My name is Katrina Duesterhaus. I have a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from one of our nation’s best private art universities, I own successful business, and I am Chairwoman to the Elite Business Associates of Martin County.
When I was 14 years old I was sexually assaulted by a group of men, repeatedly over two days Memorial Day Weekend in 2000.
It happened at a party I had gone to with some of my girlfriends. After one of my family members got rough with me I decided to run away, so my family had no idea where I was.
The guys at the party were older. My girlfriends and I were freshmen in highschool, but most of the guys had already graduated. We were all drinking, which was a new thing for me, so I wasn’t able to fully understand what effect heavy alcohol consumption would have on my body.
On the patio, the guys encouraged us all to take several flaming shots of liquor. The night gets fuzzy after that, but I remember one of the guys said something about the bedroom and so we all went inside. I saw my friends on the way in, and they told me to come in the living room with them, but at that time all the guys were laughing and being nice and I thought we were having fun, so I told my friends not to worry and went in the room with them. I remember sitting on a bed, surrounded by about 5 guys, and I heard them discussing some things I didn’t understand.
They were half arguing and half joking around with each other. I heard: “Who gets to go first?,” and, “Who gets sloppy seconds?” I didn’t want to seem stupid so I just sat there, confused until every guy left the room except one. Only after he undressed and clamored towards me naked, then began tearing at my clothes did I finally understand what they had been discussing- in which order to rape me.
My friends had been right but by the time I realized it, I was already in trouble. Someone was on top of me, and all I could do was to claw my nails in his back as he forced himself inside me. I tried to not think about the four other guys standing outside waiting for their turn.
Instead I focused on a single point on the ceiling and I became that point, managing to successfully dissociate and leave my body for a time, until one of my rapists strangled me, causing me to open my mouth gasping for air, at which point he forced himself on me orally.
I came back into my body when they had finally all taken their turn. I was laying on the bed, naked and numb and I remember asking for my clothes back, but they laughed and said no and then told me to just go to sleep. I stayed awake in terror as a few of my rapists climbed in the bed with me and fell asleep.
Early the next morning I was exhausted and still fairly drunk, but I found my friends and when we went across the street for donuts I told them what had happened. My friends reminded me they told me not to go in the room, which made me feel like I had done something wrong. Survivors carry enough guilt and shame on their own.
Since I had run away, I was terrified of going home. I felt used and disgusted, and like what happened might have been my fault. I felt dead inside and so I told my friends to just leave me. They did, and not knowing where else to go I went back to the house where I was raped.
One of my rapists let me back in, and said I could get some sleep in his room. It wasn’t the same room as last night and he promised me “Don’t worry, we won’t do anything,” but shortly after we laid down he raped me again.
One of their friends heard they had a girl over, but he must have been kicked out of their rape gang because the guys would not let him in. This guy did take a look at me though, and went crazy and tried to rush the door, before a few of the guys literally fought him off which resulted in the cops being called. When the cops came my rapists told me to hide and don’t make a sound. I hid in the bedroom where I had repeatedly been raped in first night.
I remember feeling so grateful at my rapists for protecting me from their ex-buddy who was obviously a seriously violent rapist. I felt lucky that I got the nice rapists. They told me I had to leave after that, and one of them called my friends, who called my family and told them where I was.
My family came to pick me up, and they were as furious as I had expected for running away. I told them “I think I was raped,” but they were so angry with me for running away they asked me what did I expect, running away and dressing like a slut. If I were to hear anyone say something like that today, I would tell them that sexual assault is about power, and violent offenders do so because they are sick, NOT because their victims did something to encourage their assault.
A part of me knew that what had happened was sexual assault, but I didn’t really talk about what happened or fully admit it for 4 years after that. Until I was 18 years old, when I heard a woman speak about how her sexual assault. After hearing this brave woman share her story, I could no longer deny, that was what had happened to me.
I confided in my professor who directed me to victim services. I didn’t have a lot of money or family support at that time, I had been on again off again homeless since being kicked out at 16, so I was hoping they could help me pay for therapy. In order to apply for that kind of assistance, they said I needed to file a police report, which I did.
Filing a police report felt more like being interrogated. It felt to me like they didn’t care. I felt like I was a waste of their time, they didn’t seem to take me seriously. At the end of my report the officer said the statute of limitations had run out so there was nothing they could do. Years later I found out that my case should have been considered aggravated rape, due to the fact that it involved multiple adult perpetrators and I was a minor.
Thankfully I found an amazing therapist who helped me heal from the abuse I endured that Memorial Day weekend back in 2000, and after a couple of years of intense work I felt healed enough to pursue a college education. My life has not been stunted by this event, and if you asked me how I’m doing now I would tell you that I’m no longer just surviving… I’m finally LIVING again.
I want you to remember all the shame and guilt survivors will feel on their own, and that even a single careless comment can cause MAJOR damage to someone that could really just use some love. I want you to remember that your words can either help or hurt survivors further.
I want you to remember how difficult our legal system can be for survivors when you are voting in new laws. I want you to remember to teach your children about consent and to not be passive bystanders of sexual violence.
I want you to remember that it wasn’t your fault, if you yourself are a survivor, and you are not alone. I want you to let go of any remaining feelings of shame or guilt you still carry. I want you to start your journey to healing, and get strong enough to stand with us and scream out to the world — ENOUGH!!!
Sadly my story is not uncommon- but never let anyone tell you you are powerless to prevent violence!
I want you to remember that together, we CAN and WILL change the statistics for sexual violence.
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Guest Blog: Katrina Duesterhaus