Gabrielle Union is opening up about her journey from victim to survivor.
The summer before starting her sophomore year of college at UCLA, the actress was raped at gunpoint by a stranger in the Payless store where she worked. In her new book We’re Going to Need More Wine — excerpted exclusively in the new issue of PEOPLE — she recounts the horrific incident and how she eventually found healing.
“The way my dad looked at me after [he heard what had happened], oh my God, is still a nightmare,” Union, 44, writes in the book, set for release on Oct. 17. “I sued Payless for negligence, but I wanted to sue them for my dad looking at me like that. The look was: Damaged. Victim. Guilt. Fear. I was the kid you bragged about. I got great grades. Was the perfect athlete. Blah blah blah. And in that moment, I was damaged.”
Union’s rapist was caught and ended up taking a plea deal of 33 years in prison. She ultimately won her negligence suit against Payless because they gave no warning to employees about the assailant — even though he had been positively identified prior to her rape for robbing a different store location.
Despite getting justice in court, the lasting affects of her rape were like an “infection you can’t treat.”
“After I was raped, I didn’t leave my house for a whole year unless I had to go to court or to therapy,” she writes. “Twenty-four years later, fear still influences everything I do.”
But fear didn’t stop Union from pursuing her dreams. In 1993, she started acting. By 2000, she was famous for her breakthrough role as fierce cheer-captain Isis in Bring It On opposite Kirsten Dunst, and she now stars as a TV news anchor looking for love on BET’s Being Mary Jane.
Given her voice and platform, and with the help of “a lot of therapy,” Union feels that she’s in a place where she can take on her story — though even the thought of her rape makes her nauseous to this day.
“Each time I tell the story is a revelation that I need to keep sharing since there’s so many more victims than survivors,” she tells PEOPLE. “They need to know healing is a process — a slow process like moving a boulder uphill with one hand tied behind your back, but there is hope. I will never stop sharing, and I will try to educate as much as I can for the voiceless and for people who didn’t get my treatment.”
For more on Gabrielle Union, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.