Theresa’s Story

Theresa Willard Hughes is a Certified Life Coach, a staunch advocate for those victimized by sexual violence, and a current RAINN Speaker’s Bureau member.

Theresa’s advocacy centers on advocating for women of color who she says “experience pain and struggles of macro and micro aggressions, lack of access to timely and affordable health care, and traditional therapy.” In response to her own life experiences,Theresa has a moving message to all of those victimized by sexual violence.

“It is okay to grieve the thief of your virginity; it’s never enough to survive but it is imperative for you to learn how to live and thrive for yourself and future generations; own and celebrate who you truly are – Strong, Powerful, and Victorious.”

Drawing upon her lived experience and research, she founded the organization Strong, Powerful, and Victorious to uplift women of color through her global podcasting audience that was nominated for the Black Pod Awards in 2020 and 2021 and her Journey to Healing videos and programs.

Theresa spent close to 20 years seeking therapy. Surviving to thrive in this world as a successful African American woman and mother, she compartmentalized not only enduring the thief of her virginity but also being impregnated by her father. She experienced the betrayal of her family by embracing her father due to his economic and society status, and her determination was to protect and ensure her son would not be damaged by the circumstances of his birth.

Not only was she not ready to share her full history, but she recognized her therapists’ failure to truly see her. She didn’t fit into a standard playbook; she refused to be classified as a victim or survivor. Her goal was to learn how to live, not survive.

Around 1997, as her world was crumbling, she desperately sought a therapist who would see and listen to her. At the same time, her father died, her beloved grandfather was dying, she was dealing with a divorce, she was managing the largest contract of her firm, and her eldest son was lashing out on her saying that it was her fault for being raped. He was also “struggling with the fears of possessing the DNA not only from a rapist but from a pedophile.”

After disclosing her full truth, her therapist replied saying, "you're going to be okay.” Theresa described that her therapist's response was a “small act of kindness; she not only saw me, but she didn’t see me as damaged goods and that meant the world to me.”

Theresa shares what it was like to dive into research on women of color and reflects on her history.

“I am forever grateful that I grew up during the Civil Rights movement. Almost every night, I saw kids who looked like me, my color, and my age – they were risking their lives, being beaten, suffering from being water hosed and attacked by dogs. They taught me that I, too, could survive. I did more research on women of color who have gone through hell and I found that we are the descendants of very strong, powerful women. So I made my organization, ‘Strong, Powerful, and Victorious.’ It is primarily for women of color who were victimized early in life by sexual violence. Our voices are never heard. Our voices are missed. I decided to make this program around this issue and started a podcast of mine.”

Theresa openly disclosed her abuse at her 2004 high school class reunion, where they called her by her name Teri Willard to come up on stage and speak on behalf of the Class of 1966. She distanced herself from Teri Willard, that terrified 14-year-old girl whose father raped her for the first time. She sat as if she was glued to her chair but as her classmates cheered her on, she stepped up to the podium.

“You guys saved my life. No one knew I was being abused. School was my only safe place and it allowed me to dream to succeed and escape my family; I burst out crying…[and it wasn’t a gentle cry] but [rather a] full blown ugly cry.”

She described that her classmates were caring and reassuring. Many of her classmates also shared the abuse they experienced, but unfortunately hid it for decades due to her generation growing up during a time that lived under the code; “things happen, get over it, and move on.”

Lastly, Theresa describes the importance of recognizing her history, the sacrifices her ancestors endured, and the hope that her ancestors would have better lives.

“These women had suffered a great deal in silence. I truly believed they not only survived but they passed on to us their DNA of strength, perseverance, and conviction that what they endured will pave the way for us to live full and free lives. I honored them and that was a great part of my healing”.

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