Survivor Story: Marisa

Portrait of Marissa, survivor of sexual abuse

When Marisa’s father passed away when she was 7, her stepfather stepped in to play a prominent role in her life, filling the void left by her father’s passing. But when Marisa turned 13, things changed: her stepfather began sexually abusing her. After the abuse started, family gatherings became challenging to bear—and holidays became a particularly difficult time.

“It wasn’t [only] the abuse that made it difficult, it's what I felt was missing,” Marisa said. “I felt I was missing a father figure to share the holidays with, and that my siblings were missing the memories with their dad.”

To cope with that stress, Marisa focused her energy on her younger siblings and spending time with her mother.

“[My siblings] were too young to understand what I was going through, and every holiday they were still filled with so much joy. My mom always made a point to go above and beyond for us, and that was something I never lost sight of,” Marisa said.

Marisa encourages the parents of children who have experienced sexual abuse to be supportive of them and willing to listen, especially during the holidays.

“The most important thing you can do is support your child, and take each day as it comes,” Marisa said. “Always remind them that you love them, and that they did nothing wrong. As a child, it's hard to understand why we have some of the experiences we do, and we just need to know that someone is there to guide us along the way.”

Now, as an adult, Marisa is able to look back at her experiences and see how far she has come in her healing. She is able to focus her energy on her own family and doesn’t let sexual abuse define her. She encourages other survivors who struggle during the holidays to focus on the positive things in their life, no matter how small.

“The holidays are hard when you want to celebrate but you feel lost and in that dark place,” Marisa said. “The holidays aren’t for what you’ve lost, they are to celebrate everything that you have. Find the support you need in those you love.”

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

Para obtener ayuda en español, visite

DNA evidence can increase likelihood of holding a perpetrator accountable.

Read More

Sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years.

More Stats

The National Sexual Assault Hotline will always be free — with your help.

Donate Now