11
August

Who Does The Sexual Abuser Look And Act LIke?

The sexual abuser/pedophile/molestor/predator often looks and acts just like everybody else.  We often have this vision of the creepy man in a trenchcoat who lurks around unassumably, or the perverted looking guy who drives the ice cream truck.  However, while some abusers may in fact look like those characters, most often, the abuser is a “normal looking” member of society.  They may even be well respected members of their community.  Typically, they are likeable individuals who work everyday and would be classified as an all-around “nice guy” by the neighbors when the cameras are rolling.

The ploy of the sexual predator is…. gaining trust!! No parent with their wits about them would ever leave their children in the presence of, let alone the care of, some smarmy looking individual who doesnt “appear” to have their child’s best interest at heart.  This is why we, as parents, are often fooled by teachers, coaches, clergy, doctors, uncles, grandfathers, and dads.  These people spend hours upon hours gaining our trust to the extent that parents eventually push their children into the beckoning arms of these predators.  Parents take behavioral cues at face value and assume that by virture of one’s appearance, occupation, or familial status, they are trustworthy and wouldn’t harm our children.  This is the farthest from the truth!

Stop looking at people and assigning labels to them as if these labels truly define who they are!  As Natalie Lamb, President & Founder of It’s Your Choice, states, “Nice is a choice, not a character trait.” Many people choose to be nice because of ulterior motives or a hidden agenda.  Predators are some of the nicest, most alturistic, and charitable people you might come across.  Think about it….of all the stories in the news of late, how many of the predators were actually reported as mean-spirited individuals with hateful and ugly mannerisms?  Case and point….Jerry Sandusky was such a “nice guy” that he would pick up underprivileged boys and let them spend the night, take them to the Penn State campus and introduce them to the team, and he served as a father figure/role model.   Is that the behavior of a pedophile……ABSOLUTELY!  But my most people’s account, they would have never suspected him of being a danger to ALL the kids around him, even his own.

Several years ago before my daughter disclosed her own sexual abuse, I was at a sporting event for young people.  The team I had gone to see lost the game.  Immediately after the game, the coach took one of the player into a room alone and closed the door.  I was disturbed by this and began to ask those around me why the coach went in the room alone with the player.  Several of the other parents said the player was the coach’s child and while the whole scene still didn’t sit quite well with me, I let it go.  Over the years, I often think back on that incident, especially after my daughter disclosed, and wondered if there was really more to that story than what met the eye.  After all, to everyone else the coach was a nice well respected man who loved the kids….but what if he wasn’t?  My point being, if you have alarm bells going off in your head, don’t be so quick to dismiss your gut.

We, as parents, just have to wake up and realize that this evil exists in plain sight, and predators have made it their life’s work to weasel their way into our lives by design and for the purpose of harming our kids…..

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11
August

Preparing for the Preliminary Hearing and Testifying…..

Preparing for the Preliminary Hearing and Testifying…..

The court process can be very difficult on the victim because it is the job of the abuser’s legal counsel to have the charges dismissed, and if that’s not possible, secure a not guilty verdict.  Therefore, the victim will often have to relive the abuse several times over by way of questioning from the assigned Deputy District Attorney (DDA), the police, and in the courtroom during the preliminary hearing, and again at the trial, if necessary.

In our case, we took our daughter to meet with the DDA prior to her first required court appearance, which was the preliminary hearing.  During this meeting, the DDA advised our daughter that the opposing counsel would ask her questions designed to confuse her and make her look like a liar; upset her and cause her to recant her story, and/or make it appear that abuse was consensual or solicited.  Our daughter was then posed with questions that might be asked by the opposing counsel using foul and vulgar language.  She was asked to by very specific in terms of describing the abuse.  She was admonished to use appropriate anatomical terminology and not nicknames for body parts.  She was also admonished to repeat anything that her abuser said to her verbatim (in other words, if he used profanity, then she was asked to repeat exactly what he said to her).  These sessions were intense for her to endure and for us as parents to witness, although we were asked to step out during a portion of each to ensure that our daughter could withstand the pressure and wasnt being coached via body language etc.

When it was time for our daughter to testify, we requested that the courtroom be closed.  This means that only officers of the court (judge & lawyers) and courtroom staff (clerks and bailiff) were allowed to remain in the court during her testimony.  My daughter was also allowed one adult advocate in the courtroom and I was allowed to sit in close proximity to her while she testified.  The reason for our request to close the courtroom was simple; we didn’t want her to have to relive the abuse in front of strangers and looky loos.  This was a very emotional time and we wanted to make it as comfortable as possible – if comfort was even achievable under the circumstances.

As expected, the abuser’s attorney took every opportunity to make our daughter out to be a liar.  She threw question and after question that was worded just slightly different from the preceding question in hopes that our daughter would slip up and change her answer.  In fact, our daughter subtly called her out using verbiage like “Well, as I stated before,” which indicated that the question had been asked and answered.  The opposing counsel also suggested that the abuse was more or less consensual sex and our daughter solicited the abuse.  Of course, this angered our daughter and before the opposing counsel knew it, our daughter steadied herself and began to respond to each question with such stealthily placed sarcasm that even the judge was caught smirking a time or two. Granted, while this is not advisable behavior, it did have the desired effect because the opposing counsel relented once she realized our daughter wasn’t going to back down or break under the pressure.

It is also important to mention that the preliminary hearing was the first time that our daughter had to come face to face with her abuser since the process began.  She was advised not to look in his direction so she wouldn’t become flustered or break down in tears.  However, our daughter found a sense of triumph in facing her abuser and recounting what he had done to her while she looked him square on.  It was chilling to watch because most people wouldn’t have the type of courage and fight she displayed that day.  If it is even appropriate to utter under the circumstances….we were proud of her that day.

Next week’s topic….The Plea Bargain

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11
August

Going to Court…….

Going to court….

The first court hearing is the arraignment hearing.  This occurs once the District Attorney has determined that there is sufficient evidence to charge the abuser with a crime.  During the arraignment, the charges are read and the abuser enters a plea (guilty/not guilty).  The abuser can also petition for bail and the judge will determine the amount of the bail.

In our particular case, the abuser confessed to sexually abusing our daughter during the interrogation, which led to charges being filed.  However, during the arraignment, he plead not guilty.  Bail was also set, but since he could not afford to post bail and no one that he knew was willing to post it for him, he remained in jail.

Keep in mind, there are numerous hearings that take place during this entire process, and many of them, to my dismay, are for the benefit of the abuser!  As we journey through this process, you will see how warped the system can be and how so many abusers are freed to go out and commit the same crimes over and over.

Next week’s topic……Preparing for the Preliminary Hearing and Testifying

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11
August

Social Services….policies & procedures

Social Services……

Once the crime is reported to the police, the police notify child protective services (CPS) of the case.  CPS opens an investigation that aims to determine whether we, the parents, allowed or created the atmosphere that led to the sexual abuse.  Given that we had another child in the home as well, they also try to determine whether both children are living in a safe environment.  This is where parents can often feel let down by the system.  In essence, our lives and home were being scrutinized like we knew the abuse was occuring!

As we mentioned in a previous post, the police opened their investigation and visited our daughter’s school to question her without our knowledge.  Within a few days of this incident, our daughter sent us a text message stating a social worker was at her school questioning her, and she wanted to know if she had to speak with the gentleman.  Based on her accounts of the interview, he basically told her that if she didn’t cooperate, he could call the police and have her escorted to the police station for questioning.  Of course, the mere suggestion that she would be hauled off in a police car while her peers looked on was yet another form of trauma for someone who had already endured so much and seemingly was still no more in control than when she was being abused.

Incensed by the lack of communication on the part of the social worker, I began calling the number that he left with my daughter after the interview.  When he finally called back, the conversation started off very hostile because we felt completely violated by his actions.  I assured him that we did not appreciate the fact that he showed up unannounced at my daughter’s school and reiterated how upset she was to be pulled out of class yet again all the while wondering what to tell her classmates.  The social worker was ready for a fight and literally began taunting me by telling me he could show up at her school anytime he felt like it and he was on his way to my younger daughter’s school as we were speaking.  That made the conversation even more hostile as I made it clear to him that he was not to show up at either child’s school without notifying us.

The conversation stayed quite heated as he rambled off policy and procedures that defined the scope of power his position provided.  I felt as though my husband and I were on trial.  Even worse, once again our daughter felt like she was being violated and we, as parents, felt powerless because of a “system” that made us part of the criminal element until they decided otherwise.  As this heated discussion continued, I made it clear that WE called the police, WE filed the police report, and WE had been pushing the police to do their jobs the entire time; therefore, WE were entitled to a little more respect in this process.  After admitting that he had not read the report thoroughly and was not aware that we had initiated the police investigation, he apologized and his tone softened. We then had a more civilized dialogue……

The social worker acquiesced and agreed not to go to either daughters’ school to question them.  Instead, we arranged for him to come to our home the following Saturday for an in-home interview with our youngest daughter.  We also arranged to take our daughter to the police station if any additional or follow up questions needed to be asked.

When the social worker arrived that Saturday, he had a brief conversation with us and explained that there are so many instances of predators living in the home with the child, and often times the family is aware of the abuse and does nothing or very little about it.  He suggested that this is sometimes cultural and in other cases it is just simply poor parenting.  He apologized for not handling the situation better and not being informed before moving forward with his investigation.

Our youngest daughter was interviewed while we sat in a separate room.  We later found out that he asked her if she knew why he was there, what was going on with her sister, and if she had been abused herself.  He also wanted to know if she thought we knew her sister was being abused.  She answered the questions honestly and at the end of the interview, he advised us that he had no reason to believe that we were aware of the abuse our daughter had experienced, nor did he believe that we had not provided a safe home for our children.  To sum it up plain and simple, there was no need for our children to be removed from our home and placed in protective custody.

CPS definitely has rules and regulations to follow, which is understandable to a certain extent.  As parents who found out our daughter had been sexually abused for such an extended period of time by a relative whom we saw often was hard enough to process…..BUT, to be the “subject” of an investigation to determine if we were in some way accessories to the crime was just way to much to wrap our heads around.  We definitely felt that sensitivity training was in order and each case should be handled based on its respective circumstances and details. Accusing the parents at the top of the investigation automatically creates an adversarial relationship, which can hinder the process of getting the justice for the victim.

At the end of the day, we say cooperate with CPS because failing to do so could be quite costly…you could lose custody of your child(ren).  It is okay to try and set some ground rules and boundaries, but if the social worker is not willing to work with you, just do your absolute best to do what it asked.  If you feel your rights are being violated, you may need to seek legal assistance.

Next week’s topic….Going to court

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11
August

The Medical Exam….

The Medical Exam……

While we did not learn about our daughter’s abuse until approximately eighteen months after the last encounter, we felt it was prudent to take her to the doctor for a physical exam and tests.  Of course, there was concern that there might be added trauma to her mental state if she was required to undress and subject herself to an exam that many women do not have until they reach adulthood.  However, we spoke to her and explained the importance of making sure that she was physically healthy.  We also gave her the option of stating whether she preferred a male or female doctor.

When making the appointment, we notified the staff at the doctor’s office about the reason for the visit.  We were very specific because we wanted to be sure that the doctor was not blindsided by what would be discussed during the visit.  It was also important to let them know during the initial call that we had just become aware of the abuse,  a police report had been filed, and  an investigation was underway.  These precautionary measure were done in an effort to ensure that the doctor and staff were especially sensitive to our daughter’s needs and avoid a scene that might involve the police or Child Protective Services being called to take another report once we arrived and the appointment got underway.

The appointment involved a screening by the doctor during which my daughter was asked a few open-ended questions to help the doctor assess what type of trauma my daughter experienced.  Prior to actually starting the exam, the doctor took proper care to explain the process of the examination to my daughter, the types of tests that would be run, and when she could expect to receive the results.  As the exam was getting ready to get underway, I gave my daughter the option of me staying in the room or standing outside the door while the examination was conducted.  Thankfully, she chose to allow me to stay in the room with her for support.

I was careful to allow her to answer the questions that were posed to her because I wasn’t sure if the doctor’s report would need to be subpoenaed by the courts and it was extremely important that the doctor could honestly report that all of the information that she received were my daughter’s words and there was no sense of coercion or coaching on my part.  This is very important for all parents and caregivers to understand…..you must let the children speak for themselves if they are able to; otherwise, you can affect the outcome of the reporting and investigative processes.  It is also important to note that your family doctor’s medical report may not suffice in the courts and you may be required to take your child in for a court required examination with a court appointed medical professional.  If that is the case, your legal advisor will provide you with the details and specifics of this process.

All be it we had been praying constantly since we learned of the abuse just days before the medical exam, there was even a greater sense of urgency in our prayers when we were faced with waiting for the various test results.  Keep in mind, discovering the abuse is more than one thinks they can handle as a parent, but the thought of the abuse leaving your child with some type of medical issue creates a whole nother level of mental anguish.  We are grateful to report that our daughter’s tests all came back fine. That was something positive for us to hold on to in the days, weeks, and months to follow!

We thought we would address the aspect of dealing with Social Workers this week as well, but the medical exam and dealing with social workers might be a lot to take in all at once so let’s hold it over until next week.

Next week’s topic…..Social Workers and their policies and procedures

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11
August

Calling the Police and Reporting the Crime…..

Calling the Police and Reporting the Crime…..

We called the police within a half hour of our daughter disclosing the sexual abuse to us.  The officers arrived within the hour and we explained the reason for the call based on the accounts given by our daughter.  The police officers requested to speak with our daughter privately, which we were later informed is common practice.  The female officer conducted the interview while her male counterpart stepped out of the room to make our daughter more comfortable.  During that time, we remained quarantined in a separate part of the house to ensure that we didn’t coach her in any way.

After my daughter was questioned, we were allowed to return to the room and a report was written up.  We were given a copy of the report, advised that the report would be turned over the the police departments “Special Victims Unit” that dealt primarily with cases involving minors and sex crimes.  There were no guarantees made as far as what we could expect other than contact being made by an investigating officer within a few days.

I called the next morning to determine what the next step would be and we were given the name of the investigating officer who asked questions regarding the whereabouts of the abuser.  We provided as much information as possible and  we were advised that efforts would be made to locate him and question him about my daughter’s accounts of the sexual abuse.  In the meantime, unbeknownst to us, the same detective went to my daughter’s school to question her in an effort to assess whether we, her parents, had any knowledge of the abuse or were complicit in any way. We were livid because she was embarrassed by their presence at her school, and we would have taken her to the police station ourselves if they had simply asked!

With the help of a family member, the abuser was taken into custody for questioning the following day.  After multiple sessions of interrogation over an 18 hour period, he eventually admitted that he had sexually abused her.  His confession was videotaped for documentation purposes.  The detective called us in to inform us of his findings, explained what he would be documenting in his report for the District Attorney to review, and advised us that his confession would be useful, but there were no guarantees of what the outcome might be.

 

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11
August

Disclosure………

Disclosure……

April 1, 2008 changed our lives.  That was the day our 15 year old daughter told us she had been raped and molested over the course of 3 years.  As a parent hearing my child’s truth for the first time, I was in shock and my emotions were all over the place.  My mind raced trying to answer the question, “How could this happen to my child?” In the moments that followed, I felt everything from rage, extreme sadness, guilt, and physical pain.

We discovered that the person who assaulted her was an older male cousin and all of it occurred after school while in a family member’s care.  Part of our anger was rooted in the fact that we really believed that we had taken every precaution to guard against something like this from happening.  We, like many parents, were always concerned about protecting our children so they were always in the care of family members. However, like many people reading this blog, we quickly learned that while stranger danger is real, often times the real danger can be from “trusted” family and friends.

There is no right or wrong answer in terms of how one responds to their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse.  It is nothing that one can ever prepare for and certainly not something that you ever expect to hear.  Just know that your response will affect your child for the rest of their life.  They NEED you to believe them, support them, protect them, and seek justice for them….

We want to hear from you…..please feel free to ask questions, share your thoughts, comments, or your own personal experience by replying below.

 

Next week’s topic…..Calling the police and reporting the crime

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