The charge: 16 Class A Felonies
The personal expense: Incalculable
It was the summer after seventh grade; he picked me up from middle school. He took me to Bluegrass Stripper pits. He watched me play in the church lot behind his home. He told me I was “different,” “more mature than my age,” “the prettiest girl he had ever seen.”
These statements were followed by him saying, “you know I could go to jail for what I am doing.” He also threatened suicide if I spoke of what was happening. “No one will understand our relationship,” he would say.
In hindsight, he groomed me meticulously with gifts of words, jewelry and attention. But these gifts were exacted at a severe price — my virginity, my sanity and my self-worth. Little did I know that my sense of safety and love would also be shattered.
We met most weekdays after 4 p.m. That was the time he left work from the National Guard Armory – OMS #6, to be specific. We met in the basement of his girlfriend’s home; we met in the bedroom he shared with her; we met in his Dodge Ram truck at Sunset Memorial Cemetery; the parking lot at Oak Hill Middle School; off of Ward Road near the woods and more. In those places is where it would begin.
That “it” would change my life in ways I couldn’t understand until a few years ago. “It” was child molestation, starting at 13 and continuing for the next four years turning into a sexually abusive relationship.
I am 15 and “it” is still happening. I am suffering from panic attacks. I am agitated. But somehow I keep it together for school. I am an honor roll student, and I letter in cross country and track. I do not feel like I fit in at school, except for a few friends. My parents have divorced. I feel scattered on the inside, and I cling to the one thing that is consistent in my life – him and “it.” I exchange the pain for comfort.
Fast forward even more: I am now 18 and “it” hasn’t stopped. I do not know how to stop “it.” “It” is becoming all I know. I still meet him; I feel so anxious. I have started isolating from my family. He takes the place of my parents and continues to both fuck my mind and body. The sex has changed – he doesn’t look at me anymore.
I panic when my menstrual cycle is late. He buys me pregnancy tests. My night sweats are worsening, and my heart races so hard at times that I have an echocardiogram. I start to feel even crazier; I cannot understand why I feel so scared or why I feel so heavy and full of dread.
Fast forward again to Oct. 2012: I must say something. What if he is harming other young girls? That question pierced my mind over and over.
I worked up the strength and called my abuser, and I recorded the conversation. I handed the recording over to the police and came forward about the abuse.
On Oct. 29, 2012, he was arrested and charged with 16 Class A Felonies of child molestation. The next nearly two years would be a tumultuous, emotional ride through the trial process.
During this time, I continued seeking help and healing. I prayed; I cried; I screamed; I drank too much; I ran (literally and metaphorically), and I had countless flashbacks. Those closest to me carried me when I could no longer carry myself.
As each month passed, I slowly felt more hopeful of myself, of my present and of my future. I still felt fragmented, but those fragmented pieces of me were now connected by love, grace and hope. I would make it.
The sentencing was September 24, 2014. I supported a plea bargain instead of taking this case to trial.When I say I supported the plea bargain in this case what I mean is that this support was the result of being completely worn down by the criminal justice process. While recognizing that I had no official role in negotiating the eventual outcome, I was also open to almost any option that required this man to publicly admit that he abused an innocent, young girl. He would have to admit that he did things that will impact me forever – my ability to trust, my ability to enjoy intimate relationships, my ability to sleep well at night and more.
I advised the prosecuting attorneys that I was open to a plea bargain because I needed this process to end; I needed the door to close so I could focus on the future.
As the final pages come to end on this chapter of my life, I look forward to what is next. I will focus on helping who I can now.
The next steps:
I have heard it all — “move on with your life,” “let it go,” “forget about it.”
I am moving on; part of my moving on is screaming at the top of my lungs that abuse happens in plain sight. But I will not stop with this message, and I could never forget it.
The abuse almost killed me – mentally, emotionally and nearly spiritually.
This happens every day to hundreds of children. Enough is enough – we can all do our part to say something.
In coming forward I’m not only freeing myself but also encouraging other survivors or those currently being abused to come forward. When we break the silence together, we strip the shame and stigma of abuse away.
I am no longer afraid of my feelings, no longer afraid of the grief, pain and anger. Because of that freedom I’m feeling more peaceful, hopeful and alive than ever before.
I’m moving closer and closer to forgiving my abuser. But forgiveness shouldn’t be confused with excusing what he did because there is no excuse. In forgiving him though, I gain more power over myself, my life, my feelings and my spirit. This healing process then becomes less about him, and even me, and more about helping others; paying forward the help I received.
Most of us don’t have “it” to contend with. Thankfully you probably haven’t walked in these same shoes or this same journey. But chances are you know someone who has and you yourself have faces something in your life that you need to move forward from. Maybe something happened to you; maybe you missed out on a great chance or opportunity. We all have something that has happened in our lives that has caused some resentment or anger. But what I hope you can take away from my story is that no matter what, the only person you can change is you. You can move forward; you can live a life filled with hope and not allow your past to drain your heart.
To those who have been sexually abused or survived the unimaginable — You are already so brave! You have survived. You are more than the pain that drops you to your knees. You are more than the horror that devastates you. And above all of that, you are more than that agonizing past.
Break the painful, soul-sucking silence with one trusted person, and let good people help you heal. There is hope — hope for you right now and hope for your tomorrow.
The path to healing is achingly difficult but you’ve slogged through the inferno already. Hold your head up. You are so much stronger than you can ever know.
– Jevaline Johnson
From the Editor: Jevaline has recently received her Juris Doctorate and plans to continue her career in outreach and advocacy.
Photos by: Erin McCracken