[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. ]
I’ll never dare to try and tell my daughter’s story of 3 years of violent sexual abuse by her biological father.
My story is about what I went through, trying and failing to protect her and the tragic inaction by police, social workers and the family court system that created a nightmare I never thought we’d escape. All the while with a threat looming that any action I took could result in her being placed with her father-abuser full time, permanently. Forever and ever.
I separated from Destiny’s* biological father when she was 2 because he was abusive. His was an insidious abuse, chipping down my self-esteem and bullying me into compliance. He didn’t have to hit me -- I was too afraid to step out of line. He’s one of those narcissistic, manipulative types who can charm anyone into believing he’s the good guy.
When I left him, I had no proof of abuse and no leg to stand on to seek full custody in an unsympathetic family court system. I settled for giving him every other weekend visits; I figured he’d lose interest and go away.
Within 3 months, she began to change. Preschool teachers reported that she was more withdrawn and difficult when she’d been with him. Then she started hitting kids all the time. She’d say weird things, like "The police will get my daddy in trouble.”
I consulted a lawyer who told me to take notes of everything, but warned me against involving child services until my daughter said something. For a year, I knew something was up and waited for answers, holding my breath.
I wanted to sue for full custody right away and save her. I didn’t need any proof of anything – it was plain as day that whatever was happening at her father’s house wasn’t good. But, I knew this alarming fact: In 70% of cases where women seek full custody, citing abuse (against her or the kids), the abuser winds up with full custody, and the mother gets supervised visits.
The stories will curl your toes and make you cry.
Accusing the father of abuse without enough evidence was not an option in the Bible belt. Oh, the victim-shaming, blaming, doubting misogynist society we live in. Nobody wants to believe that a “good Christian father” would abuse his own kid.
But he was. Emotional, psychological, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Because one is never enough.
After filing the first report, CPS dismissed the concerns and told me I had to send her over there as usual. And I did. I had to if I wanted her to have a safe home to come back to.
Weekend after weekend for 3 years I handed over my helpless, innocent daughter. I couldn’t even say anything to him in front of her. He was molesting her, but somehow the courts and child protective services had ME walking on eggshells.
After each visit she came back silent, sullen, withdrawn. She was constantly out of her body -– staring vacantly, not hearing and not talking. She had violent tantrums. I mean really violent –- she threw furniture down the stairs at 5 years old.
She had so many classic symptoms of sexual abuse and trauma, but she was ignored by a system of professional experts. At night I bawled my eyes out. I was anxious and depressed; I could not sleep peacefully. I tried to hold it together for her.
Eventually, I fell into survival mode -- the steely, grouchy person I am today. It’s fucking terrible, but at least it makes me feel less vulnerable.
We (her step-dad and I) took her to multiple therapists, specialists, psychiatrists and forensic exams. We reported everything to anyone who would listen -– even her teachers. We tried everything we could think of to protect her.
\We went through 5 nerve-wracking CPS investigations. They expected a traumatized little child to tell perfect strangers what was going on. They said they could do nothing if she didn’t tell them (what do you do about babies, then?!).
Destiny told us, for all the good it did her. On the fourth investigation, they came ripping through our house, treating us like criminals. They said that I was emotionally abusing her and if the reports didn’t stop, they’d take her and put her in foster care.
Because I was trying to save her life -– that made me the bad guy. I challenged their small-town, redneck authority by trying to protect my daughter. Newsflash for CPS: reading a good touch-bad touch book doesn’t make a child dissociate and accuse her father of touching her private parts.
The frustrating thing wasn’t that they were suspicious of me; it was that they never afforded him the same level of suspicion. He was the nice victim of a deranged, obsessed, vindictive ex-wife. The judge loved him, too.
When I tried to get full custody, after she reported one incident of abuse to her therapist, he wound up with more visitation. The court also decided that he should shuttle my daughter to her therapy appointments, essentially ensuring that she would never tell her therapist anything again.
She did eventually tell professionals in short, emotionless clips. Because she didn’t seem scared enough (read: act like a victim), they blamed me and dismissed her. Each time, it became harder to tell professionals what was going on, but we persisted.
I became more and more fearful of them taking her from me. When they threatened to put her in foster care, I thought about letting them. I thought maybe it would be better than getting abused.
Fortunately, an angelic social worker brought in a team of amazing therapists to work with us. They saw what we knew all along -– my daughter was suffering from a severe case of PTSD. They helped her heal and open up. They got her away from her abuser.
As soon as she was safe, the details started to come out and her PTSD got worse. The next six months I feared that at any moment they would give him visits again. Finally, we got full custody. CPS determined that he was sexually abusing her. But the damage was done.
Over time, she has revealed more details. I’ll spare you them. She still has PTSD and it affects her daily. She will be happy for a while, and then relapse for no known reason. It is like having a child with cancer in remission. At any moment, the cancer can come back, except doctors can’t see this cancer and it was caused by some asshole.
I felt like an epic failure as a mother. I couldn’t do the most basic of motherly things: protect my child. I know that there was nothing that I could do that I didn’t do, but that is not enough to staunch the guilt that sinks into the pit of my stomach so often.
So many times, I thought about running away. I was sure I’d be caught and she’d be sent to live with him. I could not risk that.
I think she is still angry at me for not stopping the abuse -– I was often the main target of her aggression, though her step-dad got it too. She went into these fits and it was like a different person -– a person who hated my guts, trapped in the body of a sweet little girl.
I don’t know how to pick up my life and live happily ever after. No matter how many pills I pop, I’m bitter as hell. Years were lost. I feel robbed of my ability to feel love and joy. I can never make up for what happened to her and I feel guilty anytime she is unhappy or uncomfortable.
My husband and I were newlyweds when this began. It dominated our first years as a married couple. We never had a wedding ceremony; we skipped the honeymoon and got right to the crisis. We are not the same people that went to the courthouse to get hitched. It nearly cost us our marriage several times.
Epilouge: 4 years after this ordeal began, that asswipe no longer has rights to her. His name is off the birth certificate. Her step-dad has adopted her, becoming what he was all along: her real dad.
We have moved away and we all feel safer. Though I can never forget the damage he caused, I take small solace knowing that he didn’t win. My daughter is struggling, but she is unbroken. In her room is a sign she made barring her biological father from existence.
It’s a testament to how far she has come in this journey, and how much healing we still have ahead of us. She openly hates him. We all do -– and we talk about it as often as we want. He was never charged for his crimes.
*Not her real name.