Survivor Spotlight: Melissa’s Story

Melissa, survivor of sexual abuse, poses against a white wall

Melissa’s father began sexually abusing her when she was just six years old. The abuse continued for 13 years, worsening as she grew older. Melissa finally got up the courage to ask her mother if she could move out of the house. Her mother responded, “Sure, [your father] can go with you.”

“At that moment, I knew the abuse was never going to end,” Melissa said. At 19, she decided to run away. “It was the middle of the day. With no money, no clothes, not knowing where I would go — I ran away.”

Melissa’s decision to run away from home to escape sexual abuse is not uncommon. According to the National Runaway Safeline, 34 percent of runaway youth reported sexual abuse before leaving home.

“[My father] had created so much fear in me, I thought no one would believe me. There seemed to be no other options,” Melissa said. “The decision to run away was not necessarily planned but a sliver of hope that maybe I could escape and live a normal, happy life.”

After leaving home, Melissa contacted a fellow classmate, who encouraged her to reach out to another family member. Melissa contacted her aunt, who took her in and walked Melissa through the process of reporting the abuse to police and seeing her father convicted and sent to prison. Melissa has since found healing by grounding herself in her faith and seeing a counselor to work through what happened to her.

While Melissa is grateful that running away put an end to the abuse she faced at home, she knows that not every person who leaves home ends up somewhere safe. She encourages anyone considering running away to reach out to someone they trust first and tell them what’s happening.

“No matter how alone you feel and desperate the situation, there are people who care about you and want to help,” Melissa said. “Just remember you are not alone.”

November is National Runaway Prevention Month. To get help, contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.

Para obtener ayuda en español, visite rainn.org/es.

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