Our family’s story is like a lot of stories. We are experiencing the trauma and exhaustion that is all too common with child sexual abuse and exploitation. This spot in the road is the last place we want to be, and the last thing we ever expected or imagined in the life of our angel, we will call “Grace”. Yet here we are…
This journey started with my daughter’s abusive marriage and the consequential divorce. People were so focused on the “shared responsibility of the marital breakdown” the abuse was not acknowledged. It made my daughter feel like nothing. In the middle of this is a child who was a year old when the explosive separation happened.
The father continued his abuse after the separation. He raged. He threatened. And fought to take their child away from our daughter. She was overwhelmed.
Grace’s mother attempted to work out a routine so that their child would have both parents in her life weekly, and even daily. She agreed with standard advice that Grace needed her dad, too.
Have you ever tried to light a match during a hurricane? That is what reasoning with Grace’s father is like.
He wouldn’t cooperate. He took my daughter to court when she had no lawyer. She got plowed under by a system that looks at women with a dark age bias. His lawyer refers to her as “the mother” and talks about her like she isn’t there.
They settled on 50/50 custody. That’s the prefered arrangement in Pennsylvania, with our daughter having primary custody and the father having every weekend which altered between Fri to Tues morning and Sat to Tues morning.
From this point on the father ignored communication with my daughter, or he used it to traumatize her. It is court ordered that she have Grace from Sat. evening at 7pm through to Sun. at 7 pm for Mother’s Day. Instead of respecting that, each Mother’s Day has been full of repeated threats. He even shows up angry to get Grace because her Mother’s Day took time away from him. Grace couldn’t participate in a Christmas presentation with her Kids Club at church, because her father wouldn’t wait until the special event was over. And he never said “Hey I’d love to go to that.”
He filed a few contempt complaints because he “misunderstood” the custody terms. The judge found no contempt on Mom’s part each time. The father’s lawyer portrayed Mom as the uncooperative parent.
At the beginning of 2015 when Grace was 4 she began wetting the bed, having night terrors, and acting out sexual things with Barbie dolls. CPS said “Oh that’s normal”.
Then Grace came home with what looked like diaper rash. When asked how that happened (she was fully potty trained for at least a year and a half) she said, “Daddy did it.” Grace explains that Daddy does certains things that shouldn’t happen between a father and daughter. Another call to CPS, the same response, but then Mom went to the police.
A doctor’s exam showed no signs of penetration, thankfully.
In the state of Pennsylvania CPS has to open and close a case in 30-60 days, and when they open and close before a police investigation is over they simply state “unfounded“. When the case was closed there was no explanation, no offers for counseling to work out why a child says their father sexually abused them. A child’s word is nothing. A mother’s word is even less.
The police investigation dragged out for four months. In the meantime Mom was being held accountable for keeping Grace’s father from seeing Grace. Penalized for protecting her child.
Since Grace was only four years old, she wasn’t considered a credible witness, and did not repeat to police what she told her mom. The investigation fizzled and Grace resumed visits with her father. We reasoned nothing was going on….and if there was maybe the police involvement would keep him from doing it again. We hoped and prayed because that’s all we had.
By Feb of 2016 Grace was older and much more articulate. When her mom picked her up from father, Grace said she was mad at her father. When Mom asked why, Grace gave her details of more abuse. She was very specific, saying he took certain clothes off of her, did this, this, and this. It happened that morning, but it happens many days, and only at a certain place.
Mom took Grace to the state police, and Grace repeated everything. She even demonstrated. They scheduled an interview for her the next Tuesday at a Child Advocacy Center with the District Attorney and police present.
Grace kept asking if it was Tuesday yet. It was on her mind, and in her head she went over what she would say. This was supposed to get Daddy to stop. She had hope. Child Advocacy experts [NOT the center where she was interviewed] say that even a child of five understands that testifying is a big deal. There is a differences between coerced and rehearsed, but authorities didn’t get that distinction.
During another lengthy investigation, CPS filed their report, wasn’t involved with the family, and couldn’t be reached. At one point the father came to the house to get Grace. Grace pointed at him, looked him dead on and told him that he took those clothes off her and did this, this, and this and she wasn’t going with him. She told her grandmother later that she didn’t want him coming to her house ever again.
The police presented their information in a custody conference where Mother didn’t have a lawyer and Father wasn’t even present. The investigating officer, who has been on the job for a year and a half, testified that Grace said what her father did, but she was bouncing around and not focused. The implication was that maybe it was all just nonsense, although he did not say that.
There has been no arrest. A National Child Advocacy expert and our local domestic violence advocacy organization informs us that Grace acted the way any child her age would act when asked by a stranger what had happened to her. It’s hard for an adult to talk about abuse. Can we imagine how hard it is for a child?
The battle for Grace’s safety is about to leave the conference arena, where Mom has never been allowed to say anything, and it’s headed for court. The abusive father wants full custody.
We are getting Grace into therapy to help her recover, and for court purposes. Grace is safe today, and that’s what we have to hang on to.
M.S. Norwood: Domestic violence claimed my hearing about 30 years ago. My former husband walked away shortly after that and has had no contact with my four children and I since. My current husband and I are in our 21st year of marriage, and we have leaned into the wind and not accepted a generational lie that abuse must be endured.