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    Bella English

    Beauty queen lights the way for victims by talking about her rape at 13

    Maude Gorman was named Miss Massachusetts World America in March.
    Maude Gorman was named Miss Massachusetts World America in March.

    Maude Gorman recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she represented Massachusetts in the Miss World America pageant. Though the Hingham native didn’t win, she placed in the top 10. And, perhaps most precious to her, she took first place in the pageant’s “Beauty with a Purpose” presentation.

    That’s the three-minute speech each contestant gives before the panel of judges. Gorman spoke candidly about a topic that caused her so much pain as a teenager that she tried to take her own life. When she was 13, she was raped by three men.

    In March, when she was named Miss Massachusetts World America, she vowed to use her crown to speak of the unspeakable. “I think society blames victims,” she says. “I’m trying to remove that blame. My goal is to be that light at the end of the tunnel for those who feel stuck in the darkness.”

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    Gorman was stuck in the darkness for more than three years after the rape, telling no one: not the police, not her family or friends.

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    “To this day, I don’t know who the men were,” says Gorman, 21, a rising junior at Stonehill College. “One of four women will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, and 68 percent of rapes are unreported to police. Of those that are reported, only 2 percent are caught and go to prison.”

    She was a happy-go-lucky suburban teenager when she and a friend went to a playground. As they were leaving, around dusk, three young men approached them, drunk and loud. Her friend ran one way and Gorman ran the other. The men caught her and raped her repeatedly.

    “You see these stories on the news, but you never think it’s going to happen to you,” Gorman says. She returned to her friend’s house, but said nothing about what happened. “My decision was that I was going to keep it secret.”

    What followed were years of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. “I got severe PTSD,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted all the time.”

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    She went from being an “A” student to flunking some classes. The first week at Hingham High School, she recognized one of her attackers in the hallways. She left the building and dropped out of school.

    What followed were a succession of schools: Fontbonne Academy in Milton, a boarding school in Vermont, and Notre Dame Academy in Hingham. She bombed out of each, with the schools telling her parents they thought she was drinking or drugging. At home, nightmares continued to plague her.

    She was at Notre Dame Academy, she says, when she took a morality class that focused in on rape. When she got into the car with her mother, she decided to tell her. “I didn’t look her in the eye, I was so ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to see her reaction,” Gorman says.

    Her parents got her into therapy and she found an online high school, where she graduated near the top of her class. She was prescribed antidepressants, which made her gain about 70 pounds.

    “I was getting better mentally, but physically my health was not where it should be,” she says. She began working out, lost weight, and, at her sister’s suggestion, began to enter local pageants. “I heard they helped with self-confidence, and that was something I really lacked.”

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    Since winning the state title, Gorman has been volunteering at the Center for Hope and Healing, a rape crisis center in Lowell. She’s doing it for herself as well as others. “I don’t think you ever fully recover; it’s how you learn to deal with it and accept it,” she says. “I heal by telling my story.”

    Gorman is seeking funding for the Hope Project, which she recently started at the center, giving out Hope Bags to survivors. In the teal bags — the color of sexual assault awareness — she includes resources for rape victims, inspirational quotes, a stuffed animal (“On those sleepless nights, I hugged mine very, very tight”), and a journal.

    Camila Barrera, who directs the Center’s Youth Access to Support and Services, welcomes Gorman’s voice for the nonprofit’s young women — and men — ages 14 to 22. Most sexual assaults take place before the age of 18, she says, and many victims don’t tell their parents out of fear and guilt.

    “And it’s very common that parents don’t believe the child,” Barrera says. “In some cultures in Lowell, there isn’t even a word for rape. Maude is a great advocate for the youth. When she talks about her experience, she empowers other survivors to talk. She shows them that it gets better.”

    Bella English writes from Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.