Before the Harvey Weinstein allegations, before celebrities were coming out with their sexual harassment and sexual assault stories and way before the #MeToo movement, the late Jenni Rivera’s younger sister, Rosie Rivera had been sharing her own traumatic sexual assault story to help others find healing. In 2016 she released her book, My Broken Pieces: Mending the Wounds From Sexual Abuse Through Faith, Family and Love, where she breaks down how she was abused at only 8-years-old by Jenni’s ex-husband and how she triumphed over abuse and addiction. In a recent episode of the podcast ‘wait, hold up’— hosted by Jessica Molina and Yarel Ramos—Rivera gets real about what happened and how she managed to get through it.
Rosie was only 8-years-old when she was sexually abused and kept it a secret for years. It wasn’t until she was 16, that she finally shared her traumatic experience with Jenni and eventually the rest of the family.
“I swore when I was like nine—you make these vows to yourself when you’re in distress—that I was never going to tell,” she tells host Jessica Molina in the podcast’s episode 28. “And for different reasons. I wanted to protect my sister. I wanted to protect my mom’s heart. I wanted to protect my brothers from killing the guy. So I was always protecting someone else and finding myself very unprotected. I wasn’t taking care of me.”
But when Rosie’s abuser and her sister’s ex-husband was threatening to take full custody of the kids, she knew she had to tell the family what he had done to her and what he was probably still capable of. Jenni was pregnant at the time with her daughter Jenicka, which initially made Rosie hesitant to tell her. Eventually the news was made to Rosie’s mother and other family members, but she didn’t talk about it again for years.
“I never spoke about it again because you think, ‘Oh I speak about it and I’m good.’ I wasn’t good. I went into a deeper depression,” she says. “You speak your biggest secret and you see that nothing changes and that’s kind of devastating.”
Rosie went years feeling lost, depressed and hating her abuser. She drank excessively, became an alcoholic and even became suicidal. It wasn’t until she found god and converted to the Christian faith that she began to heal.
“So when the lord saved me at 25, he literally saved me from the streets. I was a drunk, an alcoholic, I was a single mom but not a good mom. I was always leaving her to go party and stuff,” she says. “I was just a wreck and I was suicidal … And he found me in the streets. So when you get that close to wanting to die and you find life, you’re like I’m really gonna live my life. I’m not going to live like this scared girl anymore. I am not the same girl anymore. I am not the same 8-year-old. I am bold, I am strong, I am going to be who I want to be. And I became who I wanted to be. I became the girl I had wished had spoken to me.”
Rosie has since shared her story with others, in her church, in her book, and talks about the importance of victims being believed by their families.
“When I went to therapy, my therapist told me that if your parents don’t believe you, the same amount of damage is done. It’s not the equal amount of damage because someone sexually assaulting you is different than someone not believing you,” she says. “But in your heart, it’s the same damage because you figure my parents—not owe me something— but we have a connection. They’re supposed to believe me. It’s just damaging and you find yourself having to forgive them and go through the process of healing with the people that didn’t believe me.”
Fortunately for Rosie, her family believed her. But that’s not the case for a lot of young women she’s spoken to who were also victims of abuse, especially those who were abused by close relatives or family friends, which is often the case. In fact, statistics show that 7 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knew and 34% of those abusers are often family members. She goes on to explain how a lot of families split or break up when victims finally share their stories and out their abusers and it’s something she warns a lot of victims could happen.
“I tell people, it probably is going to break your family apart. Like I’m very honest. Like you know what, your family might split, but you’re worth it and you didn’t cause this,” she says. “That person caused it so when your family is a mess, you must stay firm and say my healing is worth it and hopefully the family can one day come back together or they can agree to disagree whatever it may be, but that person has to search for healing.”
Rosie found her healing but it wasn’t easy and it literally took years. She shares two things that were the hardest to handle or accept during her healing process.
“One is forgiving the abuser. I think that’s the hardest thing,” she says. It took time for me. I hated him for 18 years and you get used to the hate. It becomes a part of you, so to all of us thinking how to kill this man everyday to wishing well for him … By the time I saw him again though, I didn’t hate him and it felt so good. I saw him be arrested. I got the chance, the opportunity to see him in handcuffs and I didn’t have a victory like ‘Oh you’re going to hurt now.’ It was more like, woowww I am so important to god, to this justice system, to my family. So it really got me a lot of healing and release.”
It also took her time to realize just how loved she is. “Two would be really knowing the depth of how loved I am. So it’s recovering your identity again. It becomes really really hard,” she says. “I though that 8-year-old Rosie died. That I was never going to meet her. That I would never know what she would have been like. That I lost something forever in that moment. And you do, for a while but if you really put the work into it—because it takes work—healing is a choice and responsibility once you put that work in. I’m just so happy that I get to see her.”
Check out the rest of the interview on episode 28 of ‘wait, hold up.’