A Hole in Her Soul

    “A Hole in Her Soul,” Ensign, July 2006, 16–19

    A Hole in Her Soul

    Our beautiful and bubbly daughter had just turned 16 and was finishing her first year of high school. She was blessed with great talent in dance and music, playing both the piano and the violin. She was thoughtful and kind and served as a peer tutor to students with disabilities. She was the president of her Laurel class, a member of a community youth council, and an officer in the color guard of the high school marching band. She had felt the thrill of her first prom and her first date. She had friends and family who loved her dearly, and she was bursting with enthusiasm for life.

    Then she met a young man from a different high school, a Church member who seemed to think she was really special. He introduced her to his family and even took her to meet his grandparents. He was tall, smart, and charming.

    On the last day of her sophomore year, our daughter went out with her new beau on a group date to celebrate his 18th birthday. She had taken extra care to look just right, and she did look lovely. Her little five-foot frame looked so tiny next to his six-foot stature as they walked down our front walk to his car. I thought, “She picked a boy who looks like her father.”

    She arrived home before 11:00 p.m. but went straight to her room. I heard a bang as she slammed the door. I knocked and asked if she would like to talk, but she said she just wanted to go right to sleep because she was leaving for band camp early the next morning.

    When she returned from camp the next week, she was different somehow. She was angry at everyone and everything. As the weeks passed, things progressively got worse. We really worried the day after she marched in the Independence Day parade. She ignored her friends, including her best friend, and complained and criticized everything they did. They responded in the only way they could—they left her alone. Time passed, and she grew to be totally alone. Gone were the rooms filled with giggling girls and the incessant phone calls. The violin lay idle. The piano collected dust.

    Three months into her junior year, the answers finally came. Her sociology class was having a discussion about dating, the increasing incidence of date rape, and the use of date-rape drugs. Her secret exploded. It had been her intent to put the episode behind her, to forget it and never let anyone know that “she was not a virgin—that she felt dirty—that she no longer felt worthy of Heavenly Father’s love.” Yet there she was, blurting it out for all to hear. Her self-control evaporated in the intensity of the moment as she revealed the horror of her experience. She told of how her trust had been violated, of the terror she had felt while paralyzed by the drug, and of being completely unable to help herself. She wept as she spoke of how foolish she felt for not even knowing where she was or the last names of the others she had been with, and how stupid she felt for trusting the young man she had gone out with that last night of her sophomore year.

    I received a call from the vice-principal of her school to come and pick her up. A report was filed with the police. I took her for an interview and exam, but too much time had passed. There was no physical evidence of the paralyzing drug or the damage of the attack, only a young woman now emotionally paralyzed by memories of her experience. A police officer told her another medication she had been taking at the time had made her aware of all that transpired. Normally the victim’s memory is like a dream, or there is no memory of the incident at all. The officer said many young women now are victims without even knowing a crime has been committed. Their only mistake is to accept a drug-laced drink from the perpetrator. The officer told her she should be thankful to still be alive, because the drug or a combination of drugs could have killed her. But my beautiful daughter wished it had killed her. She remembered everything vividly, and the memory was eating away at her very soul.

    It was important for her to talk to someone she respected and who had the proper authority, someone who could help correct her thinking and remove any guilt from her troubled heart. My husband and I immediately had our daughter speak with our bishop. He was a loving and gentle man who assured her she was still pure and worthy and that the sin was the perpetrator’s, not her own. We allowed our priesthood leaders to handle Church discipline issues with the perpetrator. We also found professional counseling. In truth, our daughter went to five different counselors in the period that followed.

    Still, she was not healed. It was going to take even more to fill the enormous hole in her soul. Signs of depression plagued her. Her behavior was erratic and self-destructive. We wept for her, we prayed for her, we worried for her, and our hearts were broken by her. There are many possible reactions to sexual assault, and our daughter seemed to exhibit the worst of them: depression, high anxiety, truancy, chronic running away, severe nightmares, and substance abuse.

    It was not enough to be loving and compassionate with our daughter; my husband and I had to be moral anchors for a child who was being lost to the mists of darkness. From the beginning there was never room for hatred toward the perpetrator of this horrific act. We placed our faith in a just and caring Heavenly Father. All our energies had to be focused on our daughter, as her course was set toward self-destruction.

    Her pain was so intense that it encompassed all the dynamics of a once-happy family. My husband and I maintained our love and commitment to each other, joining together in this struggle rather than pulling apart. We continued to do all the things that make a safe and happy family, such as family prayer and scripture study. We were faithful to our covenants, and we prayed. We prayed as we had never prayed before and with tears that can come only from those in the greatest need.

    Our daughter did not make it through her senior year before we withdrew her from school. She was totally dysfunctional. Time passed, as did our tears and our trials while we strove with all our might to save our child. Our lives were in such a shambles that one counselor recommended we “give our daughter back to God,” just accept the situation as it was and move on. But the words of President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from a stake conference echoed ever so loudly: “Never give up! Never give up!” We knew Heavenly Father loved her and that He loved us.

    Faith is something we must grasp onto when things seem the worst. Heavenly Father does love us, and He does hear our prayers. His plan sometimes takes time, but the help and answers will come. It is our job to be patient, prayerful, and unbending in what is true and right.

    Our daughter realized she could not go back to the person she once was, and she was attempting to reinvent herself each day. She found it easier to turn to the world where she felt understood than to turn to the good people around her whom she felt understood little of her pain. It was crucial that her father and I let go of former hopes and expectations so that we could accept the new person she needed to evolve into. We knew her reinvention needed the guidance of loving parents.

    Trust is a casualty of sexual assault, but trust is the first step toward love. We had to help our daughter learn how to trust us all over again, even when she was untrustworthy; then she could feel our love even when she was unlovable. Trust is nurtured by consistency, and we prayed for the strength we needed to be consistent in all that matters most. We praised her positive behaviors; set firm, gospel-centered standards for ourselves and our home; and loved her. We created opportunities to be together, such as rides to appointments or work, tickets to the movies or a ball game, and gatherings with extended family members. Then, as trust grew, we provided for her a soft place to fall, a place to turn to for help and refuge from the storm that was raging inside her.

    Help also came through people who entered our lives at precise moments when they were needed. They too were consistent and persistent in their loving service to our daughter.

    We are blessed with a large and loving extended family. They were completely unaware of our daughter’s assault and knew only that she was now different. Still, even without being aware of a cause, they accepted her without condemnation. They offered smiles and hugs, cookies and cards, and the warmest of wishes. They were consistent in their love and behavior toward her. She learned she could trust in their love.

    I am especially thankful for a sensitive Young Women president who loved our daughter in spite of our daughter’s efforts to push her away. This leader would stop by regularly with a thoughtful note, a hug, or small tokens of friendship, usually when we were desperate for assistance. This kind woman never gave up, even though her efforts seemed in vain and even after our daughter left the Young Women program. Like our family members, this leader was consistent and persistent. After a long time, our daughter began to realize she could trust in this woman’s love too.

    We also feel immense gratitude for kind and loving bishops who taught her the power of the Atonement. They helped her to once again—after such a long time—feel worthy of her many blessings from an ever-loving Heavenly Father.

    Finally, one last person was sent to us: an enthusiastic returned missionary. Only a few weeks before they met, our daughter had made the choice to return to full activity in the Church. This young man was kind and gentle and did not judge her for her past; he welcomed her, and he prayed with her and for her. They were sealed for time and all eternity in the temple.

    Through the love and service of others, our daughter was prepared and ready to trust again. The consistent love we offered brought her to the point where she was capable of forgiving, and then of recognizing the Savior’s love for her. She at last felt the peace she had craved. The hole in her soul had been filled—with love.

    Dating Safety

    As the accompanying story illustrates, sexual assault can happen to anyone. But if you are single and dating, the following tips can help keep you safe on your dates. If you are a parent, you may want to share these tips with your children who are of dating age:

    • Accept drinks—punch, water, and so on—only from those you trust. If possible, watch as it is being poured. Date-rape drugs are not added only to drinks containing alcohol. Sip your drink slowly. Some drugs are tasteless; others are not. If the drink tastes or smells odd, do not finish it.

    • If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, do not hesitate to end the date. Your safety is paramount; do not worry about hurting your date’s feelings. Do not allow your date to take you home; arrange for someone else to give you a ride.

    • If you are a minor, never arrange a meeting with someone you came to know on the Internet. If you are a single adult, be especially cautious. Always meet in a public place, such as a restaurant. Go with a friend if possible. Let friends and family know where you are going and when you will return.

    • If you are dating someone who seems excessively jealous or possessive, calls you names, or hits you, know that these unacceptable behaviors can escalate and that it is best to end the relationship.

    • If you have been assaulted, immediately seek help from the police or a hospital. Call your parents, and seek spiritual help from priesthood leaders and professional help from counselors.

    Photography by Robert Casey, posed by models