Master Manipulator

**Trigger Warning**

For many years Sunday nights have met me with a strong sense of impending doom.  Most of the time I am able to brush the feelings off to the side and talk myself into a more positive state. It took me a while of wondering why I would feel this way every Sunday night to reach what I believe to be one of the primary causes. When I was a young girl, I would have to ride with my abuser on Sunday nights to take my friend home after sleepovers. I dreaded these rides so much that I would often offer my younger siblings any good I had that I thought they may want- from toys to candy to my allowance. They hated being stuck in the car and to a kid, 30 minutes is a LONG time so I went alone. Most of these rides were benign; however, one night my abuser executed his art of manipulation and made my fears become a reality.

I can’t tell you the month, much less the year this particular ride home occurred; however, my guess would be that I was in the 5th or 6th grade. Although I can’t tell you the date, I can still take you to the exact location on Hwy 903 in Magnolia that these words came out of his mouth; “so why’d you tell?” As quickly as he said those words, tears began pouring from my eyes. I knew my silence indicated to him that I had told someone about our secret. Because nothing in my life had changed since my first disclosure, my abuser now knew that he could continue to get away with using me for his sexual pleasure.

Rather than ending the conversation there, he continued. As tears poured from my eyes and fear that he would kill me before I could get home overwhelmed me, he continued his manipulative tactics. He calmly proceeded to explain to me that “that was our little secret” and that he “was only trying to help me out because he knew how curious little girls are.” He was telling me that he was doing me a favor, that me sexually servicing him was beneficial for me- a child… I was “learning.” For an already confused sexual abuse victim, this wreaked havoc in my mind. As if that was not enough manipulation for him, he continued before we could reach our driveway.

As he was driving down Hwy. 903, he exposed his genitals and asks/tells me “if you want to touch or see it again you can, I’ll let you.” I clutched the passenger door and slid myself as far from him as possible. As soon as we reached the house, I barreled out the door and to my room and did not come out again until the next morning. Then, things went back to “normal.” 

I recall this experience so vividly. As you can see through this encounter, my abuser continued to implant the beliefs that what was happening to me was normal and okay. An abuser strives to do this. If they can manipulate the mind of a victim into believing they (the abuser) are actually helping them out and doing them a favor, they gain significant control and the likelihood of disclosure lessens. An abuser may first use threats, such as “you better not tell anyone or else,” to gain the submission of the victim. If abuse is ongoing, the abuser is going to continue to manipulate their victim because eventually, the threats do not carry the weight they once did. At some point, injury or death may begin to appear more desirable than continued abuse. This is why the abuser works to normalize the criminal behavior and make the victim feel “special” because the abuser is “doing him/her a favor.” Once a victim begins believing the abuse is normal, it takes a major breakthrough for them to realize that what is happening to them is not normal.

We need to do more to equip our children with the education of normal behaviors and abusive behaviors. We need to create a better dialogue with them so they can come to us as soon as something feels uncomfortable even when someone tells them what they are doing is okay. Most importantly, we must hold those who choose to abuse children accountable for their actions in a manner that will deter future child victimization. 412855_10200269506165160_25001732_o

Deal or No Deal

One of the hardest and lengthiest parts of the healing process has been coming to peace with the decision to accept the plea deal the defense lawyer and prosecutor agreed upon instead of taking the case to trial. Any time I think back to the year and a half or so working with the court system, the “what ifs” creep into my mind. In my head, and sometimes even in my dreams, different scenarios play out. What if we had gone to trial and the jury found my abuser guilty? What if we had gone to trial and the jury found my abuser not guilty? What would it have been like to face my abuser on the witness stand? Would my abuser have ever admitted his guilt? The questions can keep rolling. Thankfully, I am getting much better at preventing those thoughts from permeating my mind. I am able to rest assured that despite any decision I could have made that day in March 2006, I live for a God that is just and He loves me, His daughter.

So I must admit, this is probably the 10th time in a week that I have changed this portion of my blog. I have just continued to pray for the words I’m supposed to write to come to me. I refuse to post anything on my blog page until I have peace that it contains the words God has provided for me to share.

I am not sure how many people have witnessed a child sexual abuse case as it moves through the court system in its entirety. My goal with this post is to share what it was like for me as a 14-15 year old. Every single case will be different, but I believe there will be some similarities as well. My hope is that the conversation can continue in regards to how we can make the process of facing an abuser in court less painful for the child that has already suffered more than they ever should. I’m very thankful for the strides that have been made by many courts to adopt a trauma informed, victim centered approach.

In the weeks following my disclosure, I endured hours of interviews by state bureau investigators and forensic psychologists. They were great at their job, but there is just no way any person can make talking about your abuse experiences tolerable at this point in the journey. Eventually, my abuser was arrested and charged with three counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor; thus, the start of the court case.

Much of the time leading up to the actual day in court remains a blur. Between delays in the case, a change in Assistant District Attorney, and all of the stressors of moving and starting high school, I simply do not remember each meeting at the court house. However, in the midst of all that, the District Attorney’s office was working on my behalf to work out a plea deal with my abuser’s attorney.

When the court date arrived, I remember being overcome with fear. The only knowledge I had of what court was like came from watching Judge Judy and Judge Mathis. I truly had no idea what to expect. Before we entered the court room, the ADA called us to a room and explained that my abuser’s attorney had submitted a change to the terms of the plea agreement. At 15 years old, I had to choose between accepting the new terms, which reduced the jail time to 48 hours, or take the case to trial. If I said “deal,” it would all be over in less than an hour, they said. If I said “no deal,” the outcome of a trial was uncertain as the case was a “he said, she said.”

At this point in my journey, I had not regained my voice that was taken from me by my abuser. I had the opportunity to make a victim impact statement, but I declined; barely able to mutter the words I accepted the deal. I just wanted the nightmare to end.  It did not take long for me to realize the court experience was just one chapter in the healing process that was closed. And truthfully, the chapter isn’t completely closed today. With the way the law is written, there is the possibility I could have to face my abuser in court once every single year for the rest of his life.

In North Carolina, many sex offenders are allowed to petition for removal from the sex offender registry after 10 years. If there petition is denied, one year from the denial, they are allowed to file a petition again- year after year after year. But that’s a side note and I can discuss the implications of that law in another post.

As I’ve taken a week to write this post, I’ve tried to explore what is the right decision to make? I don’t think there is a right decision. In some ways I have discovered that I am actually very lucky (weird to say in this context) to have had the chance to decide which route my case would take. Many never get the opportunity to have charges pressed against their abuser, due to statute of limitations or other reasons. Some have the opportunity to press charges, but when a plea deal is unsuccessful they are forced to withstand a trial, which is a trauma in itself. How can we make this process easier for individuals who have endured so much and are trying to continue on the healing process? In some ways, I guess I am beginning to learn that while we should aggressively pursue hefty penalties for committing crimes against children, I’m not sure there is any punishment a judicial system could hand down to an offender that will “feel enough” for the stolen innocence of a child.

God is just. That truth is enough.857178_10202918029376585_155563210_o