“Newyorican Girl” front cover (Coutesy Julia Torres)

“Newyorican Girl” author: taking the stigma out of sexual abuse, PTSD

Award-winning journalist and former corporate executive Julia Torres Barden has had a life filled with perhaps more struggles than most, but she just wrote a novel she describes as a mostly-true memoir to let it out — for herself to face her fears and for others to learn it’s okay to ask for help.

In “Newyorican Girl,” Torres, 52, relives the rape she went through when she was 9,  a forced adoption which took parental control away from her father at 14, and being at a conference in NYC during September 11, 2001, which culminated into her being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I wrote it to show you can still survive with PTSD,” says the new self-published author, who is having a book signing at La Casa Azul Bookstore in New York City on Saturday. “That’s the message I want to deliver. I’m begging my Latino community to open up and say, ‘I’m struggling.’ There’s nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of. People want to help you, but we have to take away the stigma of what a mental health diagnosis means.”

She says being diagnosed with PTSD, approximately 10 years ago, also taught her to be a kinder person to those with mental health challenges.

Julia Torres (right) with Gina De Jesus' mom (left) on July 17, 2013. (Courtesy Julia Torres)

Julia Torres (right) with Gina De Jesus’ mom (left) on July 17, 2013. (Courtesy Julia Torres)

“I want to help other Latinas and women who have been raped, and particularly children,” says Torres, who is a national speaker for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and who recently visited Gina De Jesus’ family — one of the three girls who was abducted by Ariel Castro and kept in his Ohio home for nine years.

“I spent an hour with her mother and father,” she says. “We talked about what it’s like, and if they ever want to talk to me — if Gina is not ready to talk — they can call me,” she says. “Part of my healing comes from helping others.”

Torres says she feels fortunate that although she was raped, she was let go.

“I was abducted around the corner from where I lived,” says Torres. “A man came up to me when I was 9 and said, ‘I’m a police officer, and I need your help finding a woman’s dog, and you have to come with me.’ Before I knew it, I was going with him to a basement. I never said anything till I was in my 20’s. My mother died without knowing.”

Not being able to be open with her mother is one of the reasons she never spoke up about being raped.

“Nobody noticed,” she says. “I was angry at the adults for not noticing…I think we need to raise our children to respect your elders, but if your intuition tells you something is wrong, honor it — even if it’s an authority figure.”

Part of Torres’ PTSD therapy has been writing her book and also visiting the places where her trauma happened. She says she went back to where she was raped, and she also took her children to New York City to see Ground Zero — so they would not grow up afraid of where they were born and to face their fears.

“I wrote the book because I lived and survived and am somehow surviving in this world,” she says. “I hope this book will help at least one other person.”

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