LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A teenager who revealed the painful details of her rape case for the first time on CBS2 in November says she found a vast support network after she went public with her story.
High school senior Lexi Oppelt said the experience of speaking publicly has helped liberate her, and she wanted to share her positive experience so that other rape victims might come forward, too.
“‘I felt like I finally got my freedom,” Lexi said. “I felt like a whole bunch of weight went off my shoulders.”
When CBS2’s Randy Paige first interviewed Lexi in October, she spent most of her time locked away in her bedroom, drawing self-portraits full of tears and desperation.
“I started judging myself like, ‘Am I really what they say I am?’ ” she recalled. “And I started to forget who I was.”
Nevertheless, she decided to go public with her story of a violent rape that took place in her high school bathroom when she was 13. Her assailants were two football players.
What’s more, officials in Lexi’s school district, the Corona-Norco Unified School District, had cast doubt on her story.
Ultimately, Lexi’s case was referred to the district attorney’s office. The DA’s office said it would not comment on the case’s outcome, since the alleged assailant was a minor at the time of the incident.
When it came time to reveal her story, Lexi said she was scared to face the cameras. But just moments after her story aired, she says she received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Even the people who said horrible things to me, they apologized for it,” she said.
Her phone lit up with messages of support, such as “you’re such a strong, positive girl” and “I feel your pain and I’m proud of you.”
One rape victim revealed to Lexi that she was living in shame and felt the rape was her fault. Another supporter wrote her a poem.
“I promise you are not alone,” the poem said. “We stand by you like towers. We will guard till the end, even if they say it’s over.”
Meanwhile, the boy who Lexi said led the attack, Kenechukwu Ugwueze, pleaded guilty in December to the forcible rape of two 18-year-old victims in Santa Barbara.
He was sentenced to six years in state prison and will need to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He is also charged with two more rapes in Riverside County.
“I’m really happy for all those girls who finally don’t have to worry about him hurting them,” Lexi said. “He’s finally locked up, he’s away, he’s not going to hurt anybody anymore.
“I hope any girl that does go through this, I hope they can tell their story,” she said. “Because I know it wasn’t easy for me. It’s not easy for anybody to hold something in like that, and I just want them to know that holding it in is just going to get you to harm yourself. Your life is way more important.”
Lexi is now on her school’s honor roll: She earned straight A’s in her last report card. A piece of art she recently created has even been chosen to be displayed in an art museum.
“I would say that is the photo of my story,” she said of her artwork. “I didn’t say anything before. I basically had duct tape over my mouth. I could’t speak. I put a shattered mirror because I’m breaking free, and I am.”
Lexi said she’s finally found happiness. After graduating from high school, she plans to pursue a degree in kinesiology.
She says she wants to be an athletic trainer so she can help injured athletes get back to doing what they love.