Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dear Mother,

It's been a long time since I've talked to you. Oh, we've spoken, cordially at public events; but I have held you at an arm's length for almost two decades now. That was most certainly a selfish action on my part, defensive, maybe a bit paranoid. It was the only way I knew how to preserve the peace I had found in my life, a life you criticized. A life you scoffed.

But here's the thing. I've had a few things you haven't had. First, I've known love. Unlike you, my marriage to John has not only lasted, it has flourished. It is a friendship first, not a business arrangement. I do not need to manipulate him. I do not need to hide behind any facade in order to maintain control. In fact, he has taught me something that you never taught me; that there is something beautiful in vulnerability. Yes, mother, vulnerability.

And another thing I have is friends. Do you remember what you taught me about friends? "Friends are only there because they want something from you. Friends are a waste of time. You don't need friends." Yeah, well, you were wrong. And I won't be dead a week before I'm missed, so...

Here's the deal, mother. Writing you was not my idea, but my therapist's. I had to write another letter for her, one to Caswell, which evolved over time into my victim impact statement, and frankly it was a hell of a lot easier to write. Less painful. Do you hear that? Writing to the bastard who raped me was less painful than writing to the woman who gave birth to me.

I remember the last words you spoke to me, they went to my voice mail. No, I did not give you any warning that a detective was going to call you and ask you questions about the rape and my timeline. I knew you would be appropriate with him, that you would of course be willing to talk to him, and be of any help you could be. You would save face. But I wasn't going to talk to you about it, and I wasn't going to interrupt a lunch with John to listen to your lies.

I have come to grips with being raised by a narcissist. It has actually come in handy over the years. I have been able to help others understand the abuse they are enduring, because it's hard as hell to see it from within the fire. But now that I'm on the other side of it, I understand. I understand your inability to love. Your desire to control everything and everyone, and your intent to destroy that which you could not control.

Another piece of therapy homework I had was to grieve not having a mom. That was tough. How do you understand the loss of something that you never had? I mean, it's like explaining to a fish that it's wet.

I've gotten back in touch with a few folks from Glendale over the years, mother. Remember Angela Jenkins? Remember the things you said about her? Remember how often you told me we were better than her, than her family? How wrong I was to enjoy being at their house, how I needed to raise my standards and accept that they were too low class for me to hang around?

Yeah, well, do you know who spent time with me the night before the sentencing hearing? Do you know who made me laugh? Who encouraged me to follow my desires to continue things like writing and stained glass? Do you know who welcomed John into her heart? Yeah. You were wrong about her, mother. Angela and her husband of almost 50 years; they were the ones to bring comfort to this grown-up scared child. And you know why?

Because they love.

Angela died last month, mother, and I watched as well over 300 mourners greeted Buddy and Shelly for over 6 hours. Angela impacted her world. She lived well and loved hard. I watched Shelly grieve, actually, I am still watching her grieve. And you know why? Because she loved her mom and her mom loved her.

So, mother, my homework assignment is complete. I hate that my friend is grieving. I still cry for her because I see her pain. But that pain has helped me more than anyone will ever know. I now know what it means to grieve a mom. I've seen it, and in the most minute sense of the word, felt it. My relationship with Angela may have been brief, but there was always love.

Despite your best efforts, I have learned to love, and to be loved.

So goodbye mother. It is long past time, but I am no longer holding you at arm's reach. I am letting you go. You no longer have space for negativity in my head. You can no longer limit me with your short sighted, self serving philosophy. So don't even try, because now I know the truth. All the time you tried to convince me that I was wrong? or broken? or just stupid?

Nope. Mother, it's you. Not me.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An Unexpected Trigger

Honey suckle. What do you think about whenever you smell honey suckle? If it elicits a memory, that's a trigger.

You would think, after all this time, I would have learned to deal with triggers. And for the most part I have. Every now and then something will remind me of the barn loft, a smell, or if the sheet comes loose and I feel the contrasting textures against my skin, I will remember. But it doesn't last long, and it doesn't frighten me. I simply acknowledge the sensation and return to reality.

But something happened a few weeks ago that triggered me to feel 6 years old again, and forced me to use some serious mindfulness to get my head back to where my feet were.

I have a few memories of a certain man, a relative of the bastard, a man whose eyes pierced my soul. From the very first time I met him, I was afraid of him. He had this look, this demeanor, this swagger of sorts that just gave me the heebie jeebies. I felt like every time he looked at me he knew; he knew that I was a target. He knew that I had been preyed on before. I felt like he wanted to do to me exactly what had already been done. It was the most intense fear I have ever felt.

And it was easy to excuse. I didn't notice it at first, because I was so focused on the man's eyes, but this man had been in some sort of accident, and had
a prosthetic hook.

I could only see a  little bit of it peeking from the sleeve of his black leather jacket. It didn't bother me at all, after all I had an aunt with glass eyes. And she would remove them at the dinner table. Yet my parents were convinced I was afraid of his hook. But no, I was just afraid of him.

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral in my hometown. I didn't know many people there, a handful at best. I sat on a couch in the funeral home parlor contemplating how the life of the woman we were celebrating had truly impacted so many, when something caught my eye.

A man. A very friendly, smiling, weaselly looking man entered the parlor. He did so confidently. Almost working the room, like a politician. And he had a hook.

"He has to be dead. He has to be dead," I started telling myself. "There's no way it's him. That was 40 years ago."

I watched him intently as he greeted several mourners and then the family.

And then I watched him interact with a few of his family members. One woman, about my age, and her daughters in particular. I watched as the woman clung to her older daughter's arm, then wedged herself between the man and her younger daughter. I watched the woman's face, her expressions of fear, anxiety, horror. And I was paralyzed.

I waited until he was gone a few moments before asking her who he was.

It was him.

I couldn't breathe. I excused myself quickly and walked outside, and paced. "I'm safe. He can't hurt me," I muttered to myself. He has no idea who I am. I am safe. I cried. I took some time for deep breathing and prayer, and went back inside.

On the way home that evening it truly hit me. It was real. The look on that woman's face vindicated my fear as a child. She felt, as an adult, exactly what I had felt so many years ago.

We can't control triggers. But we can develop strategies for coping with being triggered. Sadly, this was a conversation I had to have with John early in our marriage. I had to tell him that certain actions reminded me of the barn loft. He was very careful to not say or do certain things (there was a list) for a long time. Now, it's not such a big deal. After twenty plus years of marriage I feel safe and that list isn't nearly as long.

And the honey suckle? I will always let that trigger take me back. I will always relish the memories of my friend and me, walking along the fence row, harvesting the sweet nectar. Not all triggers are painful. And that's a really good thing.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Survivor Stories: Kathleen

I was teaching 6th grade when I began my 4 year journey toward justice. There was a day in my third  year of the journey that rattled me, a phone call from the prosecutor's office that shook my foundation, and my students knew something was terribly wrong.

One gentle soul of a student told his mom to pray for me. He didn't know why, he just knew that something happened that day to upset me, and I needed prayer. His mom stopped by for something unrelated that afternoon, and as she started to leave my classroom told me "By the way, my son said you seemed to have a rough day, and wanted me to pray for you. Whatever is going on, I just want you to know we are praying for you."

For whatever reason, I decided to tell Kathleen about pressing charges, about getting an upsetting phone call, and how frustrating it was. She hugged me. It was an act of compulsion. I don't think she knew she was going to do it any more than I saw it coming, but she threw her arms around my neck and bear-hugged me saying "thank you, thank you" over and over.

And I knew. I knew she also had a story to tell.

And I knew I wanted, no needed, to hear it.

We made arrangements to have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It was awkward at first, neither of us really knew what to expect. I started, kind of rehashed our brief exchange in my classroom while I complimented her son on being extraordinarily empathetic. And then I opened my mouth and let my story fall out.

Kathleen listened intently. She also physically responded to parts of the story. I didn't fully understand the power of triggers yet, but I knew some of what I was saying struck a chord with her. And then she started telling me her story.

Trauma is trauma. There is no one sexual assault that is worse than another. I would like to say that what Kathleen went through was far worse than anything I encountered, but to say that would minimize a traumatized victim.  Kathleen's story is horrific in ways I cannot fathom. She was raped repeatedly as a small child by her grandfather, and her family turned a blind eye. Kathleen suffered violence in different ways than I did. But like me, she found herself in abusive relationships as an adult. At the time we met, she was going through a divorce.

Kathleen and I have more in common than not. As we talked about our journeys, we realized that many of the ways we dealt with life, while considered dysfunctional to society, worked to protect us from further trauma. It is what I now call the nuances of life, the little things that others take for granted that cause us anxiety. And she taught me another term, trauma-friends. There is nothing like having trauma friends. I have several now, but Kathleen was one of my first.

That dinner changed me. It changed how I viewed my journey. It changed me to know someone who understood how sexual assault affects you to the very core. It changed me to know that I am not alone.

Like all of us, Kathleen still deals with the after-effects of the abuse. She has PTSD. She dissociates. I sat and listened to her with fascination as she described how her alters dealt with the abuse she endured at the hands of her ex-husband. I realized that we shared common emotions, that the ways in which we coped were very similar. The only real difference is that I am integrated. I have also found that listening to what her alters have to say actually helps me clarify what I'm feeling.

Kathleen is stronger than many, and fights to help others. She was there with me in court, even though we knew it would be a powerful trigger for her. I asked her how she was afterwards, and she told me her "alters were agitated." I got it. I couldn't put my finger on how I felt either. It was like all my emotions were vying for attention, and none of them were strong enough to reign.

Kathleen's blog is hard to read. No, it's hell to read. When you read it you will find strength, hope, fear, anger, is violent. It is traumatic. And for many of you, it is all too real. I invite you to read, to comment, to voice support, and if you need to, seek comfort from her.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The words I never expected to hear

Words. The individual components of language. While used to convey meaning, in and of themselves, in isolation, they hold no value. But in context, whether spoken or written, words hold power greater than any tool one can hold in the hand. 

As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I have  heard a great number of words related to the abuse I endured. Some of them I wanted to hear, some I did not. And while I do think most people try to be supportive with the words they speak, quite a few folks simply miss the mark with what comes out of their mouths. I've listed some of the most memorable phrases said to me over the years. While most of the phrases people have used are pretty  predictable, and many of them quite encouraging; there have also been several that were unintentionally victim-shaming in nature, some that were just outright stupid, and a few that were rather unexpected. 

I think you will agree that the majority of these fall in the latter categories.

"Oh, Trisha. Boys do that sort of thing." 
That's what my mom said to me when I, at the age of 13, told her that I had been raped at 6 years old. She tried to compare being raped to being mooned, because they are totally the same thing.   

"I didn't know he had it in him." 
Those are the words my father used. My dad. I told him only because I thought all daddies wanted to protect their daughters, but I swear it was like my dad was impressed with the rapist. I still just shake my head when I think about it. Apparently neither of my parents had a clear understanding of the word 'rape.'

"He confessed to touching you. I asked him to take a polygraph, but he refused." 
That is what the detective wrote me in email after he interviewed the defendant. I was stunned. I couldn't believe what I had read, and had to re-read it multiple times. It was the first time I truly felt believed by someone with power. 

"Well, you're pretty, you speak well, and you have all your teeth. I can put you on the stand." 
Those would be the words of the Commonwealth Attorney after I told him my story and answered a few of his questions. I had no idea those were the three qualifications for prosecuting a case in Kentucky.

"The judge is tired of this case. I'm tired of this case." 
Words delivered by a disheveled and frenetic young prosecutor as she walked quickly away from me. The judge had just dismissed the case without prejudice, essentially washing away the three years of work to get to that point. We had to start over.

"I know who he is, and I can't believe he would do a thing like that." 
A clerk in the Hardin county courthouse, talking to me, the VICTIM, when I called to ask the status of the case after it had been refiled. 

"This is going to be hard, but if you are ready to fight, I'll tell you how to do it." 
The encouragement that came from Sharon Muse the first time I talked to her.

I knew winning a rape case 36 years after the fact would be difficult. No one needed to tell me that.  I knew it was a long shot. What I didn't know is how hard it was going to be to be a VICTIM in the judicial system. And what I also didn't know much harder it is to be that victim when you try to do it by yourself. 

There is no such thing as a cut & dry sexual assault case. But my case was  even more complicated because:
  • the crime occurred in 1976, prior to sex crime legislation
  • the rapist was 15 at the time of the rape, so technically he was a juvenile
  • the rapist's sister was the court clerk, so a special judge/clerk/prosecutor had to be assigned.
It took a little over a year for the court to decide which law to use in the case. The next two years the defense managed to block a transfer hearing (where I would testify) three times, finally causing the judge to dismiss the case altogether. When he dismissed without prejudice, defense appealed, twice. 

But through it all, I was alone. I mean, I had my wonderful husband, sons, and friends cheering me on; but I was the one to email or call the victim advocate in the prosecutor's office to get status updates. When hearings would get cancelled, the victim advocate would call me the day before and tell me, as if it explained things, "These things happen. The wheels of justice move slowly." I was alone on the front lines, and I had no back-up, no one to cover me. No one who really understood what was going on. No one to explain things to me. (While the victim advocate was very kind, she was quick to point out that she had no legal experience, and could not answer legal questions for me.)

I was in the third year of a four-year court battle when I reached out for help. The original prosecutor had stopped responding to my emails/phone calls. I contacted the Attorney General who told me to get an attorney. I contacted victim advocacy groups who told me to hire an attorney. Why did I need an attorney? I was the victim! The Commonwealth was supposed to protect my interests, right?

When I first met Sharon, I knew it was going to be ok. For the first time in three years, I felt like I had someone in my corner, someone who had both energy and knowledge. Someone who could lead me through the maze of the legal system in ways the legal system hadn't bothered doing. 

The first thing I learned from Sharon was something I already suspected; as a victim, I had no rights. That actually comes as a surprise to many well-educated adults, so if it seems counter intuitive to you, it's ok. The system is set up to protect the rights of the accused, innocent until proven guilty. The prosecutor protects the interest of the state, the law. As a victim, you're just along for the ride. 

Sharon was also the first person to point out to me that the way I remembered the abuse, the words I used to describe the things that happened, they were all normal and very typical of child victims. That I thought he was an alien only fortified my story. That I circled his location on a map when I found out he was stationed in Sicily wasn't silly, it was an important detail that could help a jury understand and believe me.

Sharon then gave me homework, a list of tasks to help me help the prosecutor win the case. She told me how to approach the new prosecutor, what to ask him, what to expect of him and the victim advocates. She was very honest that the case would be hard, but that given the right circumstances, winnable. She was also clear that I would have to continue to advocate for myself. 

By the time I talked to the new prosecutor I was armed with information. I had more details, dates, and names of potential witnesses should he want/need them. I was empowered and emboldened. He was impressed by my understanding of the system and willingness to do some of the foot-work for the case. We were all set to head to trial when the defendant agreed to a plea deal. I never had to testify, but rather I would tell my story in the form of a victim impact statement. 

"Say whatever you want!"
was the only advice the prosecutor gave me about my statement. He gave me no direction of any sort, and simply telling me there were no rules did not help me formulate a cohesive statement.  Again I reached out to Sharon. With her guidance, I crafted a 10 page statement that painted a clear picture of what he did, how he did it, how it made me feel, and how it impacted my and my husband's lives. She called me the night before the sentencing, simply to fill my head and heart with strength and hope. She was one of my tribe in the courtroom that morning. She helped me with the media that day. She brought me a scone because she knew I'd have trouble eating before court. She was an advocate, a protector, a prayer warrior, and a friend. 

She is the reason I tell victims to get an advocate. Not a victim advocate who works for the state. They, in my opinion, are useless. Every victim needs a knowledgeable, strong, passionate person in their corner; someone with fight. Someone with a little anger coated love. Or maybe it's love coated anger. Either way, I needed someone to be angry for me and with me. 

You do too. 

"Brilliant. Controlled rage." 

That's what the prosecutor said when I finished my victim impact statement.

"I'm guilty." 
Those are the words I never really expected to hear. I am so thankful to have it on tape. You can see me react when he says it, you can see me start to cry. I waited 40 years to hear those words, but it was worth it. And I'm so glad I didn't have to do it alone. 

You don't either. There are those like us who are ready and willing to stand beside you and fight with you. All you have to do is ask. 

Sharon Muse
Attorney, survivor, advocate

I am so glad that Sharon Muse and I became friends. Her story of survival continues to inspire victims everywhere. She works tirelessly to educate and empower. You can read her story here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Unseen Victims

Six weeks has passed since the sentencing, since the case was made public. That in itself was a huge victory, because that meant the door would be opened should other victims need to come forward. I've thought about that many times; what would it be like for me if another victim comes forward. What will it mean? How will it play out? What will it feel like to know that someone else was abused by the same person who abused me?

But truly, even if no one else comes forward, 

there are other victims in MY case.

In the days following the sentencing, while the news story was active,  I read (and responded to some) comments online. A majority of comments were supportive of me, most of them calling me brave and strong. I appreciated those. A few of the comments were extreme in the way they voiced support, in that they wished something bad to happen to the defendant, which I do not wish to see happen. Those are the ones I addressed, hopefully making it clear that any vigilante style violence against the defendant would not help me in any way.

And then there were a couple supporting the defendant

Here's the ugly truth; perpetrators of sexual assault have friends and family who love them. It's true. Like it or not, they have likely lived lives that enabled them to have friends, get married, have children and grandchildren, and be productive members of society. They have experienced joy and happiness. For as much anger and disdain we as victims may feel toward these perpetrators, there are people who love and admire those who have hurt us. There are people who know them to be upright members, pillars even, of the community, and cannot fathom them to be the monsters we know them to be.

Online I read the words of friends, even his daughter as she staunchly defended her father. In court, I see the anger on his wife's face. I'm not stupid, I know that anger is directed at me. I have disrupted their world. I have brought to light something that the one they love kept hidden from them.   

I am only assuming here, but I imagine that the pain I feel as the victim of sexual assault can not be compared to the pain the families and friends of abusers must feel. I have nothing invested in the one who assaulted me. I have not looked at him as family or friend. I have no conflict in how I feel about him. I have never had to question what I know about him. 

But I believe those who love abusers are as much victims as I am. They have been lied to and manipulated by monsters. There has to be shock as people learn those they love are not what and who they seemed to be. They have been betrayed by someone they love. The anger, the conflict, the confusion they feel must be immense. I can not imagine what it would feel like to find out someone I love had led a dual life, that there are secrets, there he had the capacity to hurt someone. 

I have, since the Bill Cosby story came out, felt very sorry for Camille. The man she knows and loves is not the man who drugged and raped dozens of women over the years. She has been lied to, forced to believe in a facade. All trust is now shattered. Many people have been critical of her, accusing her of being in a way complicit. And while I'm sure it is possible that she knew something and did nothing, it is equally possible that she has known nothing and has trusted and believed in a man she loves.

Identifying the victims of sexual assault is like watching a pebble thrown into a pond.  Both the perpetrator and the victim are in the center of the wake, and all those surrounding both of them will inevitably be impacted by the circular, cyclical waves. 

While it is easy for us to be critical of and angry at those who love molesters, rapists, and abusers; we must keep in mind that they are also victims. Their lives are being turned upside down by the system designed to deliver justice.  Truth is being brought to light, truth that the perpetrators of abuse have tried desperately to keep hidden. These unseen victims did not ask for this. But this is truth that must come out so that EVERYONE can experience freedom.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Grieving the mother I never had

Mother's Day is always hard for me, and it gets harder the older I get. Over the last few years I've chosen to use my pen and and decompress by being sarcastic, or by diverting attention onto other mom figures in my life, But this year is different. I have a different agenda. This year, I am going to try a different approach.

This year I am going to grieve the mother I never had.

We discovered my mother had been deceased for over a week in April 2012. But in reality, the woman who was my mother died long before I was born.

If you knew my mother, you found her to be a hard working but distant single mom. You might have been tempted to pity her, even, having to raise a disturbed, truant, teen age girl by herself; especially if you knew that the older daughter was a wild child and their dad mentally unstable himself. You would have been impressed at her tenacity, her uncanny ability to work her way up from WalMart cashier to small business owner in 8 years. You may have called her driven. Focused. Disciplined. You would have admired Mary, but you would not have called her friend. She kept her relations with her employees professional, blurring the line only when it benefited her financially.

At home she was cold. One of her live-in boyfriends called her frigid, something every teenage girl wants to hear about her mother. Being home with Mary meant keeping the peace, keeping everything on an even keel. She worked 12-14 hours a day, and frankly as long as I had the dishes done when she got home, nothing else seemed to matter.


And no one.

The passion and dedication Mary had for her job ended the minute she walked in her front door. She had nothing left for me, and if I dared ask for anything, I would be punished.

My counselor and I have posthumously diagnosed my mother with narcissistic personality disorder. I think that's going to be hard for some people to see about Mary, but had she been a man you wouldn't have liked her so well. I'm not going to rehash the ways in which she hurt me over the years, I've written about many of them in previous posts.

Today I'm simply going to try to grieve.

When you live with a narcissist you live in an altered reality, the reality that the narcissist devises. Whatever you think is true, or right, or valuable is wrong. The only truth is that of the narcissist. The only answer is the one you are given. If you choose to have an opinion other than the one given you, you are crazy. Unstable. Mentally ill. Weak minded. And when you grow up being told these things....

My life has been a series of conflicts. I enjoy spending time with my friends, but am told friends only bring you down. I love watching my friends' parents interact, and am told that they are all dumb and beneath us. I am raped, and am told I need to be on the pill. I fall in love, and am told I'm not good enough for him. I become independent and self-sufficient, and my mother stops talking to me altogether.

In reality, my life improved greatly when my mother and I became estranged, when I no longer allowed her toxicity to invade my space. It took a decade for my husband and mother-in-law to see Mary's true self, but in the end they both apologized to me for not understanding things sooner.

I really have no idea how to do this. I don't know what it's like to have a mom, that female parent who makes everything better, who comforts and supports you. I know I've been blessed to have many mom-figures in my life who have been my comfort and encouragement over the years. But I don't know how to grieve what I've never had.


Monday, May 2, 2016

He is NOT mine

I love figures of speech, euphemisms, whatever you call them; those cute little phrases that simultaneously explain and confuse a complex topic. I find them fascinating. You can often tell where someone is from based on the figures of speech used. For instance, my teaching friend from Pennsylvania once asked a parent to assist with a project, and the parent enthusiastically replied "I don't care to," with a smile. My Pennsylvanian friend came to me confused, upset almost, not sure what she had just been told. I laughed. I know I've used that very phrase a blue-million times, but I suddenly understood how confusing it sounded. If you aren't familiar with that particular response, it means "yes."

I have a German daughter-in-law, and we sometimes exchange colloquialisms. This started when I told her "do not put the cart before the horse." She looked at me like I had three heads until I explained the meaning. Then she threw down her German equivalent, which roughly translated states, "you can't fall in the house through the front door." Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

They are pretty ridiculous, when you think about it. I mean, why in the world would someone swing a dead cat? And I never saw my mammaw wear a checkered apron, although on many an occasion she threatened my cousins and me that she would turn us over hers if we didn't straighten up. I personally like to mix my euphemisms and say things such as "he is not the sharpest crayon in the french fry drawer." My sons inherited this trait, as a popular saying in my house now is "You have to learn to count before you can fly." Don't try to understand. You had to be there.

I'm no grammarian, but there is a method to my madness here. Words express thought, at times more clearly than others. The words we choose when we speak do not simply tell the listener a story, but often reveal the speaker's emotions or motives, an inconvenient truth for many an elementary student attempting to manipulate a teacher. Word placement and verb tense imply tone, can create a sense of urgency, or lull the reader into a peaceful dream. Simply put, words are powerful.

Twenty-four years ago, when I placed Emily for adoption, I came to understand the power of a small simple phrase. In fact, I've already used it, and you probably didn't even pick up on it. Let me repeat the first part of the first sentence in this paragraph, "Twenty-four years ago, when I placed Emily for adoption..." Do you see it now? Do you notice the one word I used that most people do not use when referring to adoption? Do you see how I use a single word to change the implication of that sentence?

You will never hear me say that I "gave up" a child for adoption, I PLACED Emily. It is an action verb with a clear object, not passive voice, not a passive tone. Assertive.  I gave nothing up. I am clear that adoption was my choice and not a last resort decision after attempts to make other solutions work out failed.  I was in complete control during the entire process. It was my decision, and I still stand firm in that decision.

And now I use that same thought process when I speak of my experience as a victim of sexual assault. The bastard who raped me does not belong to me. He is not mine, nor will he ever be mine. I don't want him. I will never call him "my rapist." I will not use a possessive personal pronoun to refer to him. Ever.

But what does it matter?  Does that minor grammatical change impact anyone? I think it does, and I'd like you to follow me here.

Several months ago I conducted a not-so-scientific experiment on Facebook. I posted two statements, differing by only one word, and asked folks* to react to them, to tell me how they were the same or different. The two statements I posted were:
  • I was smacked by the pygmy marmoset.
  • I was smacked by my pygmy marmoset.
The reactions were just as I suspected. All of the respondents stated that while being smacked by any animal is not pleasant, being smacked by YOUR pet is even worse. The pronoun "my" denotes some sort of relationship. Some felt that "my" also implied some sort of back story, that perhaps I did something to provoke the marmoset thus causing the smack in some way. And one person felt that the random attack by some unknown monkey invoked a shock value (comedy in this case) that was not present when using the possessive pronoun. Given that random people notice the shift in meaning in the above ridiculous statements, what does that imply with the following pair of statements?
  • I was assaulted by a rapist.
  • I was assaulted by my rapist.
I'll let you process that for a moment.

In my post-experiment discussions with the respondents, I explained my theory, that both victims and non-victims unintentionally imply a relationship between the victim and the rapist. I believe that the crime of sexual assault cuts so deeply into the fiber of a being's soul, that a victim will create a bond with the rapist, a bond that is rooted in silence. Using a possessive personal pronoun only serves to tether the two together. One of the respondents called it a kind of (paraphrased) mind-screwing that victims do to themselves. Again, I believe all of this is unintentional.

I felt this most profoundly in the days after Mr. X l was convicted. I received many  well-wishing messages and comments, and a few spoke of "serving justice to your abuser." I'll be honest, the first time I saw the words your and abuser together it stirred something inside of me. I don't want to be responsible for the bastard. It's not my job. It was like someone handed me something I didn't want, like giving me a stone when I asked for bread.

Even in the article for the Outlook I edited the word "her" out of a couple of sentences, explaining to the author that an article (a, an, or the) must be used instead. Being told that somehow Mr. X belonged to me put me in a position of obligation to him, kind of like when you've reached your wits end with a child, and you look at your spouse and say "will you please do something with YOUR son?" (Don't get me wrong. I was not offended or upset by any of the comments. I only corrected two people, people very close to me who I knew would want to try to look at things from my perspective.)

I think most folks are just lazy when it comes to grammar and sentence structure period, and using possessive pronouns is easy. It takes a little more work to formulate my thoughts and avoid using personal possessive pronouns. I have to be creative.  Assertive. Controlled. At times I've had to rewrite entire paragraphs to accomplish that goal. But in the end it is worth it, because it sets me free. The use of articles creates space between me and the abuser (order intentionally flipped to place the importance on me here). It depersonalizes the assault. It places all of the responsibility for the assault on the abuser.

By choosing my words very carefully I do two things. First, I communicate to the listener that I in no way have any relationship or feel any obligation to the one who assaulted me. Second, and more importantly, it is a reminder to me that I in no way have any relationship or feel any obligation to the one who assaulted me.

If you are a victim, I encourage you to STOP using possessive pronouns when referring to the one(s) who abused you. Separate yourself from that abuse, mentally, because you are more important than that. Detach. Listen to yourself as you speak about the abuser with words that minimize him(her) and elevate you. Don't (unintentionally) continue the victimization by tethering yourself to the abuser. You owe the abuser nothing.

And those of you who love and support victims, help them by learning to use impersonal articles when referring to the abuser. Help him/her by putting the emphasis on the assault, rather than (unintentionally) assuming a relationship of any sort. It is a small way to help a victim find his/her voice.

*All but one respondent in my not-so-scientific survey on facebook were women. The one male response did not address the semantics of the sentence, but instead made a joke.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The four year battle to a plea deal

Many, if not most, have been critical of the fact that Bennie Caswell was not arrested and will not serve any time in jail/prison for what he did to me. I am ever so thankful that so many people are angry for me. Believe me, that does not go unnoticed. You have given me what I needed and longed for as a child, teen, and young adult. I know that the sentence was light. It was not fair. But it was right. Now let me explain to you why I say that.

This case was not cut and dry. Let's not kid ourselves, I pressed charges 36 years after the fact. Even if I had kept the blood-streaked underwear (instead of throwing them into the trash fire) for DNA evidence, it would be a tough case to prosecute. It was a case of he said/she said from the get-go. Not exactly a prosecutor's dream.

And secondly, this case had to be handled by a special prosecutor/judge/clerk because Caswell's sister is the circuit court clerk in Hardin county. That means that the Assisitant Commonwealth's Attorney from another county had to pick up an additional case. That means that the judge, court clerk, and prosecutor had to commute to Elizabethtown for every court appearance. That means that all parties had to schedule court when Hardin county had a court room open. It was not an easy task. Oh, and one more thing, they didn't get paid any extra to do it. I overheard the judge talking about his concern for his clerk, who had to make the trip to Elizabethtown on her day off and with her own money.

I met with the Commonwealth Attorney in Breckenridge/Meade county in May 2012. He listened to my story and told me , "Well, you're pretty, you're intelligent, and you have all of your teeth. I can put you on the stand." At that he turned the case over to a young assistant. She was a feisty young woman who was genuinely appalled at the heinousness of the crime. She talked quickly with a thick Kentucky accent in incomplete sentences. She was intense and fidgety at the same time. She was also a little bit excited, because this case, if successful, would set a new precedent.

The first legal task at hand was to decide which law to use, present law or 1976 law. Both sides of the table had to write briefs arguing their cases, and the judge had to decide. This took a year. A year. For a year, I emailed the prosecutor monthly to ask for the status. After a year my emails came weekly. Then I called. After 14 months, the prosecutor called for a status hearing, at which time the judge decided to use 1976 law.Next step, transfer the case out of juvenile court and into circuit court.

That's when the real legal wrangling began. Although it was the summer between his sophomore & junior years of high school, he has a December birthday, making him 15 1/2 at the time of the crime. According to 1976 law, juveniles 16 or over accused of a felony were automatically transferred to circuit court and treated as adults. Juveniles under 16 would be granted a transfer hearing, where the judge would hear any and all evidence, the witnesses would be cross-examined by the defense attorney, and then the judge would decide whether or not to send it on to circuit court. But transfer wasn't guaranteed. Circuit court could deny it and send it back to juvenile. 

Defense counsel managed to block the transfer hearing three times, and after 3 years in litigation, argued that the defendant's civil rights to a speedy trial had been denied. When that argument failed, they claimed that the charges had been amended illegally, and that this also violated the defendant's civil rights. (the prosecutor at the time told me that the clerk in the Hardin county office argued with her about how to amend the charges, and that ultimately she yielded to the clerk's demands. As it turns out, the prosecutor knew how to do it correctly all along, it was the clerk's advice that led to a violation of his civil rights. Make of that what you will.)

At that point, the judge was forced to make a decision. The charges were going to have to be dismissed, but would they be with, or without, prejudice. Again, the judge ordered that both counsel present briefs, and he would make a decision. It was at that court appearance the prosecutor told me "I'm tired of this case. The judge is tired of this case," as she stomped off and out of the court house. 

I was devastated. I called the detective to see if he understood what was happening, and what the next steps were. He encouraged me by telling me that no one has the luxury of being tired of my case, it is their job to fight for justice for me. (Side note: up to this point, Caswell was represented by a pair of attorneys.)

After six weeks of waiting, I learned that the judge decided to dismiss without prejudice, meaning charges could be refiled and a transfer hearing was set. Another victory for me.Then defense appealed, first in district court, then circuit court, then they asked for the Kentucky Court of Appeals perform a discretionary review. This part was actually online and open, although the details of the case were still confidential (we were still in juvenile court at this time.) After three months the Kentucky Court of Appeals denied the motion, which upheld the decision, sending it back to district court for a transfer hearing.

called the prosecutor with the news. Yes, I called her. I knew before she did. That was July 2015. Charges were to be refiled as Rape, 1st degree, victim under the age of 12. After that, the prosecutor stopped returning my emails.

I waited a few weeks, because even on good days the wheels of justice move slowly, before I called victim advocate (for the Breckenridge county prosecutor). Don't be fooled by the title, the victim advocate does not really advocate for the victim, but that's another post. She was very nice, though, and did some research to find that they no longer had the case, and that it was still in Hardin county. I started calling the Hardin county attorney. I would call, weekly, to ask for a status of the case. On one particular day, I was driving my car and speaking to a very sweet woman, who was having trouble finding any information on the computer. I told her that this was a juvenile case, that  I wasn't sure if that made a difference, and she responded "yes, I know the defendant in this case. I can't believe he would do such a thing,"

" Excuse me?!!! You do realize you are talking to the victim in this case, right?" She apologized, and attempted to smooth things over by saying that you never really know what people are capable of doing.

I had several phone conversations with the Hardin county attorney’s office after that. I kept getting transferred to a particular intern, whose job it seemed was to placate me with legel-ease. Here was the best line she used; the commonwealth/county attorney’s office is afforded the right to decide whether or not a conflict of interest even exists, and obviously the county attorney needed some time to decide that matter. This was the second week of October, a full 14 weeks after charges had been filed.  I reminded her that the conflict of interest in question is the same conflict that had existed since original charges had been filed in 2012. I informed her I was calling the attorney general. She asked me not to do that.

I hung up with her and called the attorney general's office. I spoke to one of the AG's assistants, who enlightened me to some frightening legal details. While he agreed wholeheartedly that it appeared the Hardin County Attorney was dragging his feet, county attorneys are autonomous. The AG's office has no authority over them, and can not get involved unless they are either called in by the county attorney, or find evidence of misconduct. Neither had occurred. Never the less, he would talk to a few people and see if something could be done.

The next week I call Hardin county back, and am told that the case had been sent to Breckenridge county for prosecution. Again, make of that what you will.This time a different prosecutor would handle the case. He called me one evening early on to discuss the case with me. His approach was quite different. He was gentle, caring, safe. He listened intently to my story and understood my goals. He had over 20 years experience prosecuting crime, and he was confident we could be successful. His demeanor gave me hope.

Our next court appearance occurred in December 2015, where a January arraignment date was set, as well as a February transfer hearing. Snow in January caused court closures, so everything got pushed back a month.Then the prosecutor called me with a plea idea, one he called "an offer he can't refuse." Keeping in mind my original goal, to hold him accountable and make his name public for others to see, I made a few concessions in this plea. Rather than go down the road of a grand jury indictment, an INFORMATION would be filed instead. This doesn't change the outcome in anyway, but it simplifies the legal proceedings. The main concession I agreed to was taking my age off of the charge, thus lowering it to a D felony. The essence of the plea went like this:

  • Defense stipulates that probable cause exists to transfer the case to circuit court
  • Defense waives his right to grand jury indictment and appeal
  • Defense pleads guilty to sexual assault in the first degree.
  • Defendant is sentenced to 1 year, probated, under the terms of a three year diversion program which include:
  • monthly meetings with a parole officer, for which he will have to pay a $25 fee each visit
  • sex offender counseling
  • limited/supervised interaction with children, including his family
  • he waives his 4th ammendment right to search and seizure
  • unannouned home visits by parole board
  • If he meets all requirements of the diversion program, he can have the felony expunged.
  • No sex offender registry requirement (which really isn't an issue, legally he wouldn't be required to register anyway, but putting it in the plea will avoid confusion down the road.)
  • $1000 fine plus court costs
The positive effects for him taking the deal are:
  • establishing which law will be used in the case
  • establishing how charges should be filed
  • he has already been convicted of this crime, establishing a pattern
  • if he starts out in juvenile court again, a transfer hearing will be the next step. Other victims will not have to wait 3 years to get there
Only those convicted of D felonies are eligible for the diversion program. He was charged with an A felony (20-life), but confessed to a C felony (5-10). Offering him diversion was the carrot on the stick, it was the sweet part of the deal for him. There was no way he wouldn't be indicted. His confession alone would secure that. A trial by jury, though, was a crap shoot, for both of us. (However, even if I lost in a jury, I would have won because it would have been public.) The prosecutor and defense attorney offered and counter-offered a few times, and then worked together to massage the plea deal into what was entered April 18, 2016.

Let me digress just a moment. I was very involved in this case, but understand, I had no right to be involved. The prosecutor(s) were under no obligation to discuss any of this with me. Neither the Hardin county attorney nor the Attorney General's office owed me any explanation. Even if I had hired my own attorney, she would have not had any power in the process. The best I could do was be as annoying as possible, and let everyone know that I wasn't going to go away. I was not always pleasant when dealing with some of the actors in this drama; I made a number of vague and pointless threats. I walked a thin line of getting justice for my inner 6 year old and making myself vulnerable to a libel suit. This is why Marsy's Law is important.

Now to my point. Why is this sentence right? Why do all of this fighting for justice and he not see the inside of a prison?

It's simple, other victims. If I am the only victim, I have made his life miserable for a total of 7 years. He will have to behave for the next 3 years or go to prison for a year. And if I am the only victim, I am OK with that. But you and I both know that I am likely not alone. There are probably more women out there who have suffered at his hand, but they do not know that they can make a case. The only way to let them know is by making this case public. My work has made both made his identity and conviction publicly known, it has made their cases easier by:
And no, he will not be offered diversion a second time.

Not to mention an added bonus for me, I never had to testify, and more importantly, I never had to be cross-examined. I was facing having to testify three times; in the transfer hearing, in the grand jury, and again at trial. This way I got to tell my story on the record for everyone and anyone, most especially other victims, to hear. But I never had to go through the stress and risk of a trial of any sort. All of the above listed points could have been lost if he weren't convicted. Setting precedent, making the way easier for other victims, was more important to me than putting him in prison. 

We will know in the next few months which way this will go. I pray there are no other victims, but in my gut I know there are. In my gut I feel that many women have been triggered by this case. They need to see it, they need to see his face, again. They need to know about it; the details of what I've been through, for them, because they are important too. They need to be supported to come forward and seek justice. They need to know that while it won't be easy facing the bastard, the difficult and often disappointing legal work has been done already.

Here is the link to WDRB's coverage, and also the article in the News Enterprise.

One last point- some critics claimed that Caswell pleaded guilty to a crime he didn't commit just because he didn't have money for adequate legal defense. Yeah. Four years of court appearances aren't cheap. Also, here is the citation from Det. Johnson's interview with him in February 2012 ( the 2014 date shown reflects the date it was filed with the court, not the interview itself). He has always denied raping me, but here you see he admitted to Det. Johnson that he sexually assaulted me in my barn loft, when I was only 6, a C felony.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The moment I took my power back

TRIGGER WARNING!!! This is the courtroom video of my victim impact statement. I chose to stand at the podium because the bastard has a hearing deficit, and I wanted to make sure he heard me. This is raw, real, and it's not what I wrote. Not at all. But I opened my mouth, and the little girl who lay in her bed fantasizing about just this event spoke. It was hard. It was painful. I struggled to make myself say the words. But it was also freeing. Powerful. Healing.

Can you see the victim?

The Kentucky Derby is in two weeks, and preparations for the influx of visitors is well underway. Every news cast is full of Derby news. There will be special Derby themed fund raising events. Residents are being advised of changes in traffic patterns. The city is sprucing up the landscape along the roads leading to Churchill Downs.

And an army of individuals are arming local businesses with the national HUMAN TRAFFICKING hotline number.

Cities love big events because big events draw big money. People will be in our restaurants, buying our gas, and staying in our hotels. Most of these visitors will come, enjoy our city, and then leave. But a percentage of them will do something else while they are here. A few of them will buy a human for the night.

The Kentucky Derby, like all major sports events, triggers an increase in human trafficking in our area. Traffickers are opportunistic, they know that this city will be be full of people looking for a party. They will travel here, just like the Derby goers, but only to make money. The ads on BackPage (and other sources) will increase. The number of solicitation arrests will increase. The number of young women/men/children exploited will increase.

I saw this happen once. My husband attended a tech conference in San Francisco, and I tagged along. (I have since learned that tech conferences are also high on the list for human traffickers.) As my husband and I sat in the restaurant of a 5 star hotel eating Japanese food neither of us could pronounce, I pointed out a victim to him. He was astonished. "How can you tell? It just looks like a couple having dinner to me."

And that's when I realized that I could see things others couldn't. To me, it was obvious. I could see beyond the couple and look at the individuals sitting there. I could see the details, the symptoms, the evidence, but I had to point them out to my husband (and waiter).

The poor girl simply did not fit in. Her "date" was a well-groomed man, 50's, resembling Harrison Ford in many ways, wearing tailored designer clothes, and had manicured hands. He sat, dignified, in his seat, employing all of the rules of etiquette appropriate for this setting. This man looked a lot like all of the other people in the restaurant.

She, on the other hand...

  • ...arrived after he did, and had trouble walking in her heels.
  • ...was very young. At most, she was in her mid 20's.
  • ...wore a cheap black club dress that didn't fit her. 
  • ...she had two tattoos, both of them simple and without color. I'm not into tattoos, but I know enough about art to recognize that these tats lacked color, depth, and line. They were not professional tattoos.
  • ...was high out of her mind. The poor girl could not sit still. She rocked in her seat, flipped her head back and forth, and (this was the biggest tell) continually rubbed her cheek and nose. Opiates. Opiates will make your face itch. My guess is the girl shot up heroin before meeting this john.
  • ...her hair showed signs of long term malnutrition. It was thin, stringy, and frizzy. She did not have it styled, but more or less pushed out of her face. 
  • ...had loose skin from sudden weight loss under her arms. Again, this was a young woman.
I watched her through my entire meal. I was hoping she would go to the restroom so I could go talk to her. I didn't have any HT info on me, but I have a smart phone. I googled the hotline number and called. I have no idea what happened to her, but I will forever have her picture in my mind.

At one point during our meal, I asked the waited if he had seen her before, and he asked why.  I told him she is prostitute, obviously high, and likely being held by a pimp for drugs. "She needs help," I said. He just shrugged, and said "it happens," and walked away. My husband was speechless, both at my ability to see her as a victim, and the waiter's inability to do the same.

This is why the outreach Free2Hope is doing next week is so important. Without education and training, the employees in our hotels, restaurants, and gas stations will not see these victims. They will not see the crimes happening right under their noses. They will not see the young women, the young men, or the children being sold for sex. They will simply shrug their shoulders and say "it happens."

Not in my city.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Justice Follow Up

Breckenridge County Judicial Center, where case file 16-CR-00265 is kept. 
I've thought a great deal about justice this week; what it looks like, what it feels like. (see my first post on justice here)  I am part of a tiny percentage of victims who experience this. I thought that justice would bring closure. I thought receiving justice would be the pinnacle, the finish line, that moment when I  could take a breath and know that my fight was over, but I was wrong. Dead wrong.

In the days leading up to the sentencing, I had a friend reach out to me and tell me a story, a story of abuse, evidence, confession, failure to pursue charges, and then death of the perpetrator. It is the kind of story that would nauseate you. The story haunts me; I am angry for my friend. The words "I'll never see justice" cause me pain, because I know that my friend, that child within is still in pain.

I had 4 other friends with me on Monday, three of whom will also never see justice. They went to court with me for several individual reasons, but two were common among them. First, they wanted to support me. Second, they wanted to see justice as it happened, even if it was for someone else. My victory was their victory. That thought was quite humbling for me, and I did not ignore their pain as I walked from the podium to the commonwealth attorney's table after delivering my victim impact statement. I saw them sitting there, in the gallery, weeping from the story I had just told. I ached for them, knowing what it feels like to have a story you want to tell but you are muted by some other power. I so wanted to comfort them, but knew that I couldn't.

In the hours and days after the news story broke I received messages from a dozen or more strangers, commending my courage, congratulating me on a positive outcome, and thanking me for standing up. Each stranger each had a story to tell, and they shared their (abbreviated) stories with me. I listened to and interacted with each and every one of them.  Some of them had been victimized as children or teens, some of them at the hands of family members. One woman had been date raped. One mother was seeking action for the victimization of her 5 years old daughter. One husband talked to me of the pain his wife still endures from being assaulted as a young girl. 

All of these stories had one common element- they would never, ever see justice. These people will forever have a an empty spot in their souls, a longing that can not be fulfilled, They are all, like me, on a path chosen for them by the abuser, powerless to stop the assault, and denied the opportunity to take back their power. They are on the moving sidewalk that never ends. They can be believed. They can forgive. They can find peace. They can heal. But they will never see the ones that abused them held accountable for the lives they destroyed.

I had a long talk with a victim yesterday. She was also assaulted as a very young child, 40 years ago. She told her family about it early on. She was silenced by her family, and since the abuser is a distant cousin, she still has to interact with him on occasion. 40 years later she is held powerless by the monster. He is safe in her silence, and he knows that his family will continue to help him keep her silent. Seeing my story made her angry; angry for me, angry at him, angry at her family. She sobbed as she apologized for allowing them to silence her.

 I don't know that my non-trauma friends will ever be able to truly understand what being powerless feels like, and how important justice truly is. Justice is a huge part of the journey for my trauma friends and me.

Justice is not about punishment or revenge or anger. Justice is about being made just, to be made equitable, proper, or true. It is about holding everyone to the standard of what is moral and correct.

God is just, and he justifies us. That's big church-speak for saying that God balanced the scales for us when Jesus died on the cross. We don't have to try to fill up or empty out our side of the scales. But know this, if justice is important to God, it is important for us.

That's all victims want when we talk about justice. We want the scales balanced again. We want to be back on even footing with those who abused us. We want our power back.

To my trauma friends: do not assume that your window of opportunity for seeking justice has closed. Don't assume that what you've been told by well-intended loved ones is true. Check out the statutes of limitations in your state.   To those who have been denied justice too long and/or now deal with the fact the the abuser is dead, I don't know. I've got to think about that for a while. I wish I had some great idea or resource that would fulfill your need, but I don't. At least not yet. My heart hurts for you.

To my non-trauma friends; please continue to support victims. Please continue to help them find their voices, to make easy the path for seeking justice. Do not be afraid to listen to them. They don't expect you to understand.

I realize now that my fight is not over; I am simply shifting my focus.

Friday, April 22, 2016

How ARE you?

I knew it was coming, but that hasn't lessened the impact. I knew that I would enter a new phase of some sort on April 19, but that hasn't really helped my understanding of what's going on. I knew that my emotions would fluctuate, but that didn't prepare me for them.

I knew people would reach out to me once I made myself available because it's happened before. While I've never kept being a victim a secret, I only made it public knowledge when I pressed charges 4 years ago. Even then, still within my bubble, as I started to tell my story, friends started telling me theirs. It was humbling to hear "I've never really talked about this before, but I was assaulted..." Facebook friends messaged me, telling me their stories, sharing their pain and frustration, seeking relief from the silence they'd been forced to keep.

 And so I've opened a door, no a flood gate. I've received messages from friends, friends of friends, and strangers. I have talked to women and men who have dealt with abuse. I have prayed with moms who are fighting for their child's rights. I have had counselors and sexual assault group leaders make contact with me.

I have a few trauma-friends who get it, who have helped me a great deal. They are raw, real, and have kept me grounded. Daily at least one of them asks "how ARE you." They put that emphasis on the word "ARE" because they know; they know that I will put on my advocate persona in public and protect myself. They have helped me understand my own emotions better. One of them talked about her emotions being "agitated" right now. Yeah. I think that aptly describes it.

One of the women with me Monday is an attorney who was victimized by a client. She has become a staunch advocate for victims, and has asked me to write a blog for her, outlining my court room experience for other victims. I am also preparing for my story to appear in the Southeast Outlook. Both of these tasks seem daunting right now as, like my friend, my emotions are agitated.

I'm still not ready to write a great deal, but I want everyone to know I'm OK. I have scheduled a session with my counselor to debrief the experience. I am going to the court house today to get a copy of the court documents and video. I have not decided if I will watch the video this weekend or not, but I want to have it on hand when I'm ready.

Thank you for your love and support. Thank you for helping victims find their voices.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A letter to the six year old me

Dear little girl in the light blue sweater,

Today is yours. This is the day you've been waiting for for oh, so long. Today is the day your voice will be heard. In a few short hours, you and I will watch him as he stands before a judge and pleads guilty to hurting us. We will sit, together, in the witness box and confront him. We will then get to watch the judge sentence him. Oh, how I know you've so often thought about doing this very thing. I'm so happy for you that this day is here. But before all of that happens, there are a few things I need to tell you.

First, I'm sorry this happened to you. It wasn't your fault. You did nothing wrong, you could not have stopped it, and you did not deserve it. I know it will take a while for that to completely sink in, because it took way too long for those words to be spoken to you. Many people failed you over the years. People who should have loved you and protected you did neither. You started to believe a lie. But dear child, know that the words I tell you now are true.

Your childhood was ripped from you without warning. Children are supposed to grow up feeling loved and protected, and yet you did not feel safe in your own backyard. I'm so sorry. You are precious, and you are worthy. You should not have had your innocence taken from you. There is no way to give back to you what was stolen, nothing will ever make amends. Someone else chose a life-path for you that no one would ever choose for herself. Yet you have lived it.  No. You have not just lived it, you have survived, and you have conquered it.

You have taught me a great deal, little one. You amaze me. At such a young and tender age, the measure of your strength and tenacity was incredible. You had the courage to resist a monster even though there was no way for you to win. You had the forethought to develop a strategy of survival, more than that, you prevented yourself from being injured again. I know you were scared. I am too. But that, dear child, is the definition of courage. You were scared and managed to face down a monster anyway. Oh, I know you think that you were just running away, but I know the truth. The truth is you were trying to run to safety, even though that safety was merely an illusion. Again, that was not your fault.

I am proud of you. In the ugliness that was your world, you found beauty in little things. You found God. Sometimes I wish we could go back and do things over for you. I wish you had known a life without pain, without fear, a life where you felt cherished and wanted. But in your heart, you always knew there was something more out there. You somehow knew that what you were being taught as "truth" was actually a lie. I don't know how, but you managed to hold on to hope until we could break free of the lie. Thank you for that. 

Today will be completely different for you. Today we will sit in the courtroom, together, and confront the bastard who tried to kill us. But don't worry, you don't have to be afraid. You don't have to run away today. All you have to do is sit, and let me hold you, as I tell your story. He can't hurt us anymore. I will be your voice, your advocate. I will protect and love you today, the way your should have been protected and loved many, many years ago. 

There are many people in our life now, safe people who have shown us what it truly means to be loved. They have been with us through all of the ups and downs of this journey. Some of them will even be there with us today, friends who are angry FOR us, who find you too valued to be abused as you were. Listen to them, let them love you. Let them continue to replace the lies you were told with the truth. Today, may you feel just, that you are no longer powerless and mute. May you feel bold, brave, and beautiful. 

Know that I love you. Know that I know you will still feel pain from time to time. I know that you will always have to live with the memories he planted in your mind. But also know that together we have already healed a great deal. We use our experiences to help others in pain. We have found peace and joy. We have been redeemed.

Today, dear me, we win.