A year and a half after the assault, exactly fourteen months after giving my official report to the police, a year after the preliminary/evidentiary hearing, six months after the first plea hearing, five months after the first scheduled trial date, two months after the second scheduled trial date, and following countless pretrial conferences involving negotiations between the defense and the state, yesterday brought to a close this long journey for justice. It’s hard to put into words the way I felt when that gavel finally fell. Amidst the mixture of relief and grief, there was suddenly this inexplicable void. I was absolutely overcome by it all. It felt like it was the first time my lungs fully expanded to take a breath in a year and a half. Simultaneously, there was incredible grief and anger as the words of his feigned apology replayed in my mind. I think many people anticipate that with a conviction will come satisfaction, closure, or maybe even joy. Instead, for me, it felt a little more akin to a break up. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to be done with the many ways the legal process continuously interrupted my life and I was certainly ready to be done with the emotional roller coaster of it all, but, with all those wonderful things, something else was happening inside of me. Nobody talks about the emptiness the end of the process brings with it. Something that was such a major part of my life was suddenly just gone. Please don’t misunderstand me, that’s a good thing. But, it’s gone nonetheless. Something I poured my thoughts, emotions, and time into, relationships I formed with those connected to the proceedings…all of it came to a close when the sentence was handed out. During the worst year and a half of my life, my incredible ADA and the Victims/Witnesses of Crime Office were a steady part of my life. They were rocks on which I stood. And I feel a little funny for saying it, but the truth is, along with all the sadness tied to the proceedings, there is also a sadness tied to the loss of those relationships and the uncertainty of heading out into the great unknown: life after the legal process.
While, I’ve worked daily to move forward, grow, and serve other victims of sexual assault in whatever means available, my life has remained anchored to the justice system. All I’ve known, since my assault, is life with the legal system. Now, it’s time for me to venture forward, built up by all of those who encouraged and empowered me along the way. It’s time for me to pour my strength into new adventures and life giving activities. As I begin to move forward, with the sun setting on this chapter of my life, I am forever indebted to each of those who made it possible for me to walk this long journey, to remain faithful to myself and what I knew to be true and good, to stay strong as my assailant sought to destroy my confidence in proceeding in my search for justice. There are no words for the place they each hold in my heart. Thanks to them, my voice has been heard. To me, that is the greatest and most healing gift to come out of this whole process, the opportunity to be heard. For that alone it would be worth it to do the whole thing all over again.
Below is the Victim Impact Statement I read to the court yesterday. (The blank spaces are where I’ve eliminated my assailant’s name). If you find yourself in the midst of the legal process, may it bring you comfort and strength to know you are not alone. To know that no matter what you may be feeling, it’s normal. And to know that, regardless of the outcome of your case, it’s all worth it because by taking a stand, you are using your voice to say NO MORE.
Your Honor, being here today is hard. It’s been a year and a half since my assault. That night was like three hours in hell. Each time I said “no” or “stop” or “please” and it was ignored, a little more light went out of my soul. This has been the darkest, most difficult time of my life. I’ve been diagnosed with Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Anxiety. I needed prescription sleep aids just to get more than a few hours of tormented sleep a night.
For months following the assault, I felt like a zombie, like I was hollow inside. I couldn’t think or feel or sleep. I just went through the motions of my day. The few hours I did sleep were wracked with nightmares and flashbacks. When the depression was particularly severe, there were days, weeks, and even months when I barely got out of bed. I couldn’t eat. At 28 years old, I went from being a self sufficient, confident, self-employed entrepreneur who shot for the moon, to someone who’s greatest accomplishment in a day was taking a shower because it meant I didn’t stay in bed ALL day. So many times I prayed to die. To just stop breathing. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so much pain and torment.
Overcome by the darkness of it all, I lost my business and with it my income. I am now financially indebted to family for the months of rent and bills I could not pay. My family and friends were yet another casualty from the assault. I was not the only one who suffered the painful consequences of what was done to me. Many of my family and friends have needed to seek professional help themselves for the vicarious trauma they’ve suffered by having this happen to someone they love. My mother has perhaps suffered the worst of it.
Your Honor, I know that the court cannot give me back what was lost. I have known from the beginning that guilty or innocent, plea bargain or trial, no verdict or sentence could repair the damage or provide the healing I need. My perseverance and God alone have given me the strength to survive this and journey on the path to wholeness. It is important to me that you, and the defendant know, that I am not here to seek vengeance or to even a score. I’m here because my life was broken by _________’s choices that night. His choice to want to believe that “no” meant “she just needs encouragement” and “stop” meant “just try again.” And I realize that until that mentality is changed, it is possible he may cause the same harm to another woman.
___________, you said in your letter to me, following the assault, that your actions were because you “fell in love with me that night.” But, what happened that night was the opposite of love. Love is meant to be a mutual self giving. That night you took from me, an innocence that can never be restored. It is my hope that one day you will realize that what you considered a harmless misunderstanding, shattered my life. Not so that you’ll despair, but so that you may be changed and no longer remain a threat to other women whose boundaries you ignore. _________, I choose to forgive you, for that night, for drawing out this process, for all of it. It’s not always easy, and whether or not it means anything to you…everyday I choose to forgive you.
Your Honor, it has remained my supreme hope through the legal proceedings, that they would be an opportunity for a change of heart. I have nothing specific to ask of you. I feel unworthy to suggest the punishment that may be deserved. Your Honor, I hand over to you both the facts of my assault as well as the effects it has had on my life and my person. I am grateful that the responsibility for judgement and sentencing are yours and the District Attorney’s Office alone. I entrust them to you. Thank you for hearing my story and thank you for the work you do to change the rape culture in this country one case at a time.
**Above is the sunset on my journey home. And so, a new day, a new chapter begins.**