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Twenty years ago I lay in a field far removed from any homes or businesses. Off in the distance I could hear the occasional sound of traffic faintly emanating and echoing from a highway that was close by, but not nearly close enough. It was after midnight. The ground was damp and chilled. The night air was thick and dense. I was cold, I was terrified, and I was naked. I was being sexually assaulted by a man, a stranger, whom I had never before laid eyes upon until this night. I was eighteen; a college freshman with nothing but hope and dreams for my future and bright eyed expectations for how my life’s story would unfold. There had been nothing that night to warn me that my life as I had known it so far was about to change forever.   

                                                  

 During the violent sexual assault my life was threatened repeatedly. I struggled and fought as hard as I could but it was not nearly enough. My attacker was armed and physically much stronger than I. He had all of the power; he was able to do what he wanted and I was powerless to stop him. I had absolutely no control over what was happening to me.

 

Lying there bruised and cut, I accepted that I was going to die that night. I honestly did not believe I would be alive to see the sun rise the next morning and I accepted that my time on earth was ending. What I could not accept, what I absolutely could not come to terms with, was the feeling of complete isolation that came over me as I realized that I would be permanently disconnected from my family and from those who loved me.

I knew that I would very likely never be found in this remote location and that even if I were found, there was very little chance that the remains found could be identified as me. I had dropped several items out of my pocket along the way hoping that they would be found and somehow connected to me but I knew realistically the chances of that were very slim. I would be a collection of bones, maybe some fabric and hair. I would not be able to provide the details of what had transpired that night. I would not be able to tell my story. My family would not be able to bury me in a place of peace and of dignity where they could visit and mourn. There would be no answers, only questions and I would not be able to provide them with the truth. I will never forget the sense of complete dread and chilling fear that came over me as the reality of this set in: My family would never know what had happened to me.

Quite obviously, I did not die that night. I did survive and I survived to tell my story. There is not a day that goes by that I do not fully recognize how fortunate and how blessed I am to have come out of that circumstance alive. I was profoundly affected by the events of that night and believe that I survived so that I might help others whose lives have also been impacted by violence.

I am currently a Licensed Private Investigator and Behavioral Analyst, specializing in cold cases, and have been working in the field of violent crimes in some capacity for nearly twenty years. I have served the private sector as well as law enforcement and government officials both in the United States and abroad. I hold a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Louisville and I am currently working on obtaining my doctorate in Criminal Justice also from the University of Louisville. I hav dedicated my life to being the voice of those who are unable to speak for themselves and I firmly believe in the capacity of the human spirit to triumph over tragedy. I believe as well that extraordinary change can occur when ordinary people decide to do what they can, with what they have, right where they are.

Many of you may be familiar with the term “Victim’s Impact Statement”. For those of you who do not know, a Victim’s Impact Statement is a statement written by a victim and given to the court to show the impact that the crime has had on his or her life. Though I have never had the chance to face in court the man who sexually assaulted me and so have never been able to give a Victim’s Impact statement in that setting, I do have one to give. I give it daily with my life, with every breath that I take, as I work to bring answers and hope to victims, and I do it with this site. My statement to my attacker wherever he may be is this: “You did not break me. You did not win. I did not go quietly into that dark night. I not only survived, I am thriving. What you intended to cause pain and the trauma that you inflicted upon me has been transformed into a vehicle in which to help others. You gave me fear, I have found hope. You gave me pain, I have found courage. You gave me violence and have shown me the worst of what one man can do. I have found vision, peace, and the strength to help others who like me have been battered, torn, and bruised. I have found the best of what one woman can do and I have found it inside of me.”

StillTheySpeak.com is dedicated to all of the victims of violence who did not survive to tell their story. It stands as a reminder that they still have a story to tell through the memories of their loved ones, through scientists, investigators and other professionals who work to interpret the evidence left behind, and through the tips and leads that come in from everyday men and women who read their stories and respond with information. StillTheySpeak.com seeks to give a voice to those who can no longer speak and it seeks an audience to hear their voices and to pass their stories on to still others so that their voices will never truly be silenced.

~Virginia Braden

 

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