Life: 1 Year After Facing My Abuser in Court

It is so hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I returned home to North Carolina to face my abuser in court for the second time. Hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender was absolutely devastating. It is still infuriating and feels like a major injustice. It is terrifying to think about how he now attends little league baseball games as he stated in court that was one of his primary motivators for wanting to be removed from the registry. However, with time and healing, I have been able to turn those emotions into motivation and fuel to advocate for change. In this last year, God has opened doors for me that I believe are a direct result of my time spent in court a year ago.

I have had the incredible opportunity to begin speaking with a senator’s office in North Carolina. One of the primary goals I have set in advocacy is for victim notification of petition hearings. If I had not communicated with the District Attorney’s office in the years leading up to my abuser’s petition, I would not have been notified when my abuser was returning to court. North Carolina has an extremely helpful victim notification system that informs those who are registered to receive updates when the status of a sex offender changes. However, it does have a flaw. I received an update once when my abuser’s address changed. Then, I did not receive another update until I got the automated phone call letting me know my abuser was removed from the sex offender registry. There was no automated call to inform me of my abuser’s scheduled court date. I believe this will be a fairly simple “fix” to ensure that victims who want to be notified when his/her abuser petitions the court to be removed from the registry, he/she is informed in a timely manner. I fully support individuals who never want to be notified by a court again once a case is closed. However, I will stand firm in my beliefs that if a victim wants to be notified, he/she should be guaranteed timely notification. I will be forever grateful for the Assistant District Attorneys who listened to my concerns and promised to notify me as soon as my abuser was granted a court date for his petition. Even though the ruling was devastating, I will always rest knowing that I had the opportunity to speak truth in that courtroom.

The Lord has continued to ignite a passion in me to share my story so others can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of victim services I received through the years. God has opened doors for me to engage with individuals on the national level. This October I will travel to Ann Arbor, MI to lead a breakout session and give a keynote speech for a statewide child abuse and neglect conference. In December, I will have the opportunity to lead a breakout session for the Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. I first attended this specific conference in New Orleans eight years ago. I never imagined that I would be given that same platform to educate people from across the nation about the impact petition hearings have on individuals who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

In the days following the judge’s ruling, I flew back home to New Orleans and tried to launch back into my routine. Life did not fall back into place gracefully. I did not feel like the same person I was prior to the judge’s ruling. I felt like I had lost myself. Those feelings were a symptom of the trauma of reliving the abuse as I looked at my abuser from the witness stand. I was changed through that experience. Some of the plans I had for my life had to be delayed while I took some time to heal. God is so faithful and His timeline is always much better than any we can ever imagine. Six months after I appeared in court, I began seeing clients for counseling as a provisional licensed professional counselor. A couple of months after that, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same school where I received my master’s degree. Later this month I will attend my first course as a Ph.D. student.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I believe it is worth mentioning again. If you had told 13-year-old Kendall who had just talked with a social worker at school about the abuse she was experiencing at home that one day she would be standing where I am now- I would never have believed you. Abuse teaches us that we are unworthy, ruined, dirty, and shameful, among other things. You don’t grow up believing you have a voice because it has been silenced by an abuser.

God redeems. God heals. God loves. God will lift the voice of those who have been silenced.

For those of you who have joined me on this blogging journey, your support means the world to me. For those of you who have prayed for me over the years, I can not thank you enough. For those of you who think no one will hear your voice, I am listening.

This journey continues. Stay tuned for more blog posts, updates on legislative activities, and future speaking engagements. If you ever have any questions or want to know how you can advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse in your own community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Master Manipulator

**Trigger Warning**

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- if they would simply prevent me from being alone in a car with my abuser. They hated being stuck in the car and to a kid, 30 minutes is a LONG time; so I rode alone. Most of these rides were quiet and 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, just after you passed the apartments on the left, 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. I did the one thing he told me to never do. 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 asked/told 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 the child out and doing him/her 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. 

 

This is an updated version of a post I first published in 2016.

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For My Brave Friends

If you experienced childhood sexual abuse and your abuser is currently listed on a sex offender registry, this post is for you. 

And if you didn’t experience childhood sexual abuse, you should probably read this too.

The issue that propelled the start of my blog is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked issues within the judicial system with significant impacts for victims. I have talked with many people over the last several years regarding the sex offender registry and the most common phrase I have heard is: “I thought sex offenders were on the registry for life.” I held that exact belief and found comfort and safety in that notion in the aftermath of my abuser’s plea deal in which he was ordered to serve only 48 hours in jail.

Disclaimer: I have no formal education on the law. Everything I have written below is based on my personal research, personal experience, and conversations with people who do have legal expertise.

Only 3 states place all sex offenders on the registry for life without the possibility of petitioning for removal from the registry- South Carolina, California, and Alabama. Though, California will allow offenders to petition for a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” or a Governor’s pardon and Alabama will allow a petition for relief from employment restrictions.

Most states place sex offenders on the registry with a designated tier level depending on the “severity” of the crimes he/she committed, particularly if there was violence involved. Typically, the higher tier levels will be given a lifetime registration requirement; however, some states do allow even the most violent sex offenders the opportunity to petition after a specified time period. Nearly all tier 1 and 2 offenders have registry requirements of between 5 and 25 years with the opportunity to petition for removal at earlier times.

If you are a victim/survivor of childhood sexual abuse and your abuser is on the registry, below are some suggestions I have for you (from personal experience):

Disclaimer 2: If you have closed the chapter of your life involving your abuser- I completely support that decision. The following information is for people who may want to know the status of his/her abuser.

1. Check the sex offender registry of the state where your abuser resides. You can click here and access any state’s sex offender registry. Once there, look for the “minimum registration” or “tier level” of the offender. This should provide you with the length of time the offender is required to be registered.

2. Look for the date of registration. If an offender was incarcerated, the registration date will not be given until release (usually). Sometimes offenders have a couple of days or weeks to register following a court ruling.

3. Find your state’s laws on this page or contact someone in the judicial system and ask for the registration requirements of the offender’s tier level. Your state probably allows the offender to petition.

4. Call the District Attorney’s office who prosecuted the case (where court was held). Ask to speak to a Victim Advocate if the office has one on staff. If one is not available, ask to speak to the Assistant District Attorney who handles child sexual abuse cases or sex offender petitions.

5.Request notification from the District Attorney’s Office if a petition by the offender is filed (if you want to be notified). If you do not want to attend, but want to be notified, you can request that. Make sure the office your current contact information and another person’s contact information who would be able to get up with you.

6. Write an impact statement. I strongly recommend writing an impact statement before an offender petitions for removal from the registry. I was so thankful I had been encouraged to write one years before my abuser petitioned. The week I learned he filed the petition, I was a wreck and there was no way I could write. You can find some helpful hints on what to put in an impact statement with a simple google search. Here is my impact statement as an example: https://kendallwolz.com/2018/07/13/state-of-nc-v-my-abuser/

7. If you wish for your impact statement to be read (either by your or someone else) at the petition hearing, send a copy to the District Attorney’s office to have in your file. It will be the judge’s decision as to whether the impact statement can be used in the hearing. Feel free to make edits and resubmit the document at any time.

8. If you do think you will attend the petition hearing and live in an area that will require travel- begin saving some money for this occasion. Depending on the state, the time between victim notification and petition hearing can be short i.e., expensive flights. I was notified on July 3 and appeared in court on July 10, and July 11. I had moved over 800 miles away. Because my case was technically closed, the Victim Advocate was unable to access crime victim’s funds to assist with travel expenses for me to appear in court.

9. Enlist support- now. Find people who are willing to pray for your continued healing. Ask people you trust to read over your victim impact statement. Sometimes another person can help you find just the word you were looking for. Be willing to ask/let people appear in court with you. I had family and friends that came to court with me. I struggled with wanting to ask people to attend because I knew I needed support, but not wanting to ask them to attend something I knew would be hard to see. Ask anyway! They were praying for me, offering words of support and encouragement, and their physical presence strengthened me during some of the most painful moments. A hug, a smile, and shared tears go a long way.

10. Put together a recovery plan for after the petition hearing. It doesn’t matter which way the judge rules- in your favor or not- appearing in court in front of your abuser is going to exhaust you.

If you think this is a situation that you could face and you want to talk to someone who has had this experience, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can send me an email via this page. I am willing to share what I have learned so far (I am still learning). This is a journey you do not have to take alone.

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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.

Moving Forward

It has been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and type. Life seems to have been moving at an accelerated speed lately. One of the goals of my blog has always been to convey hope to others who have been hurt. Hope that the pain will lessen. Hope that the offender will be held accountable. Hope that one day, the abuse one has experienced will only be a chapter of his/her life instead of a bolded header on each page. Some days my hope seems minuscule compared to the other emotions; however, most days, hope permeates my entire being. God continues to show me that He is in control and He is going to use my story to positively impact this world. Two days ago, He showed me, yet again, how He is at work.

On October 23, I sent my first email to a North Carolina legislator. I briefly shared one of my concerns about the sex offender registry petitioning process. I prepared myself for a delayed response. With the election less than a week away, I knew the Senator likely had more important matters to attend to at this time. I just hoped for a response one day. Just eight days later, I opened my email and with complete joy and surprise read an email from the Senator’s assistant. Not only is the Senator interested in hearing my concerns and ideas, but he is also willing to meet with me!

Now, God didn’t just allow for a quick response from the Senator. Hours before I opened my email, I FINALLY submitted my paperwork to the Louisiana LPC Board of Examiners to begin my journey towards licensure as a counselor. I became eligible to begin this process the day after I graduated with my master’s degree; however, after court this past summer it was imperative that I took the time to work through the trauma and allow myself some time to heal. I don’t really believe in coincidences. I see the two events as little nuggets of hope that God continues to give me to remind me of His love for me and His desire to see good come out of bad.

I have no clue what doors will be opened next. I am thankful for these steps forward. While I may still get tripped up on some days, the momentum is definitely towards making things better for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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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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