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My story about dating a sex offender has been read by thousands of people. Based on the majority of the comments, I must be a pretty horrible mother.
It's OK that you assume that. If I was reading the same story, I would probably be just as outraged. But it's easy to judge someone when you haven't walked a day in their shoes. It's easy to say nasty things about someone you don't know when you can hide behind a screen.
What's hard is to admit that the same thing could happen to them.
Predators are everywhere, and they are very good at what they do. They prey on those who are the most vulnerable and pick at those insecurities. What was so obvious to me in hindsight was not so clear when it was happening. The definition of grooming is to "prepare with a purpose."
The roots to why I was so susceptible to Rick* go back a long way. I don't remember much of my childhood. I don't think I'm repressing any memories of any abuse that I'm going to try to blame my situation on. I don't remember a happy childhood, though. I suppose my parents did what they could, but it was not a loving household. I don't remember being told I was loved or being shown affection.
My fondest memory as a child was my grandma brushing and playing with my hair. I craved that physical touch and affection. From a young age, if I found an adult that made me feel loved and special, I would cling to them. I remember feeling suicidal at the age of 10 because I felt so empty.
As I got older, my desire for love and affection transferred into my relationships with men, beginning when I was 16 and had a crush on a neighbor who gave me attention. I was desperate for some security in my life, and I translated that into being in love with this person who made me feel good. In reality, though, it became an obsession. There were times I sought counseling, and it would always help for a little while, but I seemed to always find myself back in the same patterns, clinging to anyone who gave me even a little of what I was looking for.
I met my ex-husband one January on eHarmony, and we got married in July. I was pregnant by October. I got so caught up in this man who fell for me so fast and made me feel like I finally had a chance to get that security I was looking for. But it was all a myth.
Before that year was over, I found out that he was bisexual. I also found an erotic story he had written that was about a sexual relationship between a mother and her teenage stepson. I was horrified. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and unable to work because of complications. I wasn't equipped to be a single mom, even though all I wanted to do was run. I should have followed that instinct.
In the end, we decided to try to make it work. We went for months of counseling. After I had my beautiful daughter, my ex deployed for six months, which was a breath of relief for me. When he got back, things were not good. We hadn't had sex since I had gotten pregnant. I came to realize that the single-mom thing wasn't as scary of a prospect as I feared. We moved into separate bedrooms and I went back to work so I could save up enough money to get my own place for my daughter and me.
Then came the night I found a pubic hair on my two-year-old daughter's vulva. I called the police, and we went to the hospital, where I stood by as my daughter had a rape kit done. They took her clothes and yanked out pieces of her hair as she sobbed, "Mommy, what are they going to do next?"
The answer: not much. Ultimately, it was deemed that there wasn't enough evidence, and the allegations were inconclusive. The rape kit, pubic hair included, was going to sit on a shelf somewhere.
Not long after, my daughter sat naked on the bathroom floor, getting ready for her bath while playing with a naked baby doll. She made motions of putting her fingers in the doll's bottom, saying, "Does that feel good?"
There's no worse nightmare for a mother than knowing something happened to your daughter but not knowing who did it.
During the ensuing divorce and custody battle, I found an ad my ex had placed on Craigslist looking for men to have sex with. "I'll host" he'd said in the ad. He had been bringing men back to the house my daughter slept in. Did one of them molest my daughter? I would never know.
I went through a lot of counseling to resolve the anger and mistrust I felt. Suddenly, every man I saw on the street was a potential predator. I got incredibly nervous when any man I didn't know showed any attention to my daughter. I even analyzed how my own father interacted with her.
Eventually, I learned that I had to put the anger behind me. I couldn't live a life in constant fear. I had to accept that this man now had joint custody and visitation with our child. It was hard, and I fought it every step of the way.
My daughter was seven before I even thought about dating again. I resisted it for the longest time. It was like I shut off that part of me. But then it started to wake up. I hadn't had sex in seven years, hadn't felt that physical touch that I had always craved. All of a sudden, that desire was back again. I wanted more than anything to just have someone to hold me.
When I met Rick, it was instant fireworks. Our online chats were so passionate. When he only wanted to talk on Yahoo Messenger, I didn't think much of it; I thought maybe this was how it was done now.
He didn't tell me about his interest in nudism right away, and when he did tell me, I remember thinking, Well, it's not for me, but what he does on his own time won't hurt me. When he pressured me about being trying nudism myself, he kept saying it was being "open-minded." That was his favorite argument. I needed to be more open-minded; it was wrong not to be comfortable with our bodies.
The pictures that he sent me to try to convince me — including the ones of body-painted children — are available on nudist sites online. I realize now that he knew exactly what he was doing sending me those. He knew not to send me any private pictures of children he might have. And the pictures he did send did not depict any form of sexual activity. When I eventually went to the police, they informed me that the pictures he did send were not illegal, which is why they couldn't charge him with more than harassment.
When started trying to convince me to have my daughter be a nudist, he laid on thick the argument that children should not be ashamed of their bodies. He was very convincing. But I stood strong in that my daughter would not be nude in the company of any adults, nor would I allow her to see adult nudity. The pictures that he sent of himself did not involve him being aroused, and he wanted to me to show them to her to make her see that the naked body was not scary. But I NEVER allowed my daughter to see them.
It seems inconceivable that I would choose to stay with Rick at this point. And even now, I question why I did it. But Rick piled on the nudist campaign. He showed me nudist sites and groups online. He made me feel guilty for not being "open-minded".
Remember, predators are good at what they do.
Then there was the issue over the 13-year-old girl who he said had taken pictures of him while he was aroused. I wrestled with this. I remember the fear that went through my body when we had the conversation online about her. I argued with him about how wrong it was. But again, he said that this was how nudists were open-minded. This girl was a friend of the family, and this all supposedly happened in the context of a gathering of nudists. She had asked him questions about sex, he said, and shared with Rick her sexual experiences.
I never conceded to his viewpoint that this was all normal and natural. I knew it was wrong. To this day, I can't answer why I continued to talk to him after that. I was confused about the nudist lifestyle and what he was telling me about it, but he made me seem like I was the one that was wrong for not being as open-minded as he was.
Many of the comments on my previous article focused on the incident in my bed. Rick had spoken to me before about his desire to have a family and how the ultimate thing for him would be to snuggle in bed together as a family. Think of just about any family whose kids might climb into bed and snuggle with their parents.
When we did get into bed, Rick and my daughter were both fully clothed. I had on a robe. My daughter wasn't spooning with us. She was lying next to me, but apart. It wasn't sexual at all until Rick slipped out of his pants and made his move. I admit that I completely froze when it happened. It took me a minute to react because I was so horrified — Rick and I had never even had sex. The vast majority of our interactions were online, and this was only the third time we had seen each other in person. As soon as I could speak, I made my daughter leave the room and immediately made Rick leave. That was the last time we saw each other in person.
Yes, I continued to talk him, but it was pretty much over after that. Our conversations were basically just arguments over why there was no way in hell I was going to involve my daughter in my sex life. Ever. He was the one who insisted on still communicating. I didn't see the point, which is why I eventually blocked his number.
I didn't go to the police then because I had no proof that a crime had been committed. I had deleted my Yahoo account, which included all my conversations with Rick. I didn't think I would be taken seriously. To be completely honest, I didn't realize the gravity of what had happened until I had a chance to separate myself from Rick and take time to process everything.
I didn't know about his past until I went to the police about him stalking me. I had looked Rick up on the state's judicial site and the sex-offender registry when we started dating, but he had given me his middle name as his last name.
I can't answer why I let him get so far because I don't understand it myself. I'm not proud of it. I went through my own period of intense guilt for exposing my child to this man and why I let my desire for love and affection make me blind to what was really going on. And yes, I did get counseling. I've now learned healthy ways to deal with my feelings of insecurity and need for love.
I don't like to call myself a victim. I was just as much as fault as Rick was. So I fought back. I showed up for every court date for a year, even when it was continued time after time again. I stood up in court and admitted what I had let this man get away with. I told them every detail, no matter how shameful it was, because I wanted to expose Rick for what he really was.
CPS was never involved because, as close of a call as it was, ultimately my daughter was not harmed. Even after hearing the whole story, every horrific detail, my fitness as a mother was never called into question by the authorities.
The editors of xoJane asked me if I was sure I wanted to publish the story under my real name, and I said yes; however, they ultimately insisted, in my daughter's best interest, that I don't use my real name, so we went with a pseudonym. At first, I naively thought there wouldn't be an issue posting under my real name. After all, Rick had been prosecuted. I have a 50-year standing restraining order against him. I neglected to realize how vicious people could be online and that I could potentially be putting myself in harm's way.
My best friends stood by me and still support me 100% to this day. They trust me with their children. My one friend told me, "Sometimes we don't realize the mess we are in until someone who cares enough about you points it out." She also said, "People are going to be cruel, but they will unknowingly benefit from your story. They will look at people differently. And hopefully, a child will be saved from it."
And that's all I can hope for. That's what my article was meant to be — a cautionary tale. I know I made a mistake letting Rick into my life, and an even bigger mistake by letting him stay in my life for the few months that he did. I don't need over a thousand internet comments to tell me that. I've already punished myself enough.