Editor's Note: All italicized text is as written by the Paramus teenager.
A 16-year-old sophomore at Paramus High School, described 2012 as the hardest year of her life. She was sexually assaulted in August 2012, just before entering her freshman year at PHS. Her story of strength is a lesson.
I became introverted and terrified of the world around me.
Effects of sexual assault, as outlined on rainn.org, include self-harm/self-injury, eating disorders, depression and suicide.
The victim found herself in a downward spiral after her attack.
After three suicide attempts in October of 2012, [followed by] a month of surmounting depression and self harming on a daily basis as well as starving myself to get skinny, I hit my second lowest point. I cut myself so badly I needed stitches in my leg and passed out.
The teenager explained that after this incident, she woke up and realized, "I needed to do something different."
A school nurse noticed her was limping the following day and the then-freshman told her everything. The nurse recommended that she join a structured class, opposed to a standard gym membership to keep active and let out some aggression. She laughed nervously when the recommendation of kickboxing came up.
The victim's mother signed her up for a kickboxing class at Tiger Shulman’s Mixed Martial Arts Paramus the next day.
With skeptical expectations she began attending classes. At first, she was too nervous to let her feet leave the ground.
What if I fell? What if everyone looked and laughed?
Instructor Michael Murray was patient with her and eventually the ball was rolling.
I felt amazing finally hitting back. I saw the face of my attacker, the bullies at school, the friends I had lost, myself at times. But now I could take it out somewhere else. I didn’t need to harm myself anymore. As long as I went there most days I was happy. Truly, without exceptions, happy.
"She is a totally different person from when she first came in," said Murray. "She was so shy and timid. I noticed her transformation when I just started to see her hanging around happy. With a smile on her face, just acting like a 16-year-old."
Kickboxing acted as an outlet for the PHS freshman to release aggression that she had previously been releasing on herself. There were still more hurdles to clear.
After arriving early to and staying after classes, she observed the Close Range Self Defense classes.
Although it looked intriguing, it terrified me. This was exactly what I had been so scared of: being that close in contact to another human being ever again. I had a big problem with being touched.
Eventually she decided that too needed to change and she asked Murray if she could try out the Close Range Self Defense class. Surprised, yet supportive, Murray welcomed her to the class.
I was afraid to do most of the exercises at first. But once again, this was handled with patience and time. The first time I rolled someone over onto their back, I apologized relentlessly. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but then I realized this is yin and yang. My classmates and I were there to help each other learn to defend ourselves and prevent each other from being hurt.
This realization allowed her to embrace the constructive physicality of close range self defense and her fear of another person being “so close” to her began to fade. As did any remaining desires to harm herself.
As I became more in tune with my body, I felt an attachment to it. Self harm along with self starvation was unfair to my body. How could I hurt something so willing to help me? Close range self defense brought in a new element of self discovery.
She began attending classes five times each week for a class or two each night and she has now moved on to Intermediate/Advanced Kickboxing class.
I kick, I punch, I hit hard, and I don’t mind getting flipped onto my back. I’m not afraid to be attacked on the street again because, quite frankly, I would hurt an attacker more than they could ever hurt me. For the first time in years, I have felt really truly safe.
This newfound confidence is fully attributed, by the teenager, to the self discipline, self defense and honest caring for each other she felt at Tiger Schulman’s.
It has completely changed me as a person. A year ago, I never thought I’d be able to share my story.