The USA Gymnastics scandal has really rocked my mind. The fact that a doctor, none-the-less the team doctor, molested hundreds of young girls and young women is beyond reason. What is even more beyond reason is the fact that the adults who were to be looking out for their best interest knew about the situation and did nothing about. Enablers, everyone of them. Disgusting. The women who came forward and gave an impact statement are courageous and I hope that they feel the same feeling of freedom that I felt after giving my statement.
I look back to a mere 7 months ago when I found myself on the stand giving my victim impact statement. I had waited a long time to give that statement and it was one of the most freeing days of my life. I let giving that statement and finding out the sentence for the attacker ruin my life for over 7 months. I thought that once we reached a plea deal that my stress and anxiety would go away, but it did not. Having that looming cloud of facing my attacker again scared me more than I thought it would. I so badly wanted closure, but I couldn’t get it.
I wasn’t planning on sharing my impact statement on this blog for awhile yet, but I think it warrants being shared because of everything in the news. Hopefully it gives you some perspective.
I didn’t have to write a victim impact statement, but is was encouraged by the detective, advocate, attorney and doctor. It is cathartic. I also didn’t have to read it in court or even be in court for the day of sentencing. My attorney could read it for me if I liked. I decided to write the statement and would determine later if I would read it myself or not. There were only a few days during my darkest times where I didn’t want to read the statement myself. Fortunately, I mustered up the courage and bravery from deep in my soul and read the statement while speaking my truth.
To give you a quick run-down of happenings once we were rolling in the justice system. Bear in mind, the assault happened October, 2014.
-February, 2016 – Confession given to detective
-April, 2016 – Booked and charged
-June, 2016 – Pre-Trial 1 (delayed)
-October, 2016 – Pre-Trial 2 (faced the attacker & lawyer and testified)
-December, 2016 – Criminal Case Hearing, plea deal agreed upon
-February, 2017 – Sentencing (delayed)
-April, 2017 – Sentencing (delayed)
-June 2017 – Sentencing & reading of impact statement
As you can see, this was not a quick process nor was it easy. Excruciatingly slow. Every time my lawyer called I just assumed that the case or sentencing was being delayed again.
The Commonwealth charged the attacker with rape, sodomy and criminal sexual battery. If found guilty of rape and sodomy, he could go away for the rest of his life. Fortunately, we were able to reach a plea deal where he plead guilty to 2 charges of criminal sexual battery. My lawyer wanted to press for more, but I was happy. I just wanted it done.
So, on June 29, 2017 I faced the demon(s) I had nightmares about. Two very dear friends were with me the whole time that day. They are saints. I had my sister or parents out other times for pre-trial, the hearing and sentencing times and I told them not to spend the money to come out this time. Our family spent thousands of dollars of airfare coming out for hearings and sentencing that never happened. I told them that I would be home for good in 48 hours after the sentencing, so stay home.
The day of sentencing I met up with my lawyer to go over a few things and to get any last minute updates. We were waiting outside the courtroom and I had no clue if the attacker had family showing up. We took our seats on the side of the court room and waited. It became quite clear that the attacker had a whole section of family there. Even though he plead guilty to lesser charges, he could still be put away for the rest of his life. Each charge of sexual battery has up to 40 years in sentencing. So, he could have been like Dr. Nassar with USA Gymnastics and never see the light of day again. I did not want that. (that’s a blog post for another time)
Before the sentencing started the defense attorney was trying to be all chummy with my attorney. It was fun actually watching her ignore him. He had a scrapbook from the family showing what a wonderful man the defendant is and how his family relies on him. Blah, blah, blah. I think the defendant had around a dozen people with him that we determined were his wife, sons, uncle, nephews and a couple lawyers. I barely looked at them the whole time. I left that to my dear friends who were along. I let them do the glaring. I stared at the floor or looked at my Grandma’s ring for confidence.
The judge wasted no time and I was called up to the stand immediately to give my impact statement.
Here we go.
I didn’t look at my attacker once. Not once. Or, at least I don’t remember looking at him. I was told he sat there like he had at the other hearings, hunched over and looking down. He knew he messed up.
Below are some excerpts from my impact statement. They are typically called a victim impact statement, but I look at it as my survivor impact statement.
You don’t know me. I don’t know you, but somehow we both ended up here in this courthouse because of bad decisions. It didn’t have to be this way. I would much rather be living my life without having the label of ‘sexual assault victim’ hanging around my neck. Instead, here we are. Two lives not going according to plan.
October 19, 2014 started out being a beautiful fall day going to an uplifting church service followed by brunch and drinks with friends and ended by walking into my own personal nightmare. A nightmare I still haven’t woken up from. October 19, 2014 is a date that forever changed my life. Thankfully, I still don’t remember much of what happened that evening. Of the few memories I do have, the trauma I have endured has made an indelible mark on my psyche. This trauma will be with me for a lifetime.
You stated in your initial interview that you thought we were having fun. I can assure you I was not having fun. You also stated that even though I was in a stranger’s place and you tried to have sex with me that at least I was ‘safe’. I was not safe. You tried having sex with me when you stated I was ‘dead’. What were you going to do the next morning when you returned to the condo? Try to explain what a great time we had and give me a ride home? Try to have sex with me again? Thankfully, I fled on foot a half hour before you arrived.
Talking to you in an elevator does not give consent, even if I was smiling and laughing. If you knew anything about my personality you would know that I am friendly, bubbly and smiley to everybody, or at least I used to be. Unfortunately because of this interaction in the elevator, I had to fight tooth and nail for a year to get my case taken seriously. But no matter the circumstances, I did not consent to having sex with you.
The majority of the damage to me has been mentally and emotionally. My soul hurts. I have now been diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD. I had been handling my previous mild depression well for several years, but this has sent me into a tailspin. Since the assault it took me almost 18 months to be able to walk down a street without looking all around me to see if someone would hurt me. Since I didn’t know what you looked like until this past year, every dark-haired, tan skinned man I saw sent me into panic. Is it him? Does he recognize me? Am I safe?
I have gone through dozens of appointments with therapists to help me cope with my new found reality. Because of my PTSD I went through intense treatment called EMDR which makes you recall the experience and how you felt. Even though I remember very little about the assault itself, my emotions are very strong. Reliving those memories has helped me move on from the trauma, but also made me miss several months of my life. When I wasn’t sleeping from the exhaustion following these intense treatments, I was staring into a black hole willing my brain to heal.
I have become closed off from friends. I used to be a very social person and had plans every night of the week. Now, I have a hard time leaving the confines of my apartment by myself, especially at night. I never know when a taxi or Uber ride will send me into a panic attack. The only way I go out is with a group of people, or during daylight. I used to enjoy going for walks on local trails, but now I no longer do that because I fear running into other people. I am deeply distrustful of all male attention. If men outside of work talk to me when I’m by myself, I go into fight or flight mode. What are their intentions? Do they want to hurt me? Did I do something wrong? Because of this assault I have completely shut-off my social life. This is not okay. I used to be an extrovert and loved life. Now, I want to be left alone.
I miss my self-confidence. I had arrived at a point in my career that I had dreamed of, but now I am fearful that because of my depression that I won’t be able to do the job to the best of my abilities. Now, I question almost every decision I make. Being in an executive level position requires a great deal of decision making, which I am currently not able to do well. I will gladly go along with someone else’s decision because in my mind my opinion isn’t worth much. I have coasted through life like this for the past 2 years, especially the past year, and it is hard to even recognize who I once was. I feel like I can’t stand up for myself in the simplest of things. I am waiting to get my confidence back.
I miss taking care of myself. Most days, it is an accomplishment to get out of bed, shower and brush my teeth. Forget doing my hair or make-up. I don’t want anybody looking at me anyway because of my shame. I almost feel like I’m willing people not to talk to me on the Metro or on the street. Even after over two years the shame is still there.
You know what I miss most? I miss my natural smile and my joy for life. Every now and then my natural smile and the twinkle in my eye will return, but it doesn’t happen often anymore. The few friends and coworkers that I have confided in will typically express that they thought something was wrong, but couldn’t put their finger on it until I told them. My joy for life was gone. I am a positive person by nature thank goodness, but being sexually assaulted has almost taken it from me. I still believe that there is good in this life. I need to find my joy and self-esteem again. I long for that day where I feel whole again.
I am a career-driven woman and this assault has affected my livelihood. The assault happened after I was living in the DC area for only 11 months. Since then I have slowly watched my career go into a downward spiral until my therapist decided that it was best for me not to work for a period of time. I could no longer concentrate, make decisions, be a manager, talk with male colleagues, and I have trouble remembering simple things like names and phone numbers. My staff has unfortunately gotten used to me not being able to find my words and they have gotten very good at completing my sentences for me and covering for me in meetings. In addition, I travel more than 50% of the time across the country. When I am traveling by myself, which is most of the time, the anxiety I feel makes it difficult to do my job. Am I being followed? Can I leave my hotel room? Do I talk to strangers in the lobby? I used to enjoy travel, but you have taken that away from me. I also do a great deal of public speaking. Every single time I take the stage I was putting on a complete act that all was well with my life. It wasn’t until my leave of absence that I realized how truly mentally & emotionally exhausted I am. Faking that nothing is wrong is draining. I crave stability in my career again.
I take responsibility for drinking too much that day. However, celebrating a friend being in town should not lead to assault. Since I have no real recollection of meeting you, you say that you found me stumbling around drunk and you were trying to help me. If you wanted to help me you should have found the police station or hospital, not your empty condo. You abused your privilege as I trusted someone to help me get home safely. You took advantage of my helplessness. You took away the trust that I had in the human race. You had choices to make and you made the wrong ones.
One of the traumas that I have suffered and didn’t expect is the trauma of being overlooked. My case sat in the Fairfax County system for well over a year before there was any real movement and anyone took me seriously. The fact that I felt like nobody believed me was overly traumatic. Why would someone lie about something like this? The fact that I couldn’t get answers for months on end was deeply disturbing. Finally, my third detective took it upon himself to actually investigate the assault and talk to the defendant. This happened 16 months after the assault. Nobody had talked to him before that time. I felt like I was screaming into an abyss. Nobody was listening and I certainly didn’t feel believed. I was told countless times, ‘well, this looks really bad because of the elevator footage. Well, an elevator ride doesn’t mean consenting to sex. The fact that I had to fight so much to get heard disturbs me. How many other victims are out there that don’t get heard because of pre-conceived notions?
Besides turning my world upside down, you have negatively affected my friends & family. I come from a very tight family and the fact that your actions have made them suffer hurts almost more than the actual assault. The phone call that no daughter wants to make and that no parent wants to get is the phone call saying that your daughter has been sexually assaulted. Your actions shook our family to the core, but did not destroy us. We are strong and we will weather this storm.
Thankfully, I have a great support system with family and friends who have been with me from the beginning. They keep me grounded and remind me that I need to rest. They know when I need to go and try to be social, or when I just need to be left alone. Someone is always looking out for me. My work family has been with me since day one as well. A group of coworkers rallied around me from the very beginning providing me with a safe house and a place to grieve. My co-workers flexibility with my schedule of countless doctor and therapy appointments is greatly appreciated. The focus since October 20th , 2014 has been on taking care of myself and healing, even if it is at the organizations expense, which it has been.
The thing is, I did everything by the book that a rape victim is suggested to do to heal. I sought intense therapy, went to a support group, received acupuncture, attended mindfulness training, took up yoga, worked with the police and I’m still not in a good place. I can’t imagine what it is like for victims who have no support system to lean on. I’m fortunate that I have supportive friends and family and an employer who is empathetic of my situation. I now understand how being assaulted can forever ruin your life.
I don’t hate you, Mr. ****. Actually, I forgive you. My Christian faith leads me to forgive you for your actions. I hope that you repent of your sins and know that what you did is wrong. I have spent countless days, weeks and months being more concerned for your well-being than my own, and I don’t even know you. I prayed for you and your family. I prayed that you would be honest and take responsibility for your actions. How could I put someone I didn’t even know in prison? But then I reminded myself that I’m not living in a dream and that you made the decision to assault me. Drinking too much is not a crime. Assault is a crime. You did this to me.
I am glad that you agreed to a plea deal. I believe that shows responsibility for your actions. I would ask the court take into consideration my forgiveness of Mr. **** when determining sentencing.
I would like to thank the INOVA Fairfax SANE nurses for their tender-loving care during this frightening time. I was in shock and didn’t really realize what was happening to me. I also want to thank Detective *** for believing in me and my case. He realized that enough work hadn’t been done to investigate my claims and took it upon himself to find the truth. To him I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally grateful to my advocate for being with me every step of the way and my attorney for her diligent work.
Do you know what else I’m looking forward to? Genuine happiness returning to my life. Not feeling numb anymore. Not feeling like a slave to my assault. I’m looking forward to taking my life back. I want to live with no shame.
My joy is only temporarily gone. I refuse to be defined by this assault and I will work my hardest to make sure these feelings are not permanent. I will rise from the ashes of this assault. It is something that I will always carry with me, but it will not define me. I am no longer a victim. I am working hard every day to become a better person and heal. I am now a survivor and nobody can take that from me.
There were a lot of tears. A lot. Hot, angry tears as I read my statement and some tears of joy as I declared myself a survivor.
I thought that I was done with my time on the stand, but the defense had other plans.
Since the attacker was facing life in prison they tried to poke holes in my impact statement, which I think is awful and should be illegal. I get done spilling my guts & you’re going to cross-examine me?
I got done reading my statement and tried to gather myself from crying. The defense attorney tried acting concerned,
“Mam, do you need a few minutes to gather yourself? We can take all the time you need.”
At this point, I knew that this lawyer was enemy #1. He had one job and one job only. To get a short sentence for the defendant. He went on the attack.
I told him that I was fine and let’s start. I wasn’t about to play into his fake sympathy.
This is where my inner strength came in. I am from a long line of stubborn German & Irish ancestors and that came shining through. I looked the lawyer dead in the eye each time I answered a question. I won’t go into all the questions, but he questioned my integrity, brought up the transcript from my original meeting with the detective and asked me questions that were ultimately thrown out by the judge. I kept my answers as short as I could. Yes, no, maybe. The times that I did say more I ended up getting asked more questions. The judge had to remind the defense lawyer several times that his client had already been prosecuted and agreed to a plea deal. Stop this line of questioning.
One of the questions that still sticks with me is he asked me about my job. At this point I had been away from work for two months and was moving back to MN with no job prospects. Very scary for me. He proceeded to say something to the effect of “You seem just fine now, I’m sure you will have no trouble finding a new job.” I felt like he was discrediting me and my pain. Your defendant caused my PTSD, depression & anxiety which caused me to not be able to function. Not being assaulted=still having my job.
That question still ticks me off.
After I got done with his extremely awful questions, I confidently strode away from the stand and back to my loving friends. I had said my piece. It is finished. Now it is in God’s hands. I let out a huge exhale.
The defense continued on arguing about evidence in the case and even brought in the creepiest OB/GYN on earth to testify that the SANE nurse did her job wrong and that I wasn’t injured. Then he went on about what a great guy the defendant is and how his family needs him. I guess during this time that the woman we think is the wife was looking at me, and my friends did what they do best. Protect me by glaring back at her with daggers in their eyes.
The judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say and it basically amounted to, “this whole thing was a bad idea and I’m sorry.” He didn’t apologize to me necessarily, but I will take what I can get. I think back to something my detective said about the defendant after the initial charges earlier in the year. He isn’t a monster, but he’s also not truthful. He’s slippery and broke the law. He’s sorry he got caught.
How did sentencing go?
He ended up with 6-months in prison (credit given for time served), 5 years probation and lifetime listed on the sex offenders registry. I was happy. My attorney and several friends and family were upset because they thought he should have spent more time behind bars, but I was at peace with it. Being on probation and the sex offender list were the big things for me. Since he had been in jail for over six months on the day of the sentencing, I’m pretty sure the defendant walked that day. Whatever. I’m done with you. Door closed. It was the first time I felt confident in 3 years.
After we were done in the courtroom, I excused myself to the restroom. I went in there and looked myself in the mirror and realized I was looking at a survivor. I smiled. Then, I looked at the necklace I was wearing the day of my assault and that day at sentencing. I liked the necklace, but every time I wore it all I thought of was waking up with only the necklace on. I took the necklace off and threw that thing in the garbage. Done. Chapter closed.
That night, my dear friends joined together for a going away party at a favorite place of mine in DC. The majority of people there didn’t know anything about my assault, or what I had been through that day. That made celebrating all the more sweet. I was celebrating my time in DC with my friends and I was celebrating internally my success. It felt good to toast to a bright future ahead. Today, being back in Minnesota and speaking my truth has helped me heal. The future is bright indeed!