Innocence Stolen.

This is my first attempt at poetry. I am amazed at how different it feels to write poetry than basic blog posts. There is so much emotion attached when writing in this style. So, here’s to a new adventure, we will see where it goes. The title of this first piece is “Innocence Stolen.”

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

 

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

 

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

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Your Response. It matters.

Sexual abuse is not a single-victim crime. It impacts families and communities worldwide. Most people know someone who has experienced sexual abuse. How will you respond when you learn someone you love and care for has been hurt so deeply by this heinous crime? In the years following my disclosure and people learning about my experiences, the reactions have varied across the spectrum from outright rage to assuming I was lying. Each response impacted me- some were extremely comforting and healing, while others caused added distress in my life (unintentionally and intentionally). I hope that through sharing my encounters more people will be aware of how important their responses are to learning of abuse. In this post, I am going to discuss the reaction of wanting to inflict significant injury to an abuser.

 In the days following social services’ intervention and the separation from my abuser, some of the people closest to my family, including extended family, were informed about what had happened. Anger, rage, and the desire to hurt my abuser were very frequent and common reactions. These emotions are absolutely justified and warranted. They are normal reactions and it is okay to experience and express these emotions (not actions)- just not to the person who experienced the abuse. (Just a reminder that these are clearly my opinions and do not apply to everyone). I found myself pleading with people not to “kill” my abuser for what he did. Thus, I experienced further emotional turmoil because I found myself “protecting” my abuser, but also feeling thankful that someone did want to make him pay for what he did to me. I recall thinking “if you kill him, then I’m going to lose you too!” What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused. I was going to have to work through those things despite the condition of my abuser. So, for someone to go and cause him pain, it would only have further negative impacts on me.

“What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused.”

 I do not want to discourage people from expressing their understandable and normal emotions of fury, anger, and rage after learning someone you love has been abused; however, it is more beneficial to the person you love if you can find healthy ways of coping with those emotions. It is also best to avoid expressing these emotions directly to the victim and rather than worrying about the abuser, turn your focus to the needs of the people impacted by the crimes. What are some healthy coping mechanisms to consider when you learn someone you love has been abused and you become consumed with anger?

·       Find a trusted person to talk with about your emotions and reactions

·       Exercise to release some of the intense feelings of anger

·       Focus on the person who was abused and seek to bring them comfort

·       Pray for the strength to not act on your emotions

·       Find a way to turn that anger into pro-active action such as raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse, fighting for stricter penalties for child abusers, etc.

·       Journal – write a letter to the abuser to express the anger you feel, then shred it (probably not a good idea to mail it)

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 Due to the staggering statistics regarding childhood sexual abuse, it is unfortunately likely that at some point in your life you will have to choose how you will reach in this situation. What are your thoughts?

A Letter to my Abuser

So, I just finished writing this letter and I am still in somewhat of a shock that these words came from my heart. They literally just poured out of me. The first line was probably the most difficult. How do you address the person who abused you for years? I figured out what works for me. Here it goes…

October 19, 2016

To the man who stole my innocence.

Years ago I wrote you a letter. I never mailed it, thankfully. Although, it may have been good for you to read it. It was filled with hate and pain- a disastrous combination. I was at my lowest point of despair. I wanted you to witness how my life was ruined because of you. I do not regret writing that letter. It felt amazing to throw all the overwhelming emotions on paper… temporarily. I quickly learned that my hate and utter disdain for you did not change a single event that occurred in the past, it had no impact on you, and it was preventing me from living. I was existing, but I was not living.

With the help of a phenomenal counselor, I discovered how to live again. Slowly, those feelings of hatred faded. I learned that my life was not ruined, despite the really horrible things I endured. I made the decision to take back control of my life- my emotions, my thoughts, and my behaviors. Then, I chose to place my life, my trust, and my faith in the hands of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may appear that this was an easy transition, when reading my words, but it was far from that. It may appear that it happened over night; however, it actually took years.

At eight years old, my life was forever changed. I continue to encounter circumstances that demonstrate yet another way the long term sexual abuse impacts me. I believe this will be lifelong. Trauma can’t be undone. But, that is no longer a disparaging truth for me. New neural pathways have formed. I have the tools to cope with the triggers and nightmarish memories of the many nights of my childhood. And, in moments when coping and pressing forward is difficult, I have a support system and a counselor that I can reach to for support. My life is not ruined. My life is so worth living.

I never imagined I would consider forgiving you. However, as I grew in my faith and learned about the act of forgiving, it did not seem so foreign. Many times I tried telling myself that I had forgiven you because it was the “right” thing to do. But, it was never authentic and truly from my heart. I can still recall the exact date that I finally “felt” like I had forgiven you. I forgive you.

I believe there are many misconceptions about forgiveness. It does not undo the sexual abuse. It does not remove the sadness I still feel when I think back to when I was just a child- how little I was, how scared I was, how confused I was. It does not mean I no longer hold you responsible for your choices. And it certainly does not mean I want to join you for dinner. In fact, I still pray I never see you again. It does not mean that I will let you petition for removal from the sex offender registry without fighting with every ounce of strength I have for that not to happen.

Forgiving you has allowed me to not just live, but thrive. It has provided me with the ability to accept what happened to me as a chapter in my book of life. It is no longer the conclusion. Forgiving you grants me the ability to turn my focus towards the future- towards strengthening legislation that fights for and protects children, towards completing my degree in counseling so I can hopefully impact lives like my counselors impacted my life, and towards removing the stigma surrounding sexual abuse and creating conversations that need to occur.

Some say the pivotal moment of forgiveness occurs when a person reaches the point of being able to extend appropriate grace to the perpetrator. I’m not there yet. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure out whether that is something I agree with or not. Maybe one day I will reach that place. For now, I have peace with my level of forgiveness for you. So, whether you are wondering or not, my life is not ruined. I forgive you.

Sincerely,

A Very Brave Woman

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For anyone struggling with forgiveness, please know that it truly takes time. Don’t beat yourself up for not being at that point yet in your journey. Healing takes time. Forgiving takes time. In one of my favorite books, Mending the Soul by Steven R. Tracy, the last chapter is on forgiveness. The LAST chapter. In a coming post, I hope to further explore what forgiveness has looked like in my life.

A Plea for Justice, Impact Statement Pt. 3

In the final part of my victim impact statement I decided to begin with the day I was freed from my abuser. While I was so thankful to have someone believe me and take action against my abuser, it was also one of the scariest days of my life. Things did not get better on that day and at the time it felt like life became immensely more difficult. I want the judge to see that my abuser’s actions did not just effect me, but they also significantly impacted my family.

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.

Next I wanted to convey to the judge my concerns regarding the potential of my abuser harming another child. I want the judge to see that my abuser was very skilled in manipulative tactics. It provides me with some peace of mind that my abuser is listed on a public sex offender registry. I also want the judge to look at the picture below and see what I looked like a year after the abuse began. I want the judge to see that I was just a child.

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 XXXXXXX. 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.

In conclusion, my abuser added me to a list that I never wanted to be on. If I ever go before the judge, my plea will be that my abuser remain on the sex offender registry for the duration of his life.

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 XXXXXX 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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Not My Shame, Impact Statement Part 2

***Trigger Warning***

I am going to be authentic at this moment and tell you that it is scary posting the second part of my victim impact statement. I am definitely experiencing some anxiety just thinking about pressing “publish.” That feeling of shame resurfaced as I read back over the words I typed months ago. I choose to overcome and rise above because today I know it is not my shame.  

This part of my impact statement focuses on what I want the judge to know regarding my abuser’s actions. I did not want the judge to simply look back at the charges and see three counts of indecent liberty with a minor. The title of that charge does not convey, in my opinion, what really happened. If I ever stand before a judge to read my statement, I want the judge to hear what my life was really like during the years of abuse. I want the judge to know, it didn’t happen just three times. What I did not want to do though is recount every detail of the abuse. Because, I am so much more than what happened to me. I don’t want the judge to see me as a victim. When I go before that judge, I want him/her to hear the reasons my abuser should not be removed from the sex offender registry and I want him/her to see how strong I am today and how I am thriving. There is hope. Always.

So here is the first part of my statement, if you missed that post, and part two follows it:

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 Jeffrey, my former step-father, 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. Ten years ago, as a victim, I did not have the courage to stand before the court and speak about the heinous acts that were committed against me. Today, as a survivor, I have a voice that is ready to be heard. And it begins with that August night I watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with my then step-father which 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.

It is still hard to see the words I have typed and to know that is a chapter in my book of life. But I find hope in the many chapters that follow. My chapter of accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and the journey of faith that follows. My chapters of graduating high school and college. My chapter of becoming a missionary through the North American Mission Board. My chapter of starting graduate school. My chapters of playing sports competitively. There are so many chapters in each person’s life. We can’t just look at one chapter and decide that’s what defines a person. We are more. 

In the coming days, or weeks (cue graduate school chapter of life), I will post the final part of my impact statement. 

Check out this song by Natalie Grant called “Clean

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Impact Statement Part 1

Today I am sharing the first paragraph of my victim impact statement. I wrote it about 7 months ago prior to the date my abuser would be eligible to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. I struggled the most with settling on the first sentence.

Here are a few of the questions I had in regards to writing my statement:

Am I allowed to use my abuser’s name and his relation to me?

Am I allowed to say what he did to me? Or is that too much detail?

Will the judge think I’m lying if I say that I am “thriving” now?

Do I address the judge professionally by starting my statement with “your honor”?

There were so many impacts of the abuse; how many do I list?

These may seem like trivial questions, but my concern with writing the statement “correctly,” was overwhelming.

When I began writing my statement, it helped me to imagine that I was bravely standing in the court room facing my abuser and pleading to the judge my cause. I found several helpful websites where some of my questions were answered. However, I have to give a huge shout-out to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys for their assistance and compassion in answering my many questions. Two of their employees read proofs of my statement and gave me pointers. They answered questions and encouraged me along the way. They took the time to explain what the petitioning process would be like if my abuser filed and a court date was scheduled.

Here is how my statement begins:

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 XXXX, my former XXXXXX, 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 XXXXXX forever changed my life.

Below you will find a list of websites that helped me as I was seeking guidance in writing my statement. These websites are guides for writing initial statements that would be heard in the court prior to the resolution of a case. The statement that I have prepared is somewhat different because my case has been closed. My statement will be heard if my abuser decides to petition for removal from the sex offender registry which would be a new court “case.”

http://www.victimsinfo.govt.nz/assets/Victim-Impact-Statements-2/Final-adult-jurisdiction-Nov-2014.pdf

https://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/victim-impact-statements

https://law.lclark.edu/live/files/17711-sample-victim-impact-statements1pdf

If you are writing your impact statement and feel stuck, do not be afraid to reach out for assistance. You do not have to do this alone.writing-1209121

Finding the Words

“You will have the opportunity to make a victim statement if you would like,” the Assistant District Attorney informed me. After my abuser was read the terms of his plea bargain, the judge asked if there was anything else the prosecutor’s side wanted to say. The ADA turned to me to confirm before responding to the judge, “there’s nothing else.”

A year and a half had passed since my disclosure that resulted in being freed from my abuser. At 15 years old, I had absolutely no idea what a victim impact statement involved. I knew what the impacts of my abuser’s crimes were at that time- my world had been turned upside down; but where would I even begin to find the words to adequately say what I wanted to say. What do you say when you are a scared teen, in a court room in front of the judge, and sitting across a narrow aisle from your abuser for the first time in over a year? It did not feel like there were any words I could say that would make a difference.

Walking out of that court room, watching my abuser walk out of the same court room with his family, I immediately wished I had said something when the judge asked. I still didn’t know what I would have said, but I realized the “case” was finished. In my mind it seemed that maybe if I had just told the judge the details of what my abuser did, he would have responded with a harsher punishment. Instead, I was leaving the court house knowing my abuser would go spend 48 hours at the local jail.

Over the years, this regret was something I grappled with continually. I could not find peace in the outcome of the case or my silence in the court room. 10 years later, I recognized a truth I had known all my life- God’s timing is perfect. 10 years after registering as a sex offender, my abuser became eligible to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. As you read in my earlier posts, this was a tough reality to accept. However, it provided me an opportunity to find that voice that sat silent in the court room.

While speaking with the Assistant District Attorney that would handle the case if my abuser filed for petition, I was informed that I would have the opportunity to make a victim impact statement before the judge if I chose. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share the statement I have prepared if the day comes that my abuser files a petition. It was a rollercoaster to write.  I was googling examples of statements, contacting people in the District Attorney’s office, trying to figure out what comprises a victim impact statement. When I finally sat down and began to write, the words flowed freely and effortlessly. I have no way of knowing whether or not my statement will ever be heard in front of a judge and my abuser. However, simply writing the statement allowed me to find that voice that felt silenced in the court room over 10 years ago.

If you are at a place in life where you are considering writing a statement, even if you are the only person who will see it- I would encourage you to take that step. You will know when you are ready. If you aren’t sure where to start, stay tuned to see what steps I found helpful and the types of people I reached out to for assistance.