I arrived to Duke University in 2008 just as I was about to turn 18 years old. I didn't really know what to expect going into it, especially in regards to the social culture. I was never involved in the party scene during high school, not because I wasn't exposed to it, but because it just didn't interest me. My family and my Christian faith played a huge role in the lifestyle I led, but I was also very blessed to have friends that felt the same way. They served as such an encouraging support system, one that I didn't know I would miss so much until I no longer had it.
I got involved in my campus ministry from the very beginning, which allowed me to quickly meet many Christians on campus. However, it didn't take long for me to become involved in the party scene, especially once I became a part of Duke's Greek life. I was still very much involved in my campus ministry and church, so I thought I was being faithful to my Christian values. Little did I know how wrong I was.
During the following spring, in 2009, this lifestyle led to one night that changed my life forever. One night out on the town, I ran into one of my closest friends at the time. It was always convenient to run into him whenever I went out because he lived in my dorm, so we would walk back together at the end of the night, talk for a while, and then say goodnight. However, on this particular night he decided to take advantage of the fact that I was more intoxicated than usual. It all happened so quickly, and before I knew it, I had lost my virginity. Or rather, it had been taken away from me.
My initial reaction was shame. I didn't want to report it because it meant people would know. It also meant that I would have to acknowledge not just to others, but to myself, that I had been raped, which I wasn't ready to face. Next came anger. I was angry with him for what he did. I was angry with myself for putting myself in that situation. But most of all, I was angry with God for letting such a horrible thing happen to me, a faithful Christian (or so I thought I was). I thought, "if He loved me, He would've protected me." So, I turned my back on God.
I was done with Him. But He certainly wasn't done with me.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't escape Him. The more He drew near, the more I fought against Him, until the end of that following summer, when I felt His presence in a way I never had before. Not only could I not fight Him any longer, but I didn't want to. That's when I realized how much God truly loved me. Even though I tried to cut myself off from Him, God never stopped pursuing me. He never ceased to care despite the fact that I did. I knew that He never had and never would abandon me. All I wanted was to run back into His arms and never let go of Him again. It was in that moment that the idea of unconditional love moved from my head to my heart.
If I could go back to that night, I wouldn't change a thing because it unearthed a sad truth about my faith: I loved God as long as life went my way. Although what happened that night caused horrible pain, it allowed me to experience God's love more tangibly than ever before. That was when my superficial faith became a saving faith, which radically transformed my lifestyle. I began to see myself as God saw me: as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as one who was bought with a price. It's been amazing to see how God has not only blessed me through this, but blessed others as well. I've had the opportunity to connect with young women who have been in similar situations and been able to help them see God's love in their own lives by showing them God's love through my own story.
Coming into college, I heard all the speeches about consent, personal safety, signs to watch out for, and statistics about sexual assault and rape that are often underestimated. It seemed like there was an implicit assumption that this was the rule, not the exception. No one ever talked about the events leading up to such situations, the mentality that feeds into the actions we are actually responsible for, or about the reality that it's much more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped by someone you know instead of a stranger or acquaintance. We're taught to avoid such situations out of fear. But from a Christian perspective, there is a driving force much more powerful than fear--love.
What's missing is a discussion about what it means to love and value yourself, and how that translates into a social context. And for Christians specifically, especially young women, I think that understanding how God loves us and values us would address some of the ways of thinking that drive us to make choices that lead us into potentially dangerous circumstances. In my experience, it's not fear of being taken advantage of again that has kept me from living the way I used to. I don't desire to live like that anymore. It's understanding how much God loves me that has redirected my heart to desire what He desires and to love what He loves.
"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Caterina Rodriguez is a graduate of Duke University and a student at the Duke Divinity School.