Today marks ten years since my rapist was sent to prison for the crimes he committed against me.

September 5th, 2007 may not have been the most important event to some who worked on this case, but for me, it was the conclusion I had longed to achieve. It was my chance (thanks in part to the Colorado Victim Right’s Amendment) to express not only the facts, but the reaching havoc this man’s actions wreaked upon my life. A sense of resolve filled my once-quivering voice as I sat in front of the judge, my rapist, news cameras, and a galley full of friends and family.

Amid my account, I spoke these words:

“That day God gave me a second chance. I’m just now finally getting my life back in order. I’m taking huge steps to help others who are in my position. I want the positive outcomes of my case to show other women that coming forward and reporting these crimes, though long and difficult, can be healing. They need to stand up for themselves.

Your Honor, please help me set a precedent in our community. Send a message to those who are deranged like the defendant, tell them that they can no longer hide and they will be punished. But at the same time, send a message to the victims of sexual assault. Let them know that by coming forward, they, too, will see justice done to their attackers.”

Wednesday during the sentencing of Ronnie Pieros in Division 12 of Weld District Court in Greeley.

The Honorable Judge James Hartmann handed down 24 years to life on September 5th, 2007 to my attacker. He received 12 years for the Class 3 Felony Burglary conviction and 12 years to life for the Class 3 Felony Sexual Assault, to be served consecutively. Credited with 461 days served, if deemed eligible a minimum parole period of 20 years to life and a lifetime of registry as a sexual offender would be mandatory upon his release. For a time, Weld County, Colorado Case 06CR1088, was closed.

As of today, Ronnie J. Pieros has his first parole eligibility hearing scheduled for October 2020. That date has continuously moved up but as it stands, I will find myself speaking to a Colorado Parole Board as to why this sexual predator should remain incarcerated only 14 years after he stalked me, broke in to my home, and raped me.

When I checked in two years ago, he had still not yet started any type of sex offender treatment within the Colorado Department of Corrections.

This man may very well soon walk free, thus ending his sentence with the Department of Corrections.

My sentence however, was for life.

Like most victims of violent crimes, I stood at a crossroads. I faced a potential lifetime of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, crippling depression, sudden panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, ongoing counseling, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, medications, self-medicating, the list going on indefinitely. I could have turned within myself and let the pain of victimization consume me. I could have let it define my actions going forward, never allowing myself to heal or be whole again.

Do not be fooled, all of those trauma manifestations have been a reality for me at different periods over the years—some still are. I have days where getting out of bed is the most I can do. Hours where I cannot bear to hear about others’ assaults. Weeks where I question my ability to ever truly heal, and months where I doubt my own self-worth. All of these negative ramifications are vital to my recovery—a constant reminder of the demons we must face in the aftermath of trauma.

Rape may have robbed me of many things, but it did not deprive me of my right to make a choice.

I chose to get out of bed, to claw my way out of depression, to finish school, to combat mental illness, to advocate for other crime victims, and to use my voice for change. Just as I’d pledged ten years ago during that sentencing hearing, I am helping send a message to sexual assault victims.

I was sentenced to life, so I chose to survive—to be a spark of light in the middle of some other victim’s consuming darkness; to be a lighthouse to those looking for the shore.

It’s not easy to carve out a life on your own terms; to be unapologetic in the pursuit of what you know is right. To be scared out of your mind, but doing what must be done nevertheless.

I now know that each time someone speaks truth about their attack and recovery, it shares a piece of their soul with someone in need of guidance and hope when they may feel none. And that makes all the difference.

Victims may be sentenced to life, but we can choose to live as survivors. If you have been a victim, what have you chosen as your sentence? Share your story using the hashtag #ChooseYourSentence.