Tomorrow is International Day of the Girl, a global initiative to promote girls’ rights, highlight gender inequality between girls and boys, and shine a light on the different forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the world.

In line with this year’s theme, Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence, WYSK has partnered with the dating violence advocacy group Day One to share stories from powerful young women survivors that speak to where they are today compared to where they have been. This is part 1 of a two part series (read part 2 here).

By Valerie I. Santiago, 23


“There’s a difference between forgetting and growing.” I typed with the utmost confidence. Seven years or so have passed since feeling his weight on my shoulders. He made it easy for me to question my existence. I was 14 when I met him. I suffered many trials growing up and he felt that. He saw the pain along my arm. He wanted to help and at that moment he had my attention.

That saying “every rose has its thorn” describes him: The way he strove to love me was beautiful. I didn’t understand, but I also wasn’t alien to it, to how love can hurt. How the prick of a rose’s thorn can cause such pain.

It wasn’t a thrill being with him. I didn’t get high off of the body slams. I didn’t crave him after waking up from him choking me. I didn’t feel anything when he held knives against my throat. I didn’t retaliate when he broke mobile phones across my face. Reflecting on that year and a half I don’t think I knew anything. I was numb.

I’m good at suppressing a lot of things. But after some time of questioning your existence, and never finding the right answer, I learned to start existing.

I didn’t want to be just some girl. I didn’t want to be the broken girl. I didn’t want to be stuck, known as his girl.

A lot of survivors live many years following attacks in anger. Not towards their abuser but angry at themselves. Investing that sort of energy in myself was consuming. I asked myself why not be consumed in happiness? I would be applying just as much energy.

A good friend of mine pointed me to the book, “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. I was 16 and had a revelation. I realized after reading this book that there was a queen that resided within me, and I needed to perfect her. I began to live a life of why not instead of why.

It may very well seem to a lot of people that I “let him get away with it,” but I don’t see it that way at all. I have been able to grow into a beautiful woman because I allowed myself to invest my energy where it is needed, in ME and everything that I love. I could’ve taken the time to make him feel what I did, but he deserves peace too.

Take some time to think about the best moments in your life. Then think about multiplying on the feeling during that moment. If you don’t feel like you’ve had any good moments, then ask yourself when will you start to create them?

Seven years or so have passed, and I still suffer many obstacles in life. But none that have to do with the product of my past. So on that Thursday of last year when he messaged me on Facebook questioning if I forgot about him and all that we had been through, I confidently typed “There’s a difference between forgetting and growing.”

I felt no anger, no resentment. I felt nothing. But this time I wasn’t numb, because I knew the woman that I’ve become. I didn’t feel his weight on my shoulders because a queen’s shoulder doesn’t hold a chip or an ego.

By finding peace and happiness, I am allowing myself to live a fulfilled life, undefined. I’m slowly growing into all that I have dreamed I could be.

About Day One

Day One partners with New York City youth to end dating abuse and domestic violence through preventative education, supportive services, legal advocacy and leadership development. Day One focuses on young people because 1 in 3 teens experience abuse in a dating relationship according to the United States Department of Justice.

The non-profit organization engages young people in identifying methods of keeping themselves and their peers safe, and together envision a future without fear of abuse. For more information on teen dating violence, click here.

Special thanks to Stephanie Nilva, Executive Director, Day One for bringing this important story to WYSK. Stay tuned for Part II