***THIS POST DISCUSSES THE SEXUAL ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION OF A VERY YOUNG CHILD. PLEASE CONSIDER THIS YOUR TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIS POST!!***
I think by now we can all agree that in general I’m a snarky cynical bitch who enjoys being that way. It’s taken over 30 years to be ok with who I am and to love being who I am every minute. This does not mean I’m devoid of feelings. It simply means, I choose to be who I am, and forgo the fake smile and laugh that ruled the first 30ish years of my life. I’m a better person now because of it. My friendships mean more and are fiercely close. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for one of my friends. Does my particular personality mean I have limited friends? Of course. But the ones I have are gold, and I’m never giving them up.
That being said, it’s obvious to people around me, and the people who see me tweet on Twitter that there is an issue I don’t joke about. An issue that still very much breaks my heart into a million pieces in an instant sometimes. An issue that can make me sob from the absolute depths of my soul. The pain… has no word. There is NO word that comes close to describing how this pain feels. When someone violates the very thing that means the most to you in the world, you are never the same. Ever. You can go to counseling, you can go to groups, you can pray, or chant, or whatever you believe in. But that pain, it’s there. It’s ALWAYS there. Because when someone hurts your very reason for being, your very reason for hoping the world becomes a more loving place, and sometimes your very reason for waking up and breathing… It’s all over. The game has changed. Forever.
March 5th, 2016… It changed my life. And my son’s life. Forever. I can tell you the exact time and date everything changed. March 5th… 7:52am. It’s that specific in my head. I picked up and glanced through my (now ex) fiance’s phone, after hearing it chirp a sound I’d never heard before. He’s always been fine with me scrolling through his phone so I didn’t think much of it because it didn’t feel like a devious act or violation of anything. I scrolled through trying to find the reason for the new alert tone I’d never heard before. My ex was sleeping but there was a chance it could’ve been his sister, as their dad was in very poor health and we’d been planning to go visit him in the hospital later that day. I couldn’t find any new alerts which I found strange. Then I realized his camera “roll” on his phone was lit up and it was clear there were new pictures there. I opened them thinking maybe they’d sent pics of his dad alert and happy or something. My ex had very much wanted to see his dad smile again once more before he passed. If that’s what it was I wanted to wake him right away so he could see.
But… No. That’s not what the pictures were. The pictures were by no exaggeration vomit inducing. And I knew they were of my son. MY child. Pictures of MY child in his phone. Pictures that depicted sexual acts, pictures that showed my son without clothes. Pictures other men had commented on. Pictures that proved without a doubt that not only was my ex sexually exploiting my child by making and spreading this content, but he was also sexually assaulting and abusing my child. It was all there. ALL there. Pictures that couldn’t be explained away. Pictures that couldn’t be pushed off as “oh that kid was old enough he just looked young.” No, I knew these were my 7yr old (He’s 9 now) son. MY son. An innocent child who loved and trusted my ex very very very much. A child who loves people in general, and loves life. A child who just weeks before had been so excited because Santa left him a note thanking him for leaving Rudolph carrots because no one ever did that. THIS is my son. MY son is concerned about RUDOLPH getting food. Because he’s an amazing kid with a heart I’ve never experienced in my life. His smile can melt the coldest heart, and he would never hesitate to give you something, even if it was his very last piece of candy. THAT is my son.
I put the phone down. I threw up. Several times. I didn’t wake my ex because I didn’t know what to say. Or what I might do. I’d been with him for four years. I thought we were in love. We’d been planning a wedding, and we were happy. (I thought.) My ex, who spent WEEKS in the hospital with me when I got sick the first time. My ex who told me I looked beautiful even when my hair fell out and I cried for hours. I spent 2 hours in the bathroom sobbing. I LITERALLY felt my heart break. This man hurt my child. He HURT MY CHILD! I considered a lot of things. I could’ve killed him, I doubt anyone would’ve blamed me. Sitting on the cold tile floor, I started making plans. Could I get out? Would he hurt me if he found out I knew? How safe was my son right now? (He was very safe, as he was with his real dad that weekend and no where near my ex) After I convinced myself my son was as safe as possible, I started to think about me a little more. The 5th was a Saturday. I didn’t think it was best to leave while my ex was still in the house. So for 2 days I played the part. We watched TV, we made dinner. I talked with him about work. All the while my heart aching and shattering. I never let him see me cry but when I was alone I sobbed for hours sometimes. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I NEVER considered staying and pretending nothing happened. I knew I was leaving. He hurt my child. End of story. Deal breaker of all deal breakers.
I slowly started making a list in my head of where things were so I could pack and get out as quickly as possible. I had a friend ready to meet me on Monday morning, a women’s shelter expecting me, and… nothing else. My best friend and her husband became these amazing rocks of support. Without hesitation they rented me a storage locker for the things I couldn’t take to the shelter like my son’s bike. I’d slowly contacted people through the weekend but not many. Just the ones picking me up, and my best friend, and eventually very late Sunday night my mom. No one else yet. I needed to make sure my ex thought EVERYTHING was normal. I didn’t know if he’d hurt me but I knew he’d for sure try to delete any evidence he had. Best job I’ve ever done of acting, but I will never ever do this again.
My ex left for work at around 6am on Monday the 7th. I packed a small amount of things, called the police, and spent about 3 hours filing a report. Going over details of what the pictures looked like. How did I know who was in them. How did I know my ex had taken them. Other questions that made my stomach flip and turn. I threw up again. I cried a lot. The detective and officer were supportive but focused. They had a job to do and they needed this information. I wanted my ex arrested so I talked through the tears. I gave them everything I had, even if it didn’t seem important. They got warrants for his phone, his computer, his tablets, the PS4, the PS3, and… my son’s bedding. I watched and cried. I watched and wanted to scream. I watched and wanted… someone else to do this. But he’s MY son, and NO ONE gets to hurt MY son. I never considered staying but when the time came to get into the car and leave, I felt my world ending. I knew it was over. Nothing was ever going to be the same. Ever.
In the days that followed my immediate report to the police I lost friends. I lost relationships with family. (My own step mother told me flat out she didn’t believe me. How could “such a great man” do this to my son? Why was I lying and putting my son through this? Didn’t I understand what was going to happen when the police realized I’d filed a false report?) I lived in a women’s shelter. I left everything I’d known for the past four years and ran. I lived in fear. I didn’t leave the shelter for days, afraid I’d see him in public and he’d hurt me.
My son has been absolutely 100% safe since the second I found the pictures. He has still to this day not indicated verbally or otherwise that anything happened to him. He is doing well. He’s in counseling and he will stay in counseling possibly for the rest of his life. We don’t know yet. We know because of pictures and video evidence that a lot has happened to him. We know that some of those pictures are 4 years old. This means the man I trusted and loved was never not abusing my child. There was never a time he was safe. I failed my child. It doesn’t matter what anyone says about there being no signs… about how much my son loved my ex… about how amazing of a person my ex seemed to be. “How could you have known?” The short answer is… I don’t know. But I should’ve known. I should’ve known and I didn’t. Because I’m his mother and my job is to protect him. I failed my child.
The legal process was long, and at times unbearable. It’s been painful. On Tuesday May 18, 2016 my ex was finally arrested for the things I’d reported him for. And more. 8 charges total. Multiple child pornography (This charge includes possession of, manufacturing of, and or distributing of child pornography) charges, a sexual contact with a minor under the age of 16 charge, and a charge of rape of a child under the age of 12. The detective offers the smallest amount of reassurance any parent could ever hear. “Not all of the pictures recovered are of your son.” The rest of the charges… MOST of the charges… those are all for my 7yr old child. Once again the pain washed over me. Once again I’m throwing up because… how do you not want to puke hearing this?
From May until the 17th of August… No updates. No news. We waited. Agonizingly we waited for any update. I knew because of a letter sent to the “victim” (my child) that my ex was supposed to have a hearing on the 16th. I called the clerk of courts on the 17th. I wanted information. I wanted a lot. I didn’t get much.
She nicely told me his hearing was canceled. The state offered a plea deal and my ex took it. It’s not that this was unexpected… But it hurts to hear. I want him to pay for every single thing they know he did. The deal offered had him pleading guilty to 3 charges. 3 of 8. The rape of my 7yr old charge was dropped. Most of the charges were dropped. I hang up the phone and feel a new level of anger and I start to realize… THIS is why rape, abuse, incest… This is why things go unreported. This is why victims and survivors alike don’t talk about it. Because the reporting process is hard. It’s long. And the results are little. Because you lose friends. Because you lose family. You lose people you thought would never question you. People accuse you of lying. Seeking attention. People support the offender. And often it feels the system is set to protect the offender more than their victim. It’s tough waters to navigate and not everyone can do it. It’s a long long long process and the set backs can be many.
On October 14th, 2016 my ex was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Going to his sentencing was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life. I took my best friend with me and held her hand so hard I think I almost broke it. I saw my ex walk into the court room and meet my eyes. He tried to smile and my heart BOILED with rage. I sat and listened to everything presented to the judge. I sat and watched my ex stare void of emotion as they talked about what he’d done to my son. I fought the urge to stand up, and beat the shit out of him. He HURT MY CHILD is what I wanted to scream. MY CHILD! DON’T YOU GET IT! HE’S A BABY! I wanted to look my ex in the face and scream HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO MY BABY. HE LOVED YOU!
I watched them cuff him and take him out of the room knowing I’d never see him again. It didn’t help. I still hate. My heart still hates. I still want to scream at him. Sometimes I still sob. Sometimes I look at my beautiful child and think of how unfair this is.
So this is our story. My story. Kiddo’s story. This is why I tweet about the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children. This is why I love their organization so much. They do amazing things. If you want to find out more, please visit their website. Please retweet amber alerts. Please report suspected exploitation. Don’t ignore warning signs. Kids out there NEED YOUR HELP! Please don’t let them suffer if you can help it. This picture has info for their Cyber Tipline AND their phone number. Call, log on, but don’t ignore. Please don’t ignore.