The sexual molestation began when she was 6. By 11, she was being raped. Her mother was largely absent; she was unsure who her father was; her 80-plus-year-old grandmother did her best to raise three grandchildren on Social Security. Their home was strictly Catholic, in a low-income, predominantly Hispanic community in San Diego.
“My mother ended up on her own with three children, perhaps from different fathers,” Borges says. “She had been the baby of her very large family, so my aunts or uncles were all much older with their own families. She left us with my grandmother. At one point, she returned to take my middle brother, leaving my oldest brother and me with Grandma.”
Borges’ oldest brother was a teenager. His sexual behavior toward her began when she was 6 and continued, including rape starting at 11, until she left for college at 17.
“My grandmother went to church almost every day,” Borges says. “She ruled with a heavy hand, but she didn’t know what was going in her own household. We knew that what happened at home stayed at home. Period.”
Borges never told anyone.
“I know I never felt guilty, but I was extremely introverted, and I looked so sad,” she says. “I was also very bright, and I escaped by spending lots of time at the library, looking for my way out. I had tested as gifted at a young age, so I had teachers—very strong female teachers—who opened doors for me. They taught me to think, to use those muscles, to read poetry, and that if I continued studying hard, today would just be the tip of the iceberg—that there was a big future out there for me.”
In 1997, Borges started a career in law enforcement as a correctional officer working in a protective-custody unit.
“I was around rapists and child molesters, and I began to read files about those crimes, and domestic violence, assaults, murders,” Borges says. “I became really good at figuring out the thought process of molesters—the components and characteristics. I thought about becoming a detective, but I was already a single mom, with a young son, who was hardly ever home. All he had was me. After 10 years in corrections, I opened my own business here in the desert.”
It took Borges 11 years to complete her college degree, with a double major in anthropology and theology from University of San Diego. She went on to earn a master’s degree in theology in 2000, at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. She published her first book, Left Vulnerable, in 2017.
“Although I originally studied anthropology and culture, I pursued theology because it was interesting to me,” she says. “When you’re raised religious and sexually assaulted, you do ask, ‘Why would God let this happen to me?’ It can bring extraordinary recklessness to your life. I had walked that fine line.”
Borges, 49 and a resident of Palm Desert, counsels clients (non-licensed), particularly those who have been in traumatic situations. She also gives public presentations and preaches forgiveness.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How did you learn to forgive?’ I use empathy. I put myself in someone else’s shoes,” she says.
“My brother was only 15 when the molestation started. Our mother was basically absent. My grandmother was over 80, and he was her favorite. He had to quit playing baseball, which he loved, to go to work part-time while in school. His financial contribution made a big difference. How awful that must have been for him.
“People can act super-aggressive when they’re fearful. We default to anger and acting out. It takes a lot more effort to be kind and loving and understanding—and forgiving. As a society, with social media and the news, stories about love and generosity are few and far between. I do believe I see a shift, that people are seeing the need for kindness, and compassion. I think the pendulum is coming back in that direction.
“I get to talk to teachers and students about seeking out and learning how to forgive. It can help for handling volatile situations. Any healthy relationship is about empathy, understanding and tolerance.”
Borges’ son, 21, attends college in San Francisco, studying business and finance.
“I had to work to get through college, so I made sure my son got into college,” she says. “In a way, my mother was a very strong influence on me. When I got pregnant in my mid-20s, I decided to raise him on my own. He has always been very supportive of what I do, and believes that these discussions are necessary in order to lessen sexual assaults and keep the lines of communications open. He really pushes me to seek out speaking engagements. He feels that so much about sexual assault is hidden, and until we are comfortable discussing the topic, it runs the risk of staying hidden. I’m extremely blessed to be his mom.
“I think about how happy we are at times like Christmas, based on people giving to each other with love. I’ve learned it takes a very gentle person to be strong.”
Borges is currently in a 4-year relationship with a woman.
“I never realized I was gay until the first time I was asked out by a woman,” she says. “I didn’t see how that would work. Well, I never went back to dating men after that!”
Borges’ current venture is her FWord Project.
“I want to collect stories about forgiveness—two or three paragraphs about a time you forgave, or someone forgave you, or things that are unforgivable. I want everything from Holocaust survivors to those in every walk of life. The goal is to incorporate all the stories about how we do or do not forgive. I want to get stories from all over the world to see if other countries are different in the ways they forgive. If we’re aware of stories about forgiveness in others, we can perhaps not fall back into the negative. It’s about coming to the table with love and understanding. I ask people, ‘What do you have to lose by reaching out?’ We have to move past things to get on with our lives, to reach the point where we ask ourselves, ‘Why didn’t I do that sooner?’
“I plan to collect the stories and pictures and publish them all online. People can submit stories or get more information at email@example.com.”
Danitza Borges has found peace despite circumstances that could easily have destroyed her. She has dedicated her life to helping others find the strength to forgive as she did.
“Knowing others’ experience can move us toward being able to learn forgiveness,” she says. “It’s hard work, but what we search for, we can find.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.