Carolyn’s Online Magazine (#COMe)
UNIQUENESS AT AN INCEST TRIAL
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
I was superficially involved in a child sexual abuse trial many years ago—basically as a support person. Several of the day’s events made this an interesting trial.
I knew the victim I’ll call Anita through a youth group. She’d attended a 5-week Bible school study which included a session on child abuse. Before the trial she concealed the details of her situation from everyone. During and after the trial she lived a distance away so we had no further contact with her.
Both Monte and I witnessed the trial, as did one other family in our church. This family’s daughter (I’ll call her Sheila) was Anita’s friend. One of Sheila’s two brothers was once Anita’s boy friend.
The first interesting aspect of the trial was the fact that Anita filed charges of incest/child sexual abuse immediately after her 18th birthday. I believe that was quite unusual in the late 1980s. I also believe it is still considered unusual today. How many new 18-year-olds march to the authorities to charge their relative, friend, or a professional with charges of child sexual abuse, with incest? Most want to conceal their experiences out of shame and fear of victim blaming.
- A 44-year-old man was charged with 300 sex counts involving his daughter…100 counts of deviate sexual intercourse against a person under 16 years of age (for 8 months); 100 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (for 6 months, 5 years later); and 100 counts of incest.*
During the five years when no incest charges were filed Anita’s father lived in a distant state.
First, some background.
- Several months before I’d told Monte after church that I suspected Sheila, 16, was being sexually abused by her father. Monte asked me why I thought this.
- I told him it was kind of a textbook case. Sheila’s mother was sufficiently ill that she couldn’t perform household activities (or, probably, spousal activities). Sheila, as the only daughter took over her mother’s duties.
- One Sunday morning I sat in a pew behind Sheila and her father. Sheila was cuddling against him, his arms around her, like teenage lovers would do. She wasn’t upset and being comforted. It was a relationship action suggesting they were more than father and daughter.
My observations and gut feelings weren’t sufficient to report the situation to child protective services.
Back to the break in Anita’s trial.
While talking with Sheila and her parents in the hallway Sheila made a surprising revelation. Her brothers were entering her bedroom at night and sexually abusing her.
“Why don’t you lock your door?” her mother asked.
The response surprised me. I’m not certain what was said in the following conversation except that Sheila was spoken to as being responsible for her brother’s actions. It seemed her parents actually were aware of the situation. And there was no effort to conceal it during the conversation they had with us, in a public area of the courthouse.
The final incident occurred as Monte and I left the courthouse.
- Anita’s father was on disability for a Viet Nam War injury. Was it justified, or did he have something to conceal?
He sat in a wheelchair in the courtroom. Following the hearing he rolled his wheelchair through the courthouse and, when outside, towards a white van.
That’s when he did something very shocking and surprising.
Arriving at the back of the van he rose from the wheelchair, stood up, and opened the back doors of the van. He carefully folded the wheelchair and lifted it into the van. After shutting the doors he casually walked around the van (not leaning on it), opened the passenger door, and entered the passenger seat. The driver then sped down the road.The jury of 11 men and one woman found Anita’s father guilty of all 300 counts after deliberating one hour and 45 minutes.*
I often wonder how the lives of Anita and Sheila were affected by the situations described here. Certainly, Anita had an opportunity to be empowered by immediately charging her father when she turned. 18.
I hope other childhood incest and sexual abuse victims will gain strength from Anita’s story. I hope some learn not to conceal their experience, but to seek justice.
After this hearing I continued to learn much about child physical and sexual abuse. I went on to direct a child abuse program in a different community. I’d like to think what I learned through the above experience aided me in assisting adults who suffered from childhood abuse.
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*Local newspaper reports