Nissa’s Story: I reported the abuser & I testified

Two years ago (Aug. 2011), I reported my former stepfather to the police for sexually abusing me when I was a young child. He was in my life for 7 years, beginning when I was 10 months old. He took on the role of father and I had no other safe father. I loved him and was devastated by the abuse and mental/emotional manipulation. I kept it secret for a long time. But as I began to feel more secure in my life as a young adult I slowly began telling people, working toward emotional healing over the last 13 years. It was a long time before I felt ready to go to the police, but as it turns out, the statute of limitations had not yet expired for most of the abuse.

I testified at the Grand Jury Hearing on September 16th, and it was finished with a result on September 25th.

The jury’s final deliberations concluded with a vote that did not have enough positive votes to result in my former stepfather being indicted. He is not about to be arrested, the court is not preparing for a trial. This path toward prosecution of his crimes came to an abrupt end before it could really begin. And I do not know what reasoning led them to this decision, which was so surprising to everyone involved.

The Grand Jury members are just a regular group of citizens like any other jury. When I testified at the Grand Jury hearing I was crying and my whole body was shaking, so much that I had to put my hand onto my shoulder to try and stop it because my muscles hurt from shaking like that. My testimony made me re-experience so many painful emotions that normally I keep tucked out of sight so that I can just function in the world.

Jury members were crying, and gasping in shock and horror and making verbal exclamations about how horrendous the things he did were. I described the sexual abuse from age 3 (when I can first remember) to almost age 8 as well as all the details of the sadistic ways he treated me. Things that, as horrible as they were, I grew up thinking it was just no big deal or it was my fault. I believed that all the shame of sexual abuse was my shame.

He was going to be charged with rape of a child from age 5 to 7.5 (which he did in many many horrendous ways under the laws that cover it and he could have killed me or so it seemed in my experience). My very detailed memory, while hard to live with personally, did provide a clear and convincing account of what took place. There was never an issue with my credibility, it was clear that they believed me. Still for some reason,  enough of the jury members made the decision that my testimony wasn’t enough, the presentation of the prosecutor wasn’t enough, and they would let my abuser go free, denying me this chance to have him publicly face the charges against him.

During the initial investigation the police called my former stepfather up on the phone. They just said they wanted to ask him questions about a report of sexual assault in connection to the address that we had lived at. Without asking any questions about who made the report, who was being accused, or any question at all about the basic facts of what this was about, he just said that he was not going to speak, and that he was going to get a lawyer. Apparently he already knew what he was guilty of and what he needed to get a lawyer for.

On one occasion in the recent past, one of my family members happened upon him in a public place and confronted him about the abuse, he just laughed and smirked. At first he even pretended to not even recall if I existed. According to a lawyer friend of mine, this kind of irrational pretense of not knowing the victim, to the extent of feigning some kind of impossible temporary amnesia, is for some reason the first reaction of most guilty people who become unexpectedly questioned about an abuse allegation.

The arrogant and sadistic nature of his personality makes it very likely that he will continue his abusive pattern; his fear of getting caught will be redirected into pressure on his victims to keep the secrets. But I have learned in many ways, by many people in my life, that the truth inside us is always stronger than the lies that oppress us. We are stronger than we know.

I remember the time many years after he left us, my mother got a phone call from his new wife asking for help and advice about what to do because he was beating her during her third pregnancy, and telling her it was her fault. I don’t really know how she made it through that, and it saddens me to imagine any of it. I hope that she and her children can know their own strength and not be trapped by fear or shame.

When I asked the police to go forward with the investigation I did so knowing that I would have been able to safely and productively face him as an adult and confront him within the protection of a court of law, in the way that was impossible when I was a child. I felt I needed to do that. I wish I could.

But, I did everything that I could. I reported him to the police and that was extremely difficult and I hung in there for two years (through many difficult things in preparation for the trial), and I made it all the way to testifying at the Grand Jury. Many cases never get that far. The police and prosecutors did their job and they have been extremely kind, caring and supportive. I am very thankful to them for what they did and for taking the case as far as they did. They told me that because I am so articulate and self-reflective about what I have been through that they will be able to understand all sex abuse survivors even better now. They told me that the man who abused me is the most dangerous type of sexual predator, the way he infiltrated my life and became like a stepfather to me. The love that I felt for him prior to the abuse caused me a lifetime of conflicted feelings between how I really felt about the horrendous nature of the abuse and thinking that I needed to protect him regardless. For so long I blamed myself. They told me that my actions show how I will always protect my own children by standing up against this.

I am glad that I did this. I did the right thing and I did what I could. The police are keeping their eye on him now.

I’m not going to be afraid to speak about it anymore. I faced my biggest fear. When I first called the police 2 years ago I couldn’t even say his name without shaking rapidly and almost throwing up. But, I ended up two years later testifying at the Grand Jury hearing and that is amazing progress that reflects the internal transformation I had surrounding this. Letting go of my fear and no longer allowing him to continue controlling me on an internal level.

At this point I don’t know whether or not he will ever be brought to justice for the crimes he committed, and that loss of a path forward is very disheartening. Although there is still hope that somehow someone else will come forward and a new case can be brought against him.

Understanding the nature of sexual abuse and the path toward healing is something that is emotional to its core, and I feel that expressing myself through the medium of dance is something that can address aspects of this topic that is otherwise hard to get at just by talking.  To see what I mean, here is a video of a dance that I choreographed and performed about my experience and healing process.