As a naive 15-year-old who didn't understand what sexuality meant and who mostly wanted to be loved, I found myself in an abusive relationship with a teacher I thought I could trust. The abuse escalated over three years into everything except actual sex, and I lost all sense of self, agency and hope for a future free of this man.
Eventually, I went to college, and although he continued to contact me through a cellphone he'd given me, I had enough physical space to reclaim my body, brain and freedom. It was from this newfound freedom that I found the power to call and tell him I was done. I didn't want anything to do with him. I sent the cellphone away, and I was free.
Until I wasn't. This could have been the end of the story, except this man was bothering friends of mine who were still in high school. I wanted to report him so he would leave my friends alone. I didn't think about everything that would follow, but I definitely learned a lot about justice (or the lack thereof) in the process of reporting him.
I wasn't sure how to report him on my own, so I decided to tell my parents. I called them and said, "There's something I want to tell you, but I don't want you to say a word until I'm done talking." If they were going to interject, it was only going to make a hard task harder. They stayed calm, and we discussed what we should do next.
My parents wanted to criminally charge my abuser, so we visited a lawyer for guidance. After I told the lawyer my story, he told me my abuser couldn't be criminally charged because I was over the age of consent during the worst of the abuse. Even though there were sexual acts involved, because actual intercourse wasn't, technically everything he did was legal — except for the small detail that he was a teacher and I was a student.
To make matters worse, although most of the abuse happened while I was a minor in school, I was over 18 and out of school by the time I reported him. The lawyer, who didn't seem too interested in the case, advised us to report the teacher to the school and let the school's lawyer take care of things.
I was told to fax a signed copy of my own statement of what happened to the school. The day after this was done, my abuser was suspended without any further questions. I was a little shocked at how quickly this happened, but I was glad nonetheless. I only hoped it would make life easier for my friends, and hoped I could move on with my own life.
However, the school decided they were going to pursue criminal charges despite what the lawyer had told me. Within a couple weeks, a state trooper came to my university, and I had to go through my entire story again, the first of many retellings of my traumatic abuse history to strangers. After gathering a thorough history and list of potential witnesses to corroborate my story, this part of the process was done.
Over the course of the next year, they were "investigating." My case was being handled by an assistant district attorney who proved to be elusive and preoccupied with another case they were handling at the same time. Weeks and months would go by without any updates, and many times, we were informed we couldn't know what was happening.
This went on for nearly two years.
While my parents and I were at a trade show in New York, a police officer called and said they had everything they needed; they had found solid evidence in the form of cellphone records, among other mystery information. At this point, it was May, and I was just a month shy of turning 20.
When the ADA called my parents and me in for a meeting late that summer to discuss how the case was going to proceed, I was glad to finally be doing something. Maybe now I could move forward. The ADA said that based on what they found, they had enough evidence to go to trial.
The DA's office decided they were going to go after my abuser for misdemeanor charges for corruption of a minor. We went over possible outcomes and options, and then we were sent on our way. I remember having a session with my therapist shortly after to help me understand how the court proceedings would go and where I could sit and how long it might take.
About a month later we, got a call from the assistant DA to inform me there would be no case.
The statute of limitations, which ended the moment I turned 20, ran out before we even had our first meeting. The ADA insisted they hadn't been able to find all the information they needed in time, even though the police officer had called us a month before the statute of limitations ran out to say he had the evidence.
What's probably closer to the truth is the district attorney's office let the statute of limitations run out because they were preoccupied with bigger, more prestigious cases. They didn't really care about my case; it just wouldn't bring them enough acclaim. I'm sure if I had been a minor or still in school or shot dead, they might have cared a bit more.
Not only did my abuser avoid criminal charges, when my dad filed a complaint with the ADA's boss, his letter was passed back to the ADA, who left a voicemail temper tantrum for my dad. Screaming like a child, the ADA insisted it was my fault because I hadn't reported my abuser sooner. It was my fault the statute of limitations ran out. It was my fault my abuser couldn't be criminally charged. I'm the one to blame, not the ADA.
After being blindsided by the message, my parents didn't know what to do. We were in shock. How could the person in charge of advocating for victims be so callous and cruel? My parents were furious about the voicemail, and the fact they couldn't figure out what else to do only made them angrier.
Going to the ADA's boss backfired, and we didn't know much about how the system worked. Should we hire our own lawyer? Who oversees the DA's office? We didn't know anybody going through a similar situation or who would have enough expertise to advise us on what to do next. In the end, we just didn't know, so we didn't do anything. We didn't even save the voicemail.
The memory of hearing the ADA's deplorable message plays like a surreal movie. I felt nothing at all, floating through what seemed like an out-of-body experience. My abuser got away because the ADA messed up, and the ADA blamed me for the whole thing. It still doesn't seem real.
I had always heard that victims often get blamed, but I never assumed the people blaming the victim would be the same ones in charge of prosecuting the predator. I wanted to believe there was a clear line between the good guys and the bad guys, right and wrong, but the ADA's voicemail only served to prove there are a lot of ugly gray areas.
So much for justice.