THE DAY I TESTIFIED BEFORE THE SENATE PANEL. PHOTO: MARIE THOMAS
Growing up, I was an adventurous, fun-loving kid. I did well in school, was on the track, basketball, and swimming teams, and pretty popular. But after I moved from Iowa to Georgia at age 17, I felt alone for the first time. I didn't know anyone at school, so I turned to the Internet for people to talk to.
I can't recall which social media network it was where I met the guy who became my boyfriend. At first, it was nothing serious; we bonded over a common interest in hip-hop music and both liked Jay-Z. He was easy to talk to, understanding of my feelings, and a good listener. I didn't care that he was in his 30s, because he made me feel special and comfortable — it just felt right.
So, after talking for a few months online, he asked me if I wanted to meet for the first time and go to South Beach, Florida for Memorial Weekend. I was so excited! He said he'd pay for everything, no problem, so we made plans for him to pick me up from at my house one morning around 3 a.m., while my mom was asleep.