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.

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