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.

The Problem With #WhyIDidntReport

It was not until I was able to identify the emotions hidden by the sudden onset of flashbacks to my childhood abuse and significant sleep interruptions that I realized we have a problem with #WhyIDidntReport. When I first noticed this trending hashtag late last week, I experienced an onslaught of emotions: anger, boldness, frustration, sadness, and vulnerability. I was enraged when I read my President’s words on Twitter, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her parents…” As I read my President’s words and thought back to my experiences, I imagined him telling me “if the attack on Kendall was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities…” These words felt like a personal attack on me, and an attack on every other survivor who has made the decision to not report. As soon as I saw #WhyIDidntReport trending, I immediately jumped in and boldly typed my reasons for not reporting. My statement wasn’t tweeted with the purpose of raising awareness, but it came from a place of deep hurt and was more of an attempt to defend my decisions from what I perceived as an attack. It was a tweet sent with an urgency I had not felt before. It was an attempt to mitigate the shame that was creeping in as I questioned whether what happened to me was as bad as it was since I made the decision not to report. 

I am not going to share my political beliefs because this is NOT an issue of politics. It is a SOCIETAL issue. It is a HUMANITY issue.

There are literally thousands of reasons that victims of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault as an adult do not report. And each reason is valid. You can view the hashtag to see why.

We cannot expect a child to report his/her own abuse. Children do report abuse; however, it is too often met with more questions than support. Here is an example of what happens when a child does courageously disclose abuse: Disclosure 1- unfounded/disbelief. Disclosure 2- made to a mandated reporter (teacher 1) with reports then made to the following individuals at different points (teacher 1, teacher 2, guidance counselor, social worker 1, social worker 2, SBI Agent 1 and 2, child advocacy center, counselor 1, ADA’s 1 and 2). This does not include family members and friends who want to know what’s happening in this child’s life. This disclosure ended in the abuser spending 48 hours in jail, 36 months of probation, and 12 years on the sex offender registry. Unfortunately, in so many cases, there isn’t a disclosure 1 or 2 for a multitude of reasons. 

An adult has the ability to weigh the options and choose whether the price he/she will pay for reporting is worth it, whether in the immediate aftermath of an assault or years later. For adults who experienced childhood sexual abuse and a subsequent sexual assault in adulthood, it often will not feel “worth it” to go through the reporting process again.  That is how deeply painful it is to make a report. 

Disclosures of abuse happen when the cost of not reporting is greater than the cost of reporting. Disclosures of abuse seldom happen with a person seeking some sort of benefit- because there is rarely any type of immediate benefit following a disclosure. Often, the act of disclosing and the decision to report is further traumatizing, maybe even more so than the actual crime. I pray for the day when every single person who has been abused in any form can report and it not cost them what it does today. But as a person who has made the decision to not report, I will not expect others to report in what society deems as a timely manner.

I am afraid that #WhyIDidn’tReport has resulted in more survivors taking responsibility for something they should not have to defend. I do believe it has resulted in a greater awareness of why we do not report. But it runs the risk of evoking deep shame and self-blame for not reporting when no one should feel those emotions for that decision.

Our expectation should not be for survivors to report more but for abusers to stop abusing. #WhyIDidntReport should be replaced with #WhyIDontAbuse.  

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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.

Sex Offenders and the Church: A Response, Part 2

Discovering the facts is integral to any policy regarding sex offenders and the church. In my earlier post, I identified a few different scenarios. In some of those scenarios, the sex offender immediately disclosed to the pastor of the church his/her status as an offender. In this post, I will share concerns pastors and church leaders should immediately address in this case.

First, pastors and church leaders should have a set of questions prepared to ask the offender during this conversation. Questions should include the following, but are not limited to these specifics:

  • What were the charges the offender was convicted of?
  • How old was the offender at the time of the abuse?
  • How old was the victim at the time of the abuse?
  • What was the relationship of the abuser to the victim?
  • What was the nature of the abuse- even though the specifics may be uncomfortable for you to hear, you need to hear how the offender words his actions because it will be important to recall when you do your own research.
  • How does the offender view his recovery/repentance?

Second, pastors and church leaders should know how to access online state sex offender registries. You can click on the tab, “Sex Offender Registry,” to retrieve links to each or simply google “[your state] sex offender registry.” Click on the state in which the offender resides and search the offenders name. The registry will provide you with the offender’s current address, aliases, convictions, incarceration time, etc. Verify the offender’s story with the information you find on the registry.

Third, contact law enforcement in the geographic area where the offenses occurred and charges were filed. While law enforcement will not be able to share all the details, they may be able to provide some insight on the case, particularly regarding the perceived “threat of recidivism/re-offending.” They may be able to provide more information than what is available online, such as the original charges filed against the offender.

Finally, do not base your threat assessment simply on the charges of which the offender was convicted. Unfortunately, with many sex crimes cases, plea agreements are reached to avoid the trauma of trials. Due to delayed disclosures, physical evidence is often extremely limited or non-existent. In my case, my abuser was charged with three counts of indecent liberties with a minor; however, that should not reflect the frequency of the abuse that occurred. If my abuser was charged based on the number of times he abused me, it would have been in the hundreds which would likely have a significantly different impact on how pastors and church leaders would view his attendance at a church.

I hope this post has spurred thoughts and questions to consider regarding policies on sex offenders and the church. Please, feel free to send me your thoughts or questions and I will gladly share my input. I will be creating a page on this blog dedicating to resources for helping churches develop and implement healthy policies.

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A Sample of the NC Sex Offender Registry

 

 

The Call That Made My Heart Race

Two weeks ago, I received a completely unexpected phone call. It was an automated message. I did not recognize the phone number, so I did not answer the call. My phone struggled to transcribe the message because it was nearly three minutes in length which piqued my interest in knowing who had called my phone.

“You are subscribed with us to receive updates about an offender whose last name is                      and whose first name is                         . I’m calling to tell you that this offender’s registered address has changed. The new address is                                 . Please note that it is possible that this offender’s address has changed because the offender has been incarcerated and is now in a North Carolina county jail…”

From the time the recording gave my abuser’s last name to the end of the message, I experienced many different physiological reactions and emotions. I immediately felt my heart begin to race as anxiety and fear swelled within me. Before the recording told me my abuser’s address had changed, my thoughts (irrational due to my brain’s survival motivated response) created a whole scenario about how my offender had successfully petitioned for removal from the registry and the court failed to notify me. Talk about some angry thoughts flying through my head! Next, I felt significantly relieved to learn that only my abuser’s address had changed, not his status as a sex offender. Finally, I experienced frustration because I could not recall the 4 digit pin I needed to enter to let the victim notification program know that I had received the message- thus, ensuring my phone would ring and I would receive the same message until I could recall my pin number or call the victim notification program itself.

When I recovered from the initial shock of this call, I quickly typed in the address to see where my abuser now lives. I choose to know where my abuser lives for various reasons I covered in an earlier post. It brings me comfort and a sense of safety to know this information.

I share this experience for two reasons. My first reason is to express my thanks for this program. While I somewhat regularly check out the sex offender registry to view the status of my abuser, it is a relief to know that this program will notify me if anything changes in his status. And, they will notify me very quickly. Less that two weeks before receiving this phone call, I had checked my abuser’s profile because it was close to the time he was required to verify his information.

My second reason for sharing this experience is because I want people to have an idea of what it might be like to receive that type of call. I was not prepared in any way for that call and had it been earlier in my healing, that call would have easily destroyed my day or week. Even 13 years after getting away from my abuser, I still react when I hear his name or get a call about him. That fight or flight or freeze response was immediately ignited. If you have signed up to receive offender notifications, and you get this same call, know that it is normal to feel all the emotions.

If you would like more information on how to register for notifications regarding a specific offender, follow the instructions on this website: https://vinelink.com/#/home

Make sure you pick a 4 digit pin that you won’t forget in a moment that could be very stressful.

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My phone’s attempt at finally transcribing the voicemail recording

My Abuser Could Be Your Neighbor

The primary reason I started this blog was to raise awareness of laws regulating the sex offender registry. Did you know that in most states sex offenders can petition for removal from the registry? My abuser is currently eligible and could file this type of petition any day. He was in his mid-late thirties when he began abusing me. I was eight years old. If he successfully petitions, he could one day be your neighbor and you would not know that he sexually abused a little girl for years.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you will pick up on my strong support of survivor voices, particularly when it comes to court proceedings. When my abuser entered his plea of no contest and was sentenced to 48 hours in jail, 36 months’ probation, and was required to register as a sex offender, I was not prepared to make any type of victim impact statement, despite being afforded the opportunity.  There was no advance preparation and simply being in the court room, in the same building as my abuser was overwhelming. Not making a statement haunted me. And I had to accept that the opportunity was missed.

Years later, when I learned that my abuser was going to be eligible to petition for removal from the registry, I was distraught. Rather than letting my voice be silenced in this matter, I started making phone calls. I was determined to not let another judge make a decision about my abuser without hearing my voice.

I am thankful for an ADA who heard my voice and listened. I am thankful for an ADA who will stand beside me if the day comes that my abuser petitions before a judge. I am thankful for an ADA who took the time to explain all the possible scenarios and who explained the basics of a victim impact statement. I am thankful for an ADA who is fighting for my voice to be heard.

A year and a half ago I posted my impact statement to my blog. While it was one of the most difficult pieces I have wrote and the scariest to post, I hope that seeing an example of an impact statement will help someone else write theirs. I found it to be healing to write. Hopefully, I never have to return to a court room and see my abuser. But if I do, I will be prepared and that is comforting.

If you have any questions or want more information about writing an impact statement, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “contact” tab.

Impact Statement

Today, when I entered this court room, I did not come in as a victim like I did ten years ago. Today, I am standing here as a survivor. However, being a survivor does not mean that I am freed from the effects of long term sexual abuse at the hands of xxxxxx, my former xxxxxxx, my abuser. Rather, being a survivor means that through the flashbacks, depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame, I will choose to keep living, thriving, and healing. That August night I watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with my then xxxxxxx forever changed my life.

What should have been an innocent bonding time turned into a nightmare that I lived every time the show aired and my abuser was home- sometimes five nights a week. While that August night is when the ongoing sexual abuse began, the intentional grooming process began long before that. When I was just six, seven, and eight years old, my abuser was preparing me for that night I would come lay in bed beside him to watch a television show- but leave a victim, terrified by his threat and feeling completely ashamed and broken. That August night I could have been covered from head to toe in manure and still I would have felt cleaner than I did as I washed my abuser’s semen off of me, at eight years old.

During the years of abuse, I would go to school every day and come home knowing what my abuser would expect of me that night. The threat and fear he instilled in me on that August night, and the years of grooming broke me down to the point that my abuser never once had to tell me to come back to the bedroom and perform sexual acts. I reached the point of believing that this was my duty and my abuser reinforced this belief by telling me that he knew “how curious little girls are” and that he was just “helping me out.” My abuser was never drunk, high, or under the influence of any mind-altering substance when the abuse occurred. Those things would not have excused the crimes, rather I say it to clarify that my abuser consciously chose to abuse me hundreds of times.

What I call my “Freedom Day,” came on November 10, 2004. I was a little over a month shy of turning 14. While I was freed in a physical sense from the hands of my abuser, I am still learning today that healing is life-long. Over 250 counseling sessions, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, antidepressants, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, shame, low self-worth- these are just some of the things I’ve dealt with in the last ten years. When physical freedom from the abuse happened, my entire world was turned upside down even more. My siblings, mom, and I were forced to leave a house we dearly loved, our belongings ended up ruined in storage, our precious pets were left in the care of my abuser, and we moved into a single bedroom in my grandparent’s house. And that was only the beginning.

I could spend a really long time detailing the last ten years of my life. There have been highs and lows but I’ve made it through them all, just like I survived the years of abuse. But that is not why we are here today. For nearly two years I have been anxious about this day. It absolutely terrifies me that there is a chance my abuser can be removed from the sex offender registry. There are hardly words to describe the peace of mind I have knowing that law enforcement knows where my abuser lives and that people who have children around him can know that he is a predator. It brings comfort to me to know that the likelihood of another child being abused by him is at least decreased some by him being on the sex offender registry. I am not his only victim. He also assaulted my xxxx xxxxxx. The abuse was not a one-time incident. I can look back at when I was an eight year old child and see just how manipulated and controlled I was by my abuser. He was brazen enough to abuse me not only in his bedroom, but also in the living room, in the swimming pool, and in the cab of his truck. The fact that he abused me despite the rest of my family being one room away shows just how capable he is of grooming another child and abusing them without anyone knowing- for years.

Not only does a denial to my abuser’s petition for removal from the registry protect other kids from the potential of being abused by him, but it also serves as continued justice for the crimes he committed against me. That August night when I was just eight years old, hoping to watch a television show and bond with my xxxxxxx, I was forever added to a list I didn’t choose- child sexual abuse victim. My xxxxxxx chose to put my name on that list. I will forever live with all that list brings. Just as I will always deal with the effects, I believe that my abuser should have to live with the ramifications of his actions, which landed him on a list. Even if my abuser is one of the very few predators that never abuses another child, it would be an injustice for him to no longer have to face the consequences of his choices that forever altered my life.  

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The Words I Wish My Abuser Would Say

How do you wish to plea Mr. *****? “No contest, your honor.”

As a 15-year-old walking through the judicial system, I did not understand how a “no contest” plea was acceptable in my type of case. If you know he is guilty, why can’t you make him say that? This plea, however, is what was accepted to protect me from the trauma of a trial [insert mixed feelings here].

If you are unfamiliar with a “no contest” or nolo contendere plea, it is when the defendant neither disputes nor admits to the crimes he/she has been charged. The way I remember it being explained to me as a teenager is that my abuser was refusing to admit his guilt but was willing to take the “punishment” that would be imposed for a guilty plea. I can recall people trying to comfort me by saying that no innocent person would plea this way because “who in their right mind would agree to be penalized for crimes they did not commit?”. While that explanation comforted me some, it was not the same as my abuser stating he was/is guilty of sexually abusing me.  More than anything in the world, I wanted to hear him confess.  

Why did an admission of guilt from my abuser feel completely necessary for me at 15 years old and why is it something that I still wish would happen to this day?

At 15 years old, I primarily wanted him to confess so that his family, who had become my family, would know that I was not lying. When my mom, siblings, and I moved immediately following my disclosure at 13, I lost an entire part of my family. Family that I had spent holidays and birthdays with for nearly 7 years. They were my aunts and uncles and cousins. I just wanted them to know the truth.

Today, I still want people to know the truth without any doubt. Every time I share my story, there is still a tinge of fear that wonders if the hearers will believe me. I want my abuser to validate the abuse in a way that only he can. When it comes down to it, only God, my abuser, and I know exactly what took place those many nights when I was just a child.

In my opinion, our norm response to disclosures of sexual abuse- with more questions than comfort and a greater emphasis on finding reasons why the disclosure couldn’t be truthful than looking at the evidence that supports a disclosure- contributes to the desire for an abuser to admit guilt. A desire for my abuser to admit his guilt.

As I have worked on this post, I have gone back and forth on whether this is one that I want to post because I believe there is the chance it can be interpreted incorrectly. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take (so if you have questions or think I’m crazy, please don’t hesitate to reach out). 99 days out of 100, I don’t think about or mull over wishing my abuser would admit his guilt. But it is one of the residual effects that sits far back in my mind and resurfaces every now and again. Whether my abuser ever admits his guilt during his time on earth, I commit to keep living brave and bold and to keep speaking truth.

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