Sunday, March 05, 2006

Had there been a One Strike Law, I wouldn't have waited so long to tell!

There has been a great deal of talk about whether victims would come forward to report sexual abuse if their abuser was a family member, and if they were aware that a One Strike Law was on the books to send the offender away forever. I can't answer that for anyone other than myself.

I was sexually abused as a child by a relative. To really explain it to anyone is difficult, because the story really began before the abuse I experienced did. So, please bare with me.

If you would have heard them talk about us back then and not known who was who- you could have easily mistaken me as the older sister- despite the fact that she was really 3 years older. That's because sometime when I was four, my sister lost her courage. Well, at least I thought she did. The frail, slender 7 year old girl who had always been outspoken just seemed to lose her voice one day, and it only seemed right in my little mind to "find it" for her. So I began to be her voice, defending her with all my might, standing by her at every turn, and protecting her as only a sister could. We lived that way for years, with her always backing away from her problems, and me always solving them. Despite the order of our births, I became the "big" sister, watching out for the one who couldn't seem to protect herself.

What I didn't know then, was that she hadn't lost anything. But rather, something was happening. And every bit of strength she had, every bit of courage, and bravery she could muster up, was being used to deal with it.

He told her no one would believe her, that even if she told, nothing would change, and that worked for a time. When he began to worry that she'd see through his threats- he upped the stakes. Demanding her silence, he told her the only way to keep him from hurting me, was for her to never tell about the abuse she was suffering. The very one I had grown to believe was weak and helpless, was courageously living with her secret- to protect me.

She didn't know he had lied, that by the time I was seven he was no longer fulfilled with just molesting her- he had begun molesting me too! Of course, my silence was easy to secure- after years of believing it was up to me to protect her, I wasn't about to betray her when it meant the very most.

It would be four years of dealing with the consequences of my sisters abuse before I would finally gain my own strength, my own voice. And when I did, I had a choice to make- do I press charges or do I find my own way to deal with it?

This is where the laws come into play. Back then, (and even now) Ohio didn't have laws that had any significant consequences at all. But, we didn't know what the laws where- and so with my sister informing law enforcement, and with the help of many investigators, and the prosecutor- charges where brought against him for the sexual abuse of my sister.

I must tell you, after pretrial, court dates, and affidavits, he received just a few months in jail. He may have gotten a bit more time, but there seemed to be problems with the reports that were filed with law enforcement. Some instances happened within city limits, some within the county. Those in the county were the more serious of crimes, and they just happened to be the reports that went missing for seven long years. Whether it was because for a time he was well known and respected with the county sheriff's office, or if it really was a simple mistake, we'll never fully understand.

He was convicted, and sent to jail for that short amount of time, and then released. He was free to harass and terrify my sister, and my family. In those four extra years of my silence, I watched as she fell apart. The nightmares that he would come after her, the trips to the hospital, the suicide attempts, how she was suddenly afraid to be alone- it was horrifying to watch her suffer through it. Almost daily, I felt compelled to speak up, but one look at her, and I couldn't imagine having to tell her she suffered all those years thinking she was protecting me, for nothing. So, instead, I learned to bandage up the cuts on her arms, to help her hide them so they wouldn't send her away again. I continued to protect her, not because I still thought she was helpless- but because now I felt I owed it to her. Her pain didn't end with her telling, and everyday knowing he was free created more fear and anguish for her.

One day, for no reason other than I could no longer remain quite- I blurted out what he had done. In that one moment- every detail from the first time to the last poured from me. And so it was that I found myself sitting in the police station soon after that "dreaded moment", explaining to a police officer just what happened, and why it was that I had spent so long trying so hard to not tell. The officer asked to be alone with me for a moment- and as the door shut behind my parents- he asked what I wanted to do.

I think that was the last thing I expected someone to ask me. What I wanted? See, I thought I didn't have a choice, I thought that I would have to endure what my sister had- testifying. I didn't want to testify. Because, even at 14 I wasn't so sure that he wouldn't come after me. After all, I'd spent years watching him harass my sister. I remembered the day he tried to run her down with a car- and the fact that no one did anything.

By then (that day I told) my sister was getting better. She wasn't having as much trouble sleeping, she was almost laughing like she used to again. The rest of my family was recovering well too, well as much as could be expected. So, there I was- on one hand I wanted him to pay, on the other hand I already had a pretty good realization of just what his punishment was likely to be.

To this day, I doubt he even knows that I told. I didn't press charges against him. Strange, huh? But, to me it was because I knew I was safer NOT doing it. IF I had, his anger would have flared up again, as would the harassment and the threats, the phone calls and the rest of it. And, I couldn't live through that again. Sending him away for 60 days wasn't enough to justify going through all of that once again.

Had there been a One Strike Law, and had I known about it- I wouldn't have waited so long to tell. I wouldn't have had to fear that he would be free to go through with the threats he had made. I would have been safe, and more importantly so would my sister. The years we lived in constant fear would have never happened, because he would have been sitting in jail rather than sitting across the street every time we walked outside. After a few very long years, he moved on, I don't know if his anger that she told subsided- or if he just outgrew the need to terrorize us, but never have I doubted that had I made the choice to press charges- the torment would have lasted much longer.

In the end, I don't think he bought my silence by the terror he put us through, as much as the system ensured it by failing to give my sister justice, and failing to offer it to me. So, that's why I support the One Strike Law, Dylan's Law. Because from my point of view- more victims would be willing to tell and have family prosecuted if they knew that after they did- they would be protected by knowing that the abuser was going to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

**Lynne (For Privacy Sake)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not too surprised you deleted my comment. Shows me you are afraid of the truth.

11:37 PM  

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