Monday, February 24, 2014

Telling the Story (Part 2)

For the background story related to this blog entry, please see "Telling the Story (part 1)."  I am going to pick up where that entry led off, with the legal aspects of Paige and Daisy's case.  I also want to offer a list of points of advice for other parents who, unfortunately, may find themselves in my position one day. 

After Paige spoke to the juvenile officer regarding her assault and gave the details, we gave a sigh of relief.  I believe we were still in shock, disbelief, and feeling numb.  Paige woke up at night screaming. She started sleeping in her brother's room on her mattress on the floor so she didn't have to be alone.  I had to return to work.  I vaguely remember just going through the motions of each day, trying to keep my head above water. 

Not long after speaking to the juvenile officer regarding the assault, we got notice from the juvenile office that Paige had to speak to the juvenile officer for our county due to her "out of control behavior."  Since she had sneaked out of the house and drank, she had been referred to the juvenile office for punishment.  No matter that she was assaulted and traumatized beyond comprehension, she had to answer for her behavior.  I was livid.  I spent a week preparing for how I would handle this.  Paige cried and begged not to have to go. 

The day of the meeting with the juvenile officer, we sat outside her office waiting.  I remember Paige shaking and being scared and upset.  I was shaking too, but it was from pure, seething anger.  We went into the juvenile officer's office.  This particular JO had a reputation for being very tough and non-sympathetic.  I remember thinking maybe we would be better off with a man.  Once we sat down in her office, she showed us a large stack of papers lying face-down on her desk.  She picked up the stack and told Paige, "This is what was sent to me regarding your case."  I took a long, deep breath, trying to gear up for the fight ahead.  The JO then said, "I have not read it.  And I do not intend to."  With tears filling her eyes, the JO said, essentially, that it would be a violation of Paige's privacy for her to read the report and that she believed Paige had suffered a much worse punishment than anything she could do.  With tears actively flowing, she told Paige that although she could not discuss personal issues, she wanted to assure Paige that she had an idea of what Paige was going through.  She wanted to assure Paige that things get better and that she would not be defined by this incident.  We left the office relieved and in tears.  This was the first and only one of two times that we felt that anyone in authority understood what we were living through.  We briefly had hope.

Paige was later summoned to appear in juvenile court for the hearing of the juvenile who assaulted her.  We had a rape advocate from the YWCA in a neighboring town who had been talking with us.  She tried her best to help, but she was in over her head.  She had never had to deal with the nonsense we were experiencing.  At every turn, she was shaking her head in disbelief, as we all were.  The day of the hearing, Paige, myself, my husband, and my son, Colton, went to Nodaway County to the courthouse.  The rape advocate was waiting for us and informed Paige that she did not have to go to the courtroom unless they asked for her.  Paige waited in the car with the advocate while the other three of us went to court.  The juvenile boy pled guilty.  I can remember seeing him sitting with his attorney and parents in court.  His parents looked angry and upset.  He looked scared.  My son was fighting back tears and the urge to throw punches. 

The judge allowed me to make a victim impact statement on behalf of my daughter.  With all the courage I could muster, I stepped up and spoke directly to the judge, not looking at the boy who had assaulted Paige.  I recounted how Paige was suffering. I told how she was crying at night, waking up screaming, sleeping in her brother's room.  I informed the judge of the psychiatric hospitalization my daughter had required, the medicine and psychiatrist appointments vital to her survival.  I discussed my time off work, the financial and emotional struggle of the rest of the family.  When I was finished, I managed to walk back to my seat, shaking uncontrollably with anger, fear and devastation.  I remember the judge asking the boy if he agreed that he was guilty to his charges.  The boy said "yes."  The judge said, and I quote to the best of my memory, "So, you are telling me that you are guilty of having sex with an intoxicated young girl against her will?  You knew she was intoxicated and she said No and you still had sex with her?  Is THAT what you are telling me?"  The boy looked down at the table and mumbled, "yes."  The judge asked the juvenile officer present for his recommendation for sentence for the boy.  The JO, to whom Paige had recounted the entire, awful night, stated that he wanted probation for the boy.  I will never forget the sound of shock and contempt in the judge's voice when he looked at the boy and stated, "I can't in good conscience give you probation for this offense.  I am remanding you to the custody of Division of Youth Services until the age of 18 or until they determine you are finished with treatment."  I then remember seeing the boy's mother taking the boy by the hand and leading him angrily out of the courtroom.  I remember feeling a small pang of sorrow for the boy as I knew he was probably the product of something going on in his home.  That was the first and last time I laid eyes on my daughter's perpetrator.

We knew we had a long road ahead as Paige was the main witness for Daisy's case. Prior to the hearing for Paige's attacker, we had received notice that the felony charges had been dropped in Daisy's case.  Melinda and I kept in touch about the harassment she was enduring and the legal issues with Daisy's case.  We received a summons to appear in the misdemeanor case of "Endangering the Welfare of a Minor."  We talked with our rape advocate and she stated that it was probably not in the girls' best interest to proceed with testifying for the misdemeanor charge, as the girls were suffering and the legal system was doing such a poor job of protecting them.  We informed the prosecuting attorney, Robert Rice, that we were going to invoke our fifth amendment right regarding the misdemeanor charges.  To be clear, there was NEVER a deposition for the felony case.  This was the one and only time we invoked our 5th amendment right.  After we went on record at his office, invoking our 5th amendment rights, Robert Rice walked Paige and I out of his office to the hallway where Melinda and Daisy were waiting their turn.  Rice shook my hand and stated, "Of everyone involved in this case, I feel the worst for Paige.  I feel awful that she was dragged out to this party and this happened to her."  I can't image the expression on my face at that point.  I was in complete disbelief that he had said that, especially in front of Melinda and Daisy.  I had no idea this was only a precursor to what they would later endure. 

At some point in the next few weeks, Melinda and I discussed our decision and decided to go ahead and testify.  We spoke to Rice and revoked our 5th amendment right and stated we wanted to be deposed.  The day before our deposition, Melinda and Daisy went for their deposition.  I was at the hospital with Paige and received a call from Melinda.  She told me that the deposition did not go well, that she felt as though Rice was putting her and Daisy on trial.  She stated that Rice had asked a lot of questions about why Paige did this and that, and tried to blame Paige for several things.  I decided the deposition was not the right thing to do, so I called Rice's office from the hospital, to inform him that we were going to refuse to participate in the deposition.  His receptionist answered and stated that our deposition planned for the next day had been cancelled, the charges dropped.  She stated, "I think you need to know, Daisy and Melinda tried to throw Paige under the bus."  I was dumbfounded.  I told her that I already knew what had happened and that I didn't believe her.  She wanted to know exactly what Melinda had told me and I told her it was none of her business and hung up the phone.  At that point, I believe the gravity of what was unfolding had actually struck me. Hard.  I knew at that point, there would possibly never be any justice for our girls.  The rest is history. 

Paige's rapist was detained in a juvenile facility for approximately seven to ten days.  He was monitored by the juvenile justice system for a whopping seven months total.  To this date, there are no further consequences for him.  I do not believe that is what the judge had in mind when he sentenced the boy.  Seven months.  Seven months for changing our lives forever. 

Looking back at the way things unfolded for us, there are many things I should have done differently.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Hopefully my words will inform parents should they ever, God forbid, be in this situation.  The following is a list of things I would have done differently, and recommend for parents to keep in mind.

1.  Obtain an attorney immediately if you or your child are the victim of such a crime.  I never imagined as victims, we would need counsel.  Had we been aware of that, things may have turned out differently for all of us.  After the politics of the case came into play, not many local attorneys wanted anything to do with the case. 

2.  Do not expect law enforcement to do the right thing.  Keep copies of every single piece of paper, evidence, transcript, anything you have related to the case.  Put everything in writing.  Document phone calls, conversations, dates, times, anything related to what happened.  Record conversations.  Get records of police reports, hospital reports, anything anyone says.  Do not depend on law enforcement to keep these copies or provide them to anyone. 

3.  Get everything in writing.  If someone says they are going to do something, such as a prosecutor, get it written with a signature.  No behind the doors talks, no off the record discussions. 

4.  Seek your own medical treatment and always get a second opinion.  I believe Paige would have had a more thorough exam at a children's hospital where there were no local connections and there were staff specifically trained in examining children. 

5.  INSIST that any questioning of your child be done in the presence of your attorney, an advocate, or at a children's advocacy center with people trained in this area of practice.  Do not allow your child to be questioned alone. 

6.  Begin a written timeline of events as soon as you know a crime was committed.  It will prove invaluable later. 

7.  NEVER GIVE UP.  NEVER GIVE UP.  Do not take NO for an answer from authorities. 

8.  Trust your gut.  If you feel something is not on the up and up, it probably isn't. 

9.  NEVER blame your child for their part in the situation.  Keep an open line of communication with your child and let them know you are on their side no matter what. 

10.  Be prepared to be an advocate for your child.  You are responsible for his/her well-being.  Do not trust others to have their best interests in mind.  You know your child better than anyone else and they depend on you to do the right thing for them.  You may be the only one standing up for them. 

I pray to God that no other parent ever has to endure what Melinda and I have endured.  I know realistically, that too many parents and children will have to live this experience.  I hope that they are informed and ready to fight.  Not all situations end up like ours.  Not all law enforcement are on the side of the perpetrators.  Not all perpetrators have political connections.  However, it is always good to be overly cautious.  I cannot go back and do this over again, thank goodness.  The best thing that can come out of our situation is that every parent becomes educated about their rights and the rights of their child.  Do not let our suffering be in vain.  This is why I am telling the story.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Telling the Story (Part 1)

So, I took a week off blogging because inspiration had not hit me yet.  I realized that I haven't had contact with many people over the age of 18 lately, so I didn't have any thought-provoking revelations last week.

As I was thinking about writer's block, an idea came to me in the place where most people do their best thinking...the shower. I decided it is time for me to tell the details of my experience with Paige and Daisy's assaults.  My experience as a mother.  I have touched on it some in a couple of other posts, but this time I want to lay out the details.  The media, for the most part, have been fantastic at covering the story, however; they missed or confused some of the details.  Important details, at that. I don't blame them.  There was a lot of material to cover and the story became so convoluted with different media outlets reporting different aspects of what happened.  I decided to write about my experience with Paige's assault.

As a mother, I feel discussing this is important.  I feel that not only could this discussion inform other parents, it also honors what happened to Paige by getting the truth out there to the world.  If you are reading this as a parent, be warned it is not for the faint of heart.  I will assure you that Paige and our family have bounced back from this and are more resilient than we ever imagined.  The pain lessens by the day, although we will never forget what happened.

My memory of the day of the rape is blurry.  I had no idea at the time I would be expected to remember details of times, places, etc. Because of the unexpectedness and the trauma of the situation, not everything is clear in terms of details, but the emotions and thoughts I had at the time are still vivid.

Paige had gone to spend the night with her friend, Daisy.  Paige and Daisy had been friends for years, as our families were connected through three of our children who are around the same ages and play sports together. Daisy's dad was also our family doctor.  Daisy and Paige were good kids.  As parents, Melinda and I didn't worry a whole lot about them making poor decisions beyond what normal teenagers make.  I still believe the choices they made that night in January were within the "normal" range for girls their age at the time. 

I was asleep in my chair in my living room when I received a call from Paige in the early morning hours.  I don't remember the time, but I know it was still dark outside. Paige was hysterical, crying, and said that she wanted me to come and get her.  She said everyone was yelling and she didn't know why.  Of course I thought that was strange, but really thought maybe one of the kids was in trouble for something, or maybe Paige had misbehaved.  I assumed that I would get the details from Melinda later in the day.  I was too sleepy to drive, so I sent my son, Colton, to pick Paige up and fell back asleep.  Paige and Colton got home and Paige went directly to her room.  Still groggy, I again thought that I would wait until later in the day to find out the details of what happened.  I had just gotten up for the day when my phone rang.  It was Charlie, Daisy's oldest brother.  He said, "We need Paige to come back to Maryville.  Daisy was raped and the police need to talk to her." 

The best word to describe what I felt at that time was shock.  The word "rape" really didn't fully register with me.  I had no idea why Paige would be involved.  I went to Paige's room to wake her up and she was curled up in the corner of her bed, still wearing her clothes, and crying.  I told her what Charlie said and she sobbed even harder.  We left the house and stopped for gas.  I had Colton go with me again because I had no idea what was going on and thought I could use some help.  I went into a convenience store to pay for the gas, and when I came out, Paige and Colton were crying.  Paige just kept sobbing, "He raped her, Mom, he raped Daisy."  Still not understanding what was happening, I was very confused.  I asked her who and she said, "Matt.  He raped Daisy."  I did not know Matt so I had no idea what she was talking about.  Since she was so shaken, I decided not to press for details.  A little way down the road, a thought popped into my head.  Call it denial or self-preservation, but I tried to shake this thought.  No.  I was being silly.  Finally I asked Paige, "Did anyone hurt YOU?"  Still sobbing, she squeaked out the word, "yes."

What did I think?  What did I feel?  I really was too shocked to feel.  I went completely numb, emotionally and physically.  This couldn't have happened.  No way.  Not Paige, not Daisy.  I must be misunderstanding what she is saying.  The professional in me kicked in and I decided not to ask Paige any more details because I wanted her to tell the details to the police.  She was so inconsolable at that point, I couldn't stand to probe any further.  Colton was vacillating between tears and clenched-jaw anger.  His face was bright red.  His fists were clinched.  I was afraid for him as well. 

I decided to take Paige to the hospital in Maryville, rather than going to the police station.  Here is where I made my first mistake.  When we got to the hospital in Maryville, Paige was taken to a room and given a physical exam by a SANE nurse.  They had her undress and took her clothing and put it in a bag.  One of the details I remember vividly was watching the nurse bagging Paige's clothes and marking them "EVIDENCE."  Could this seriously be happening?  Those are my daughter's clothes.  Those are OURS.  They then proceeded to do her pelvic exam.  At 13, this was her first exam.  For adult women, this exam is uncomfortable and annoying at best.  For a 13 year old, traumatized girl, I could not imagine how she felt.  I cried.  That was my daughter and she was too young for that.  They were violating her. 

After the exam, Paige and I were separated and she was taken to a room to be questioned by a deputy.  I asked to go with her and was told that I could not.  Another deputy took me to a table in the hospital.  He had a list of names on a piece of paper.  He asked me if I knew any of the names.  I did not recognize any of them.  I still had no idea what had happened and why they were doing this to us.  All I could think about was Paige in the other room talking to a strange man, alone and frightened.  Again, being violated. 

The sheriff took me to another room and told me what they knew at this point.  The girls had sneaked out of the house, drank, and were assaulted at a boy's house.  I don't remember exactly what he said, my brain was in a fog.  I couldn't comprehend anything he was saying.  We were finally allowed to see Daisy and Melinda.  Daisy was still somewhat intoxicated.  The girls hugged each other and cried.  Melinda and I hugged and cried.  There were no words at that point.  I remember nothing else from there. 

At some point in the next couple of days, we received notice that Paige had to speak to the juvenile officer in Maryville and give him details of what happened.  The boy who assaulted Paige was a juvenile, so we had to talk to the juvenile authorities.  Paige and I went into the juvenile office early one morning to meet with the officer.  I remember seeing pictures on his wall that his children had drawn for him.  I saw pictures on his desk of his family.  I wondered what exactly his role was in all of this, how he would treat Paige.  He began asking questions.  This is the point where I heard details of the assault for the first time.  Paige recounted every painful disgusting detail of what had happened to her that night.  I remember feeling nauseated and panicked.  I kept looking at the door and fighting the urge to grab Paige and run out that door, go home, lock the house up, and never come out.

We rode home in silence that morning.  What do you say to a broken 13 year old who just had to tell a strange, grown man, details about a very personal experience?  I don't remember her crying.  I remember thinking to myself that she was still in shock.  I thought at that point, the worst was probably behind us.  I had no idea how wrong I was.

My next blog entry will recount the details of our dealings with the legal system with Paige's assault. I also intend to give some advice to parents about what to do if this happens to them, advice I wish I'd been given.

Hug your daughters.   

Monday, February 3, 2014

Becoming Domesticated

Another week gone by. I must say that this blog entry finds me in a better state of mind than last one. Unfortunately,  I am sitting in the hospital with my youngest daughter,  Victoria,  who has a bad infection of some sort.  I am watching her sleep right now and feeling grateful that I have been blessed with my children.

I decided to write this week about becoming "domesticated." Before I start to take you down that road, I want to say that I am in no way intending for this installment to seem judgmental. We each have our own path in life and I am going to tell you about this particular leg of MY journey.

I have almost always been a working mom. All moms work, but I worked outside the home. I make that distinction because I didn't work much INSIDE my home. I went to college and got a bachelor's degree, then a master's degree,  while having three young children.  From the time Colton, who is now 18, was eight months old, I have worked or been in school continuously until now. I am proud of my education and professional accomplishments. I worked hard and sacrificed a great deal to get to where I was professionally. I never dreamed I would be out of work and looking at never returning to my profession. However, that is where I am.

I have never been a great Mom. When I started college, I did so with my family and future in mind. I had great intentions. I wanted to support my family financially and save the world while doing so. For ten years now I have worked in the field of mental health/addictions. It is truly exhausting work. It is impossible to describe how exhausting it is mentally, physically, and emotionally. Being a trauma therapist was especially tiring. I like to think that I helped people along the way. My problem was not with the profession itself, it was with the balance of work and personal life. My friends were my co-workers.  I ate, slept, and breathed therapy. I can remember when my kids were young, I would come home after working all day dealing with everyone's problems, and the first thing as soon as I walked through the door at home, I had five children, a husband,  and a couple of dogs standing in line waiting to talk to me. I once told my son, "Mommy's listening ears shut off at 5:30." I had nothing left to give at the end of the day.

When I lost my job, I thought my world had ended. I am finding out I was wrong. I had a whole different world right in front of me, that had been patiently waiting for me to notice. I looked around this past week at where my life is, and where it is going. My oldest two kids are now adults, Paige is a sophomore in high school and my little ones are in school. I am a grandma. A grandma!! Where did these years go and what was I doing?  I now realize I was killing myself to afford a life I didn't have time to enjoy. My days used to consist of hearing countless strangers tell me their problems,  expecting me to have some magic answer to solve them. I never had those answers, nor should I. Now I spend my days listening to my children play and fight. I do dishes and laundry. I figured out how to use the oven, bread machine and vacuum! I know that isn't nearly as exciting as being in a maximum security prison dealing with suicidal inmates or seeing a fight break out on the yard. However, I am much happier with the stress of breaking up fights between kids over their computer time. At least they dont know how to make a deadly weapon out of gum, a toothbrush and belly button lint. Yet.

Some moms and dads can do what I could not. They can balance work and family and do a great job at both. I cannot. I am learning to accept that and embrace the hand I have been dealt. Now I can sit at the hospital ER with a sick girl and not worry about getting called in to work at any moment. I don't have to watch the clock and count the number of hours of sleep I'm not getting and wonder how I will survive the next day. I see what is truly my mission in life lying in front of me with her stuffed giraffe and an iv in her arm. And all she wants is her mommy. This is the most trying, frustrating, exhausting, rewarding job I will ever have. I am surprised to say that I am thankful for becoming donesticated.