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.