As I hung up the phone, my daughter’s words were still ringing in my ears. “I don’t really remember what happened. We were yelling about math homework and he said I was lying and then he grabbed me by the neck.” I couldn’t believe her words. I still didn’t quite understand what she was telling me.
After spending a few minutes speaking with the principal, reality hit me–my daughter had become a victim of child abuse.
I arrived at the school in a fog a few hours later. Walking in at the same time as the law enforcement officer, I looked at him and said, “I bet you’re here for my kid,” with a half laugh, attempting to add some levity so I didn’t completely break down. He didn’t respond.
We spent the next few hours being questioned by a variety of officers and having pictures taken for evidence while I had to listen to my 10-year-old recount the story of what had happened at her father’s house the night before. Each time she repeated or clarified her story, my heart was ripped to shreds, but I had to keep it together for my daughter. If I lost it, surely she would.
I sat there in shock. How could anyone, much less her own father, hurt my sweet, spunky little girl? How could he have been so vicious? How long had this been happening, and why didn’t I see any warning signs? There were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head that afternoon, and I didn’t think that I would make it out of the building without completely melting into a sobbing mess. I held it together, knowing that this had to be the lowest point of our lives.
What I didn’t realize at that moment was that this day would be the easiest during the 9 months it took to get justice for my daughter.
As the criminal proceedings began, I made sure I stayed organized. I responded to every notice from the court immediately. I showed up for every court appearance with my heart in my throat, feeling hopeful that we would get a plea and she and I could begin the healing process. With every court appearance, a new nonsensical delay came about, and my heart broke anew. I would sit in the parking lot afterwards, questioning how my expectations could be so wrong time and time again, and crying tears of pain, frustration and anger. I didn’t expect that it would all be so hard.
I didn’t expect the extreme paranoia and night terrors that kept my daughter up all hours of the night, sometimes screaming bloody murder that her father was in her room trying to kill her. I didn’t expect that I would have the patience my weary body needed to calm her back to sleep.
I didn’t expect that I would spend week after week in therapy, recounting the latest updates while also questioning my sanity. I didn’t expect that even with all the evidence against him, I would be wondering what I did to cause this attack on my child.
I didn’t expect that all of the relationships with that side of the family would be completely destroyed. And I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t care when I realized it meant my daughter was enduring endless victim shaming instead of love and support from her family members.
I didn’t expect that I would be strong enough to endure the perpetual continuations and overall nonsense that dragged this issue along far longer than it should have.
I didn’t expect to learn that victims are virtually powerless in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors are interested in the least costly guaranteed win and the defendants are interested in preserving their rights and maintaining their innocence, regardless of the evidence against them. I didn’t expect to agree to a plea deal just to save my daughter from having to testify against her attacker.
But when I stood in front of the judge on the day of sentencing, the feeling of relief that this process was over and the pride of enduring it was not what empowered me. It was listening to the judge agree with me when I stated that my daughter deserved a solid role model in her life. He said that she has one: me. I almost broke down in tears as his words resonated within my heart– “there is no doubt that your daughter has an incredible advocate in you, and it’s obvious that you will go to the ends of the earth to protect her. She is lucky to have you.” I did not expect that his words would mean so much to me.
As her perpetrator sat with a smug look on his face, still actively denying his role in the matter, I walked out with my head held high, knowing that my daughter and I were now strong enough to take on anything.