My daughter was a victim of sexual assault. No matter what trials and tribulations I had gone through in my life before, this is by far the most gut-wrenching, trying time. They say you are only as happy as your least happy child. I never understood that as clearly as I do now. While thankfully, we are not facing a life-threatening illness or worse, it has been a time of loss. She has lost her innocence, trust and safety … and this has affected every aspect of her life and ours. While the days, then weeks, then months and now years go by, I realize that this experience will always be a part of her and who she is.
We have been through so much, yet nothing has been resolved. When we first learned what happened, we met with a therapist, who as a mandatory reporter, did her job and reported it. We met with the local police detective who interviewed us and wrote up a report. The report was then sent to the District Attorney’s office. We also got a call from the department of children and family, who opened their own investigation. Then our daughter had to endure a lengthy interview by a Sexual Assault Interviewer in a double-paned glass room with 6 people listening in while she told her story, all while we were down the hall not able to hold her hand or support her. We have never heard her testimony, and I probably never will, as I am also a witness. Yet, through her testimony, in the meeting immediately following her SAIN interview, in a conference room filled with total strangers, the DA told us that our daughter was brave, and that from her testimony they had enough evidence to prosecute, and they planned to do so. That was it. We were in shock.
Since the beginning, our sole focus was our daughter’s health and wellbeing. Thankfully, we have been able to get her therapy and the support she needed to process what has happened to her, to let her know that it was not her fault, to tell her how proud we are that she was able to get out of a very tricky situation, and to work towards some new sense of normalcy. It has been a very long road, but what I have learned first-hand is that she is strong and brave, far braver and more mature than the weak, deceitful and exploitive person (cannot call him a man, because he isn’t one) that assaulted our daughter. We still wonder how many other victims there may be, and if they will come forward. We hope that by coming forward, that he will not have the opportunity to harm another child ever again, but there are no guarantees.
Going through this process is lonely. For the sake of our daughter we have told very few people. Only close family and friends who have been incredibly supportive, and people that may need to know so they can understand the trauma she has been through, and how to help her continue on her path. She has lost friends along the way, not because she has told them anything about what happened to her, but because she, as a person, was fundamentally changed by this experience. She withdrew for quite some time, not willing to be away from us, and not wanting to ever be alone at a friend’s house without a parent there. She didn’t want to go to school or after-school activities. She lost trust in the adults around her. We lost trust in adults around us, too. We realized that someone we thought was a friend, and trusted with our daughter’s safety, was actually a predator. It has taken a long time for her to be able to go and do things on her own, but slowly, she has been able to regain some of her independence. And she has gained a new attitude toward life and how she lives it. She is stronger and more determined, and she is fiercely protective of those she loves. Even though trusting is hard for her, she is a true friend and cares deeply about those around her.
The other side to this is the injustice of our justice system. On average, of the 1,000 sexual assault cases that are brought before police, 100 are investigated, and 10 are prosecuted. Our daughter’s case is the 1% that gets prosecuted. The statistics seem to be in our favor, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. She is entitled to an expedient trial, but so far she has already waited over 1/6th of her short life for justice to be served.
It is a painfully slow process with many, many bumps in the road. We have learned that it never ever goes in a straight line. Each time you think you are getting closer, you get pushed further back. It is about hearings and dates that get changed, and a defense that is hell-bent on victimizing the victim. It is sickening, but that is their only hope. We just sit back and hope that when this all comes to trial that the evidence far outweighs their lack of defense. I still wonder occasionally why we are doing this, allowing our daughter to testify in a criminal trial in an attempt to put him behind bars, where we know he belongs. What I do know, and have learned, is that we must do everything in our power to make our daughter whole again, and this includes believing her, supporting her, allowing her to tell her story, and giving her the power back that he tried to take away from her. He thought she was weak, and he could take advantage of her and the situation. Regardless of the outcome (though he will always be considered guilty by us, we are not they jury), I believe we have proven him wrong. She is now stronger than she was before.
During a recent conversation, I said to our daughter that she knew her teachers well, and could trust them, and her exact words were, “That’s what we thought about X.” And you know what, she was right. How can we ever teach her to trust again? Yet, through her own courage, perseverance, and bravery she has started to trust again. We are continually impressed by her compassion for others, her resiliency, and her willingness to work harder and longer to succeed. She has set high goals for herself, and she has achieved them. Her teachers, most of whom know nothing about what happened, see a happy, cheerful, kind person who works hard at school. They look at her and see success. She is also now starting to believe this about herself, and this is the best gift of all.
I hope to share these thoughts with her someday, when this is hopefully all behind us. Right now, we focus on the positive and the here and now. We focus on what we do have control of, and we work hard as a family to spend quality time together so this is not on the forefront, even if it is just under the surface all the time.
We see bravery in her every single day. She is stronger and more empowered. She will not let others tell her who to be or what to do, and we could not be more proud of the young woman she is today, and the woman we know she will become in the future.