Freshman Caitlyn Sousa did not have the typical high school experience. Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, she faced adversaries that no one should ever have to deal with: she was sexually assaulted during her junior and senior year of high school. Instead of cracking under the pressure, she decided to do something and write a memoir about her situation to help others who may have similar experiences. Through her book, she hopes to empower and support other survivors of sexual assault and increase awareness about the issue.
What was the turning point that made you realize you wanted to write the book about your experience?
There were a multitude of aspects that came together and sparked my desire to write a book. When I came to American I was surrounded by thousands of people who didn’t know me or my story. As I grew closer to people, I decided to share my story to see their reactions. The feedback was positive: people found my story inspiring and wanted to know more about what happened and how I stayed positive. This prompted me to consider writing a book so I could help people encountering dark periods of their lives by sharing my story. Stories from real people helped me most when I was struggling; I thought I could help others through telling my own.
Why did you choose to write a book and not use another form of creativity or advocacy?
I’ve always found writing to be extremely therapeutic and it’s something that I really enjoy doing. The night after I was sexually assaulted, I began writing in journals about what I was feeling. Writing gave me a voice when things were too difficult for me to talk about and aided in my healing process. Writing is not only emotionally beneficial, but creating a book is a great method of sharing my story on a larger level, perhaps even making it into a movie.
How has writing this book changed you or impacted your life?
It’s allowed me to reflect on my journey and realize how much I’ve grown. I’m still early on in the process, so I think I will be able to give a more in depth response once it’s finished.
What other sources of inspiration did you pull from to get your ideas or writing style?
I haven’t based my writing style off any one book, but I have been researching successful memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love and Tornado Warning to analyze their style. My journals are crucial to this process as I use them to mold my writing style as I brainstorm.
What advice would you give someone who has had a similar experience to yours?
Always trust what your gut is telling you, it is never your fault, and “time heals all wounds.” I experienced a lot of self-blame for my assault, fueling many negative thoughts and behaviors. I always knew it was sexual assault but when I had people I trusted blaming me, it was hard to stay strong. There were times when I wanted to give up and had thoughts of ending my life because I was so overwhelmed. But as the months passed and I met other survivors, I started immersing myself in positive projects, making things easier. Healing is a long process, but time can alleviate a significant amount of pain. Things will get better.
When will your book be published and where can people buy a copy?
I don’t have a set date just yet but am connecting with literary agents to aid the publishing process. My goal is to have copies available at local Barnes and Nobles or through Amazon.com.
If you or someone you love is a survivor of sexual assault, please consider calling the 24-hour DC Rape Crisis hotline at 202-333-7273 or visiting American University’s sexual assault resource page.