What You Really Want
I would like to tell you about the experience of a brave and intelligent teenage girl who the River Bridge staff had the pleasure of working with. Denise (name changed for privacy) was 15 when she first came to River Bridge with her mother and siblings. The evening before, her father had confessed to the police that he had been sexually abusing his daughter. His confession and Denise’s disclosure was of ongoing sexual abuse that occurred for years and didn’t stop until the day she came into River Bridge. The abuse had begun when Denise was four years old.
At River Bridge, the investigators learned through a neutral and child friendly forensic interview that Denise had spoken of the abuse to the pastor at her church when she was 8 years old. Rather than keeping her safe from further abuse by reporting these concerns to the police, her pastor attempted to “counsel” the offender for years. The sexual abuse continued and the secret of what Denise was undergoing was maintained. The pastor even went so far as to blame Denise for not being modest enough in her attire.
Denise endured sexual abuse for 12 years. Finally, a youth pastor found out about the abuse and told the offender that he had to turn himself in, or the youth pastor would have to report it. This is what led to Denise’s father’s admission.
Denise’s mother engaged in mental health treatment with her daughter and was able to support her. This detail is important because we know that children who experience abuse are much more likely to heal and go on to be productive citizens if they have at least one supportive caregiver in their lives. Denise’s mother’s ability to support her daughter has everything to do with the initial crisis mental health intervention and education that she was provided with at River Bridge at the time of the forensic interview and in the immediate days and weeks after the law enforcement report.
Denise received weekly Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions and was able to significantly reduce her symptoms of post traumatic stress. She was provided a medical exam on-site at River Bridge with our sexual assault nurse examiner.
This year, River Bridge took the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program under our umbrella. Seeing that this program was at risk of dissolving again, we knew we had to step in. While these exams are helpful for evidence collection, they are absolutely essential for the long term mental and physical health of a patient.
This case was fully investigated and prosecuted. As I mentioned previously, the offender, in this case, made a full confession and he pled guilty to sexual assault on a child. The River Bridge team was with Denise and her family every step of the way in this long judicial process. Our family advocate sat beside the family at almost every court hearing. Denise read a powerful and compelling victim impact statement at this offender’s sentencing hearing. She asked the judge to give him 12 years in prison for the 12 years he took from her youth.
We often hear of a fear of ruining someone’s life with accusations about sexual abuse. We’ve heard concerns about unfairly sending someone to prison: “What if it isn’t true?” Let me tell you about what actually happens in our (sometimes very) broken system. This case is a perfect example. To us, this sentencing decision was simple. The offender fully confessed and pled guilty to sexually abusing his young daughter for 12 years. In fact, he will spend NO time in prison. He was sentenced to 20 years of intensive supervised probation.
I tell you all this because another part of what we do at River Bridge is community education. We know that our strongest weapon against child sexual abuse is knowledge. We have to start talking about it if we are ever going to see change. We are not afraid to have the hard discussions, challenge our partner agencies, and hold our community responsible for keeping kids safe.
There were many positive outcomes for Denise and her family. The abuse stopped. Denise received evidence-based trauma focused mental health and medical treatment. She was ultimately believed and supported by her family and community. She received the direct, powerful message that she did absolutely nothing wrong and that she has nothing to be ashamed of. The family was connected with a different community of faith. And that supportive network admonished what their previous church had done to Denise. Denise will go on to do great things, we have no doubt. Kids don’t need their offenders to go to jail for healing to happen. One does not depend on the other.
Your support is helping our program sustain and grow to provide more children more services. Your support is helping children right here in your home community. We know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before age 18. This abuse crosses all geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic boundaries. Our community is not immune. And your support is making a real difference in the way we can support and help our children heal.