When you are a 17 year old girl with your whole life ahead of you, it seems invincibility is your constant side kick….until, one horrible day, it’s suddenly not. On that day, when a stranger lunges in to forcibly take what you had plans to give away in devoted love on your wedding night…life feels as though it’s shattered into a million pieces.
How does a 17-year-old girl deal with being raped by a stranger? Where are her avenues to turn to for help? School taught her sex ed, church taught her to wait, friends taught her the good and the bad …yet no one teaches a 17 year old girl how to deal with rape. Instead, she falls on the mercy of a system that thankfully is set in place to guard and protect her from any further victimization.
Eryka’s family had no experience with the legal system or courts so the whole situation was unchartered scary territory. Sixteen years later, Eryka is still very grateful for the Victim/Witness Advocate she was assigned to help her and her parents navigate the painful journey.
Their advocate walked them through every step of the way and she was the ONLY person that Eryka or her family spoke to about the rape. Eryka never even talked to the State's Attorney. Her advocate relayed all messages for her. Her advocate was her source of support and her lifeline through the legal jungle of a rape trial.
Eryka knew when she graduated college she wanted to be in the position to offer support to other women like she had received. Her senior year of college she got an internship as a Victim/Witness Advocate working with victims of juvenile offenders. She worked with several rape and sexual assault victims to provide the help and support to them in the same ways she was supported years earlier.
Eyrka was hired right out of college and worked there several years. In 2006 she was awarded PA's Juvenile Advocate of the Year. When it was time to move on from the Victim/Witness Advocate office, she did not leave behind her care of women surviving rape. Instead, she began to volunteer as a Victim/Offender Mediator, which is a program that allows victims to confront their offenders and to help get answers to the questions that only the offender can provide. This can be very helpful in the healing process.
Eyrka’s first case was a rape and it surprised her how much helping another woman also benefited her in her healing journey. She realized living with unforgiveness in her heart was really only hurting herself. Her work with this rape case was a huge step in her personal journey towards forgiveness of her offender.
She continues to do this type of volunteer work and has also been able to help several friends who were raped. She is able to offer the type of support only rape survivor can offer.
As Eryka shared her story with me, I was continually reminded of the promise in Scripture: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Eryka has shown tremendous strength and bravery in sharing her story with other women and advocating on their behalf. The war torn path she’s walked, has far too many women on it. Eryka shared just a bit with me during her pre-consult and then more as we spent time together in her Unveil your Cinderella portrait experience. In her words, "I'm happy to be able to share my story with other survivors so that they too may get their beautiful back."
Eryka wanted to see the beauty that was taken from her, on her own terms. This was a step in her healing. She longed to know that her beautiful was waiting right there to be shown to her. She wanted to gift her husband, for their one-year anniversary. He was blown away by the surprise and her beautiful vulnerability. Thank you for sharing your story and your countless hours poured into advocacy! May the Lord bless you and keep you beautiful one!