A Decision I Will Never Regret

I can still vividly recall the shakiness and fear that seemed to consume me when the Assistant District Attorney called me to the stand to be sworn in last summer. Based on television shows, you would think the swearing in process is a piece of cake. We regularly see people place a hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How hard could it really be? Just get up there and tell the truth, right?

I will never consider testifying in court as a “light” event in a person’s life. I can remember my heart racing, my hands trembling, and my voice shaking as I was sworn in and took my seat. Testifying in court is not guaranteed to end in the survivor’s favor. That lack of certain conviction is what played the most significant role in accepting a plea agreement when my abuser was initially charged. I experienced only a glimpse of what a trial feels like when I testified at my abuser’s petition hearing. But that glimpse was enough to help me better understand the trauma that will occur in the courtroom.

Over the years, courts have implemented trauma-informed approaches to reduce the impacts of courtroom testimony on victims. But there is no way you can expect testifying in court to not have impacts on a person as he/she relives the trauma. We should be prepared to walk with individuals in the days, weeks, or months after the court has issued a ruling. Whether the ruling is favorable or not, there will be major impacts.

Facing my abuser in court and testifying on why he should not be granted a petition for removal from the sex offender registry is one decision I will never regret. I don’t have to wonder if there was anything else I could have done to prevent my abuser’s removal from the registry. I had the chance to speak the truth in public in front of my abuser and his family as they sat by his side. I got to reclaim the voice of “little Kendall” and stand up for her. And even though the court’s decision was not in my favor, I would make the same decision again.

I do believe there are times when allowing a plea deal to be reached is best for the case, especially when there has not been a prior conviction. When the case against my abuser was first heard it court, it was the best decision to accept a plea bargain. I believe that plea deals protect children from further trauma. But I also believe that there is power in having the opportunity to testify- especially at petition hearings. It is kind of like the saying “it has to get worse before it can get better.” Testifying is going to be worse (but not worse than the abuse endured), but then you can come out on the other side stronger and braver. It is awful to do everything in your power to influence a decision yet still have it not result in your favor. It is unspeakable to hear a judge say “Therefore, based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court orders, adjudges and decrees the relief requested by the petitioner is granted…” But, I have absolutely no regrets.

If your abuser is petitioning the court from removal from the sex offender registry, I would encourage you to reach out to the District Attorney’s office and seriously consider appearing in court to make a statement. I am more than willing to talk with you more about the experience.

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Why I Started Praying For My Abuser

Recently, I found my thoughts slipping back to the “what-ifs.” What if we had chosen to go to trial instead of accepting a plea deal? Maybe he would have received a heftier sentence. What if I could have told the investigators EVERYTHING my abuser did to me instead of the things that brought slightly less shame? The charges would have been greater. What if my abuser’s punishment had been more severe? Maybe he would still be on the sex offender registry. These what-if questions stemmed from my rational fear that my abuser will abuse again.

I struggled with feeling like I had not done enough to protect other children from my abuser. In reality, I have done everything I can possibly do to protect others from my abuser- disclosed the abuse, appeared in court, stayed up to date on everything sex offender registry related, and raised awareness through my blog. I may not be able to do anything physically to protect children from my abuser, but there is one powerful way I can take action.

Prayer.

I used to hate my abuser and I would wish for him to spend eternity in hell. Even that would not protect little girls from my abuser during his time on earth though. Thankfully, God has done a lot of work in my heart as well.

God is the only one who can truly change my abuser’s heart. My abuser’s repentance is the only way he can “not abuse.” If I want little girls to be protected from my abuser, then I must pray for my abuser. Ya’ll, that is no easy task.

I am not at the point where I can pray for his repentance on my own. Right now, it looks like this: “God, I know that you can change the heart of even the most hardened. I know that you can change my abuser’s heart and open his eyes to the destruction he causes when he abuses. Praying for him is not easy, but I know the only way little girls can be safe from him is through you. Please change his heart and lead him to repentance and redemption…”

God has helped me realize that there is no punishment he could have received here on earth that would have changed him. I absolutely believe that punishment and consequences for crimes are necessary. I believe that right now, punishment for abusing a child is not severe enough. But earthly punishment will not end child abuse. However, a repentant heart and a redeemed soul might keep one child safe.

This insight has granted me freedom from feeling responsible and peace in knowing that I am still taking action to keep others safe from my abuser every single time I pray for him. It’s not a prayer I excitedly pray, but I am trusting that God will continue molding me through this process and I trust that God will hear my prayers and work according to His will.

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I am praying for the protection of little girls like her.

An Unexpected GPS Route

I don’t make the drive to NC often enough to be confident enough not to use GPS. There have been a few times I had a little too much confidence in my capacity for directions and the trips took much longer than they should. On my most recent trip to NC, I realized my GPS was taking me a different route than usual; however, it was not until I was miles off the exit that I recognized the road I would travel down.

The new route would take me right by the place I called home for several years.

As I got closer to the place I used to live, my heartbeat quickened, and I got that feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. Those feelings calmed as I remembered that the house was not always a house of horror. My mind was flooded with memories of both the good times and the times of greatest pain. When I think about that place, I first remember the abuse that took place within those walls. But then I remember the huge backyard, fields, and woods where I spent hours playing on the weekends with my siblings. I remember the twenty-something cats that were all named and loved. I remember my pet potbelly pig, Petunia, and how excited I was to get her. One of the things that makes disclosures even more complicated than they already are is that there are going to be a lot of painful losses.

I can recall my very first disclosure when my hope was that my abuser would simply stop abusing me. I didn’t want to have to leave my home. I just wanted the abuse to stop.

I know I have touched on this subject in previous blog posts, but I think it deserves being revisited. Disclosure is HARD.

Abusers aren’t always going to be the “bad” person committing crimes. An abuser is often personable, caring, loving even, and he/she creates positive memories with his/her victim too. My abuser attended my sporting events, he took my family out to eat on occasion, he played baseball in the backyard with us, we went to the lake and beach sometimes. He was there for holidays and birthdays. This dichotomy further confuses the victim and keeps him/her silent- how can this person be bad and good at the same time. It is a lot for a child’s brain to comprehend and the child often assumes the “bad person” role, thinking he/she must somehow be causing the bad things to happen.

When a child discloses sexual abuse and is believed, the common response by others is sadness over what has happened but thankfulness and joy that the child will not be abused by that person again. This response is completely appropriate. There is a focus on this newfound freedom. However, we often overlook the many losses the child will grieve in this new freedom. Don’t get me wrong, that freedom is EVERYTHING. It is the only way the healing process can truly begin.

I grieved deeply following my disclosure that resulted in my freedom. I never saw my sweet Petunia again. I missed my bed and my room. I missed a big backyard. I missed my pool. I missed riding the four-wheelers through fields. I missed my cats. I missed everything as it was except for the abuse. These things may seem trivial to an adult, but they are the important things in a child’s life.

If you are a trusted adult in a child’s circle following the disclosure of sexual abuse. Remember to make space for the grieving process of those losses the child has experienced.  Encourage him/her to talk about the things he/she misses about his/her “old life.” Remind the child that it is okay to have positive memories that involve the abuser (though it does not in any way make that person safe or justify the abuse). Doing these things will have long-term impacts on the child’s healing process. Doing these things will allow that child to one day drive past that house and be able to remember the good times and bad without feeling guilty, ashamed, or overwhelmed.

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This was home.

God is Faithful

Before the start of each semester as a counselor intern, I was asked whether there was anything I anticipated occurring that would impact my ability to work with clients. Multiple times I explained how there was a possibility that my abuser would petition for removal from the sex offender registry and if that occurred, I would be traveling to North Carolina with little-advanced notice for an indefinite period of time. Talk about an awkward answer to a question! I felt like I would be viewed as paranoid, but this was my reality. For over two years, I lived on edge, wondering when I would get that phone call to tell me the petition had been filed.

God is faithful. He is true. He is working even when we cannot see it.

There were days when anxiety and fear of that one phone call consumed me. I questioned how the petitioning process could ever be a part of God’s plan for my life. I felt anger that the chapter of my life I so eagerly wanted to close remained open.

In a way that only God can orchestrate, I received the phone call during an “in-between” time; a time when I was enjoying a break from all things school related after having recently graduated. It was a time when I was not counseling, as I worked on my application to apply for provisional licensure. If I was going to receive the phone call, it rang in God’s perfect timing.

I was also fortunate to have time and space to heal from the impacts of the petition hearing. Having experienced the process, I can attest that it certainly would have impacted my ability to counsel clients during my internships. I believe that God protected me and my clients from the derailment that would occur if I had received that phone call during grad school. There is no other explanation I can conjure for why the petition was not filed for over 2 years during a time of eligibility to file. God has been so faithful during this process. I was not able to see the intricate details He was working out at the time. But now, I get to celebrate and proclaim Gods faithfulness. The chapter of my life involving my abuser is closed. I do not have to wonder when my phone will ring from the DA’s office. I do not have to face my abuser in court ever again. I get to return to counseling, now as a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor. Because the chapter where I was identified by the court as “victim” is now closed, I can begin the chapter as“advocate,” and fight for reform of the sex offender petition for removal from the registry process. And I know that I will be able to celebrate His faithfulness in this chapter too. I challenge myself, and you too, to celebrate and trust in God’s faithfulness not just when you see the results, but every single day.

Living the Serenity Prayer

ac· cep· tance | \ik-ˈsep-tən(t)s

Over the last few months, I have been learning what it means to live in acceptance of things that can’t be changed. I don’t like not being able to change things. I don’t like that my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. But, I have to accept it. So, what does that mean? What does that look like?

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer- whether you have heard it in some form of media or at a recovery support group. You can find it plastered on magnets for a refrigerator or on paperweights for an office desk. I can recall my first time hearing the Serenity Prayer recited when I was a very young girl attending one of my Papa’s anniversary chip meetings/celebrations for his recovery from alcoholism.

“God, grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition for accept: to endure without protest or reaction; to give acceptance or approval to.

“To endure without protest or reaction.”

Living in acceptance of the court’s decision to remove my abuser from the sex offender registry has involved choosing not to protest or react. The idea of appealing the court’s decision was incredibly tempting at some points in this healing process. However, it became unmistakably clear that if I chose to “protest” the decision, my growth and progress toward healing would be stunted. Appealing the case would give me, at most, 3 years before my abuser would inevitably be removed from the sex offender registry.

I have learned that living in acceptance of the decision the court made has granted me a freedom that I would not have otherwise. I no longer have to worry about the “day my abuser might petition” or how I would have the strength to face him in court year after year. It is by no means easy to live in acceptance, but choosing acceptance allows me to work towards the second part of the serenity prayer.

While I am living in acceptance of the court’s decision on my case, I am NOT living in acceptance of this being the outcome in future court cases.

“God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.”

Legislation CAN change. Because I am living in acceptance of my case outcome, I can pour my energy into seeking change. Fighting things that cannot change will result in fatigue, discouragement, and hopelessness. I don’t know what change will look like regarding legislation, but I know that my experience in the courtroom has provided me with the insight needed to fight for change. God continues to grant me the courage I need to reach out to lawmakers and to take steps toward ensuring survivors’ rights in the courtroom.

“God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference” of when things can be changed and when they cannot.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things I desire to see changed and the what-ifs. I strive to seek wisdom from God in knowing where to pour my energy. Recently, I learned my abuser now has an active Facebook page, which was formerly prohibited when he was listed as a sex offender. While it frightens me to think about the children he now has access to through social media, that is not something I can change. I can raise awareness about sex offenders and social media; however, I cannot waste energy worrying about the people he may “friend.”

These days, I am learning the Serenity Prayer is becoming a way of life. Each time something “new” happens as a result of my abuser’s removal from the sex offender registry, I turn to God to determine whether I need to find acceptance or courage while always seeking wisdom.

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God grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as a pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Amen.


The Most Difficult Words to Hear in Court

They were the most difficult words in the entire court hearing to hear. I literally gasped for air and I fought with all my might to hold back the sobs, the tears were already falling. My advocate from the District Attorney’s office reminded me to take slow, deep breaths. Inhale … Exhale … A week later I had to ask two people who were in court with me if what I remembered hearing was spoken or had I experienced a nightmare. In retrospect, the answer was yes and yes.

Unlike some petition hearings, the judge in my case called for witnesses rather than simply relying on “lawyer speak” to assist in the findings for his decision. The first person called to the stand was my abuser. As he sat on the stand just twenty feet away from me, directly in my sight, I became overwhelmed with emotions. This was the first time and last time I saw him take the stand.

After some initial introductory questions, my abuser’s lawyer had the opportunity to portray his client as an upstanding citizen, no longer posing a threat to public safety. Then, the Assistant District Attorney had the opportunity to cross-examine my abuser. Below is part of that dialogue:

 

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“Not to my knowledge.” -My Abuser.

Earlier in the cross-examination, my abuser acknowledged that he was charged with 6 counts of indecent liberties with a minor which was ultimately pled down to 3 counts of the same charge. However, when asked about the specific allegations regarding his actions, he was unwilling to admit his guilt.

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“I feel like it’s in the past, and we should all move forward.” -My Abuser

This was the statement that I questioned whether I had heard correctly. I still struggle to read those words. It rings eerily similar to a cliché I will never live by- “forgive and forget.” I will advocate 100% for a person to find healing and keep moving forward with his or her life. But when one has experienced sexual abuse or any other type of trauma, it is impossible to forget. Not only does our mind remember the horrors, but as science proves, our bodies remember too. When a person believes that it’s okay to leave unrepentant sin “in the past,” the person sets themselves up to repeat old patterns. This should be a red flag regarding a sex offender’s likelihood of reoffending.

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“Well, I — I — anything I’ve ever done to anyone, especially a child, if I’ve done anything to harm them, I have great remorse…” -My Abuser

These are the words that took my breath. These are the words that felt like a knife being thrust into my heart. These are the words that won’t soon leave my mind. These are the words that told me, my abuser is still a threat to society.

At first glance, these words may seem like a decent apology for a child abuser. However, in context, these words only came after a considerably defensive response from my abuser about feeling like he was on trial again, which only continued after this exchange.

Because my abuser was not permitted to have any type of contact with me following court in 2006, for which I am thankful, he had not had the opportunity to apologize. What greater opportunity did he have than in that moment in the courtroom to issue a public apology to his victims. Instead, he took a road of generalizations and impersonal descriptions of remorse. Would I have felt different if my abuser had sincerely apologized for abusing me? I like to think I would have, however, I will be the first to admit that I likely would have viewed it as suspect because I came to know him as a master manipulator. But I do believe that when a person is willing to admit their specific sins, apologizes, and seeks forgiveness- it is more indicative of repentance and transformation than what my abuser displayed.

Why am I sharing this with you all today? Because these are the words from a person who is no longer listed on the sex offender registry. They are the words from a person who swore to tell the truth on the stand. This is the attitude of a person who abused more than one child who now wants to attend your child’s sporting events. I don’t know how many more offenders have been removed from the registry just like my abuser. This is why I am committed to fighting for strengthened laws and raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse. And I will not stop until we see change.

June 15, 2018. Redeemed.

This past week I received a copy of the transcript from the court hearing last month in which my abuser successfully petitioned for removal from the sex offender registry. Eventually, I will share some of those words found in that transcript and the impact it has on me. It is more important for me to share in this post how God has continued to show me that He is working on my behalf in ways that I can never fathom. With this most recent revelation, God has provided me with peace beyond understanding, comfort to the depths of my soul, and a strengthened my trust in His fight for me.

Almost a year ago, I submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference in New Orleans. I was so excited and honored to be selected as a presenter. As the conference neared, I was scheduled to speak on Friday, June 15, 2018 at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children National Colloquium. I shared my story of healing from childhood sexual abuse. I discussed the roles various advocates played in facilitating my healing. Most importantly, I informed the attendees about the laws governing the sex offender registry petitions. I distinctly remember the anticipation I felt when I told the group that my abuser had not filed a petition though he was eligible at any time. This was a monumental day for me. My voice was heard.

Little did I know that on this same day, in my hometown, my abuser was filing his petition with the court to be removed from the sex offender registry. On the exact same day. June 15, 2018. During court, I thought I heard the attorneys state June 15 as the filing date, but my brain and body were overwhelmed with stress hormones pulsing through my body and that information didn’t “stick.” The significance of that statement did not register until I began reading the transcript of the hearing.

Only God knew the date my abuser would file the petition- over 2 years after his eligibility. Only God knew that I would be selected to speak at the conference and then be scheduled to present on June 15. Before I ever knew that day would need redemption, God was working. There is no other explanation for how or why these two events would collide on a single day. On the day my abuser would attempt to silence my voice once again, God provided a huge platform for my voice to be heard- louder.

It has been a difficult six weeks since court. I have experienced more emotions that I can name. There have been ups and downs. There were days when I felt like my world had crumbled on me and I was buried under a pile of rubble. Then came the days where I found the light shining through the rubble. Lately, there have been more days where I no longer feel defeated. I have been able to look forward toward changing the laws. But this revelation of God’s beautiful redemptive work has changed me. It is the act that has pulled me completely out of the rubble and the ground feels solid beneath my feet.

Friends, I am not sure what you are going through right now. There is so much pain in so many lives. It can be hard to trust that God is with you or that He is currently working and will continue to work through such deep hurt. Keep going, keep fighting. The day is coming when you will be able to look back and see exactly where God was working. God’s timing is impeccable. If I had clearly heard the attorneys say my abuser’s petition was filed on June 15 when I was sitting in that courtroom, I can tell you, with certainty, that it would have crushed me. I would have seen destruction rather than redemption. Instead, God allowed six weeks to pass before this information was delivered in a very clear format via a court document. His timing. His action. His love.

Redemption. A thread that God continues to weave through my life and story of trauma and healing.

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