Editor’s Note: The names of the mother and daughter mentioned in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the victim.
A local mother is hoping that by sharing the story of what her daughter has endured, and of what she and her child continue to face, it may help others to stop an abusive situation before it starts.
Janet recently spoke in the Highland County Common Pleas Court before her daughter’s sexual abuser was sentenced to years in prison for his offenses against Mary, who is now a teenager.
Janet said, “I just want to help other people” so that other children aren’t hurt the way her daughter was.
April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Janet said she thought what her daughter endured so many years ago was something that would never happen. And the one who hurt Mary was a familiar person, someone the young girl should have been safe with.
But according to Highland County Victim Witness Director Niki Glispie, a majority of the sexual offenses committed against a juvenile victim are committed by a person who is close to the child.
Last year, of the nine sex crime cases with a child victim in Highland County, two were committed by a person close to the child, Glispie said. But so far this year, four of the five such cases in the county have been committed by a known person, a person familiar to the child victim.
“I trusted him. He hurt my daughter,” Janet said. “That should never happen.”
That goes without saying. But what is there to be done when these are trusted people?
According to Glispie, the best approach is to be proactive with children. She said don’t be afraid to talk to them openly about what can happen, and foster a relationship of honesty and disclosure. And, she said, be mindful of the child’s behavior because that will be an indicator if anything is going on with a child.
Dara Gullette, a court and family advocate with the Alternatives to Violence Center (AVC), echoed Glispie’s words and said that talking to children, and having an open dialogue with them is very important, especially since the ones who tend to sexually abuse a child are people known to the child.
Janet said it has been a few years since the assaults happened, but the weight of it all was pushing on Mary since the assaults occurred.
Last year, Janet began noticing things weren’t quite right with her daughter, but she thought it was simply the girl adjusting to a new grade and a new school. Then one day Janet got a call from school informing her that Mary was having some sort of emotional breakdown. It was during the emotional episode that the daughter told that this trusted man in her life had sexually harmed her when she was 7 years old.
After that, Janet said her daughter would only tell her part of the story, a small part, she later found out. And for months, that was all the girl would divulge. Then, with the weight of what she was carrying apparently being too much, Mary attempted suicide.
Janet took her daughter to a local childrens hospital and the girl spent the next week in the psychiatric ward of the facility. More of the story emerged and then the criminal proceedings began.
Since Mary revealed the truth, she has been “learning how to cope,” Janet said. And “in this short amount of time, she’s come a long way.”
Now, Janet says her daughter is doing “extremely well.” The girl is seeing a therapist weekly and a psychiatrist once a month.
But even with the progress, both mother and daughter bear the weight of the guilt they feel that the assault took place at all.
“I blame myself every day,” Janet said. And her trust for anyone outside the very small circle of her immediate family “is zero.” She said she knows that time will heal, that her trust and Mary’s trust will expand, but that time has not yet come.
With Mary at an age when independence begins to bloom, Janet says she doesn’t want to let go of her daughter for fear that something bad will happen. Her advice to other parents: “Watch your child, know where your child is at all times, be choosy about who they are with, monitor what they are doing on the Internet.”
“Be involved,” she said.
Many people think something like sexual abuse or child abuse can never happen to them. But it happens each and every day.
Glispie said that of the nine felony cases seen in Highland County last year, and the five so far this year, that is likely not at all representative of the abuse that is actually occurring. She said shame and fear keep many victims from speaking up about what has happened to them, or what is currently happening to them.
Both the Victim Witness Office and AVC offer services to those who have been a victim of abuse.
According to Julie Brassel, director of the AVC, the organization offers a number of services that include weekly prevention education in area schools that utilizes two evidence-based programs, SAFE Dates and Too Good for Violence.
One of the activities for Sexual Assault Awareness Month hosted by the AVC is its annual Tea for Tweens, Teens, and Queens. Previously, Brassel said that it is AVC’s hope that the tea provides an opportunity for preteens and teenagers to hear about important topics while accompanied by the female adults in their lives, and that might open the doors up for conversations on the issues.
The agency has also been working with other agencies and first responders to provide the county’s first Sexual Assault Repsonse Team (SART). She said the team is “nearing completion of the county’s protocol, with the goal to streamline services for victims.”
To review all the services provided by AVC or to find out more about the agency, call 937-393-8118 or go to its Facebook page.
The office of Highland County Victim Witness Assistance is a division of the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office. The office provides services to all victims of crime in the county. According to the prosecutor’s website, staff and volunteers with the Victim Witness Office “assist victims and witnesses in dealing with and understanding the sometimes complicated court process.” For more information, go to the office’s Facebook page or visit highlandcountyprosecutor.com.
Along with government sites like childwelfare.gov, there are a number of online resources available like rainn.org, themamabeareffect.org, d2l.org, americanspcc.org, and more.
While Janet and Mary’s worlds were upended, the mother and daughter are moving forward. And her teenager daughter, Janet said, “is starting to heal.”
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.