about?? I had no idea what he had meant by that. But some part of me was again deeply intrigued by him, curious about his suggestion. I had tried and failed to heal so many times. Maybe this guy knew something I didn’t. Maybe I needed to try something completely new and different. So, I listened to his advice and I went on a search for a quartz crystal. When I bought one… I asked my friend … “What I was supposed to do with this thing?” And he replied yet again with the briefest of answers…. “Just meditate with it.” Meditate?? Again, I was dumbfounded since I had never meditated in my life. “What do you mean… how do I do that?” I asked. So he explained a bit further… “Hold the crystal in your hand when you lie down for bed and just breathe with it… and then wait and see what happens.“

I followed his instructions and incredibly, within a very short span of time, my life truly began to change. That small shiny clear quartz crystal did amazing things for me. Within 3 months I felt like a new person, reborn just like the phoenix. I became more outspoken, I felt freer and happier than I ever had before, and most of all, I was actually excited to learn more about the therapeutic energy of crystals and their amazing power. I hadn’t felt passionate or excited about anything for over years and suddenly I wanted to know everything about this spiritual world.

Even though I knew I had a lot more to learn and that there was likely still more to heal within myself, the past suddenly no longer bothered me like it had before. For the first time in my life, I had hope and this deep sense of peace and freedom emerging from within me. Somehow, I intuitively knew I was being divinely guided. I felt like I was finally being taken care of and supported while I searched for more answers and solutions that would heal the emotional pain and trauma I had experienced.

Thankfully, I survived those dark times, I overcame my emotional struggles and even transcended my traumatic past, all because of this unexplainable divine intervention. I’m also very grateful that I never turned to alcohol, or any kind of substance abuse. I never succumbed to self-mutilation or suicide as so many victims of sexual assault and abuse do. I was one of the lucky ones. The fact that I somehow found a way out of that trauma is truly a miracle to me. And that’s why I now share my story and raise my voice loudly and unapologeticaly. Sexual assault and abuse should never happen but unfortunately it does. Child molestation and rape is so unbelievably wrong and absolutely horrifying to imagine yet it happens  We can’t let this continue to happen. If we can together save even one child, one woman from such extreme barbarity and inhumanity then our collective efforts will be worth it. My traumatic childhood is the reason I advocate for improved sexual assault education in schools. My sexual assault as a woman is the reason I campaign for sexual assault prevention and unconventional therapeutic treatments. No child or woman should ever have to experience the extreme fear, pain, trauma and abandonment I suffered for years.

Love & Light,

Sandra