Val Hill, member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, has been sharing her story and supporting others as part of her healing journey. She was sexually assaulted by someone she considered a friend since childhood. The morning after the assault, she told her best friend, who supported her and validated that what happened was wrong. “It wasn’t a stranger in a back alley, it was someone I knew since I was 11 years old—someone I trusted. It’s made it hard to trust anyone again.”
A few days later she told her fiancée at the time, now wife, what happened, and she was also very supportive. “We were attempting to be intimate, and I just broke down crying and told her I couldn’t. I told her what happened to me, and she held me as I cried and didn’t ask for any details.”
She became pregnant from the assault and made the decision to have an abortion. At the time, the law in Georgia, where she planned to have the abortion, required that she hear the heartbeat. Once she learned there was a heartbeat, she canceled her appointment. “I was in the Army, I am tough. But there was something about the thought of having to hear a heartbeat coming from my own body, a heartbeat that did not belong to me. I just couldn’t go through with it.”
She decided to continue with the pregnancy and told her family about it. They said that being a good mother was the most important thing, and that for the sake of the baby she should involve the father in the pregnancy. “I told the man that raped me that I was pregnant. He agreed that abortion was the best idea and paid me $460 for the procedure, then asked if I’d let him punch me in the stomach instead.”
During her pregnancy she left college, lost her job, and experienced a period of homelessness. “But I decided that even though I was pregnant from rape, I would still be the best mother I could be. I ate well and didn’t take any medications; I was so careful. When I went to my check-ups the perpetrator would show up to them too, even though I didn’t want him there. He just stood in the corner silently and watched.”
Following giving birth to her daughter, she had severe postpartum depression. After her daughter was born, her family told her that she had to get along with the perpetrator as co-parents, regardless of what happened. “I confronted him and told him that he raped me. He laughed in my face. I will never forget that. His mother was sitting right there the whole time and never said a word.”
Soon after, the perpetrator sued Val for custody and visitation rights of her daughter. She had not reported the assault to police previously because she felt a lot of self-blame, denial, and fear. A year after the assault, she chose to report. She had enough evidence for her case to be forwarded to the district attorney. Her case went in front of a grand jury, which chose not to indict the perpetrator. Because Tennessee law required a conviction before a court could terminate a rapist’s parental rights, the perpetrator in this case was able to win weekly visitation.
She has continued to do her best to be a good mother while also regularly telling her story and seeking justice for herself, her daughter, and the other people assaulted by the same perpetrator. The perpetrator threatened her, saying that if she did not stop accusing him of rape, he would sue her for full custody. In 2018, the judge presiding over the custody case granted the perpetrator an Order of Protection, which meant Val could no longer mention the sexual assault as part of the custody case.
During this period Val was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Because of the court-ordered visitation, she was forced to see the perpetrator weekly. “I would have panic attacks every time I had to drop my baby off with the man who raped me. I cried all the way home. When I picked her up, I would take her home and just hold her in a rocking chair and cry. This has been the worst thing I have ever been through in my entire life. I feel like I have lost years of my life being his prisoner.”
Val has found therapy and using RAINN’s hotline to be helpful in her healing. “I have called RAINN more times than I can count. I have always found it to be helpful and often necessary in desperate times. The conversations I’ve had through the hotline make me believe in myself and gives me hope for the future.”
She is also very grateful for her wife’s ongoing support. “She has been my rock. She’s cared for me when I couldn’t care for myself. She listens and is always there. She is so kind, compassionate, and understanding. Had it not been for my wife, I wouldn’t have survived this.”
Val feels trapped by the court order granting the perpetrator visitation and custodial rights to her daughter. “I’m not free to move more than 50 miles without the judge granting it. I feel like I was given the life sentence that he deserves. Believe victims—place the perpetrator on trial rather than the survivor.”
Val says that if her daughter ever reads this, she wants her to know the truth of her story. “I want her to know that regardless of how difficult this situation has been, I look at her beautiful face and I am so thankful that I made the choice to keep her, because I love her so much. I want her to know that I have fought relentlessly to protect her and his other victims who remain silent. I want her to know that I choose to be a pioneer in changing the world she lives in. I hope, if anything, she gains my courage, above all.”
Val is currently a full-time mother. She is also involved in local politics and is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, homelessness, and anti-sexual violence. She regularly speaks out publicly about her story, and currently serves on the NAACP’s LGBTQ+ board. Val says that the best advice she ever received was that you have to stand up for yourself before you can take care of everybody else.
“Survivors aren’t required to do anything. All I want for survivors is healing. Some survivors, like me, find healing through advocacy, and some don’t. I would encourage other survivors to report, but it’s not fair to judge someone for not coming forward and not speaking.”