Annie’s own dad was out of the picture. He got arrested when they were living in another state and he went to prison on drug charges. Since that time, her mom had had lots of boyfriends, but Annie just knew this one was going to be different.
For one thing, he was good to her mom – a “keeper,” as her grandma would say. Josh didn’t hit or throw things. He didn’t drink, or smoke, or use drugs. He hardly ever even yelled. Josh had a good job and they didn’t have to worry so much about money. She’d heard Josh and her mom talking about her mom quitting one of her jobs in order to be home more.
For another thing, Josh really seemed to “get” her. He was patient when Annie was having a bad day in middle school or a fight with one of her friends. He told her she could talk to him about anything. Sometimes, when Josh picked her up from school he’d take Annie somewhere for ice cream. Once, he took her to Jump Craze. Another time they went to the mall and he bought her the Vans she’d been wanting.
It was weird, though. Sometimes Josh said or did things that made her uncomfortable. Don’t misunderstand – Josh wasn’t creepy. Still…there was something that felt, well, wrong. She started expressing fears that someone was sneaking into her room and kissing her lips. One time, she told her mom about a nightmare that someone was touching her chest and “privates”. The dreams started coming more and more often, until she was waking up almost every night with her heart racing. But there was never anyone there.
Annie talked to Josh and her mom about the dreams. They listened carefully and assured her she was safe. No one was going to hurt her and that they were only dreams. Josh and her mom “smudged” her room to chase the bad dreams away. It didn’t help, but Annie stopped talking about the dreams.
One day at school, Annie was called to the principle’s office. Law enforcement from another state had contacted local investigators after pornographic images and videos had been found on a computer. There was a police officer and a lady from DFS waiting for her. They told Annie they were there to talk to her about being safe. The DFS lady asked about her friends, her mom, and Josh. They asked her lots of questions about her real dad. They asked about her dreams. Annie took a deep breath and told the investigators they weren’t really dreams; sometimes she would wake up and her dad was beside her on the bed. She’d pretend to be asleep, but she knew the touching was real.
Annie was taken to The Children’s Advocacy Project for a forensic interview. She was really nervous and didn’t really understand what was going to happen. There was a lady who opened the door and welcomed Annie and her mom to CAP. She was nice. The lady told Annie about the building and showed her the room she would be interviewed in. It was almost like a living room with a picture on the wall and comfy, overstuffed chairs to sit in.
The interviewer who spoke with Annie used protocol consisting of non-leading, non-suggestive questions to begin to understand what had occurred. During the interview, Annie was asked to describe the abuse in as much detail as possible. Annie did her best to tell the interviewer everything she could remember. The interviewer helped her feel comfortable by listening patiently and asking follow-up questions.
Sometimes it takes more than a village to save a child. Boyfriends aren’t always the bad guy. Legal jurisdictions do work together. Annie’s description of her bedroom when her mom and dad had been together matched the room in the images found on the computer. Annie also relayed experiences that were consistent with the abuse captured on video. Annie was finally able to disclose the abuse she had experienced. Josh’s support and willingness to listen to Annie created a safe environment. Local investigators responded swiftly to information provided from another agency.
The Children’s Advocacy Project is part of a team that includes forensic interviewers, law enforcement, DFS investigators, prosecutors, and mental health therapists who work together for the safety and well-being of child victims of abuse and gross neglect. In Annie’s case, the team also included law enforcement and prosecutors from another state. Sometimes victim advocates are involved as well. This multi-disciplinary team approach helps to provide justice and continued support for the child and family.
What happened with Annie? Both Annie and her mom attended regular counseling. Annie started playing volleyball on a school team this year for the first time. It has given her a love for team sports and she plans to continue playing. She wants to try out for her school basketball team next year as well. Annie’s mom and Josh got married and they have recently moved into a bigger house. She calls Josh “Dad.” Her biological father was charged, tried, and found guilty. He was sentenced to the maximum time allowed under that state’s statutes and, by the time he is eligible for release, Annie will be an adult.
In the meantime, Annie has the opportunity to heal, be a kid, and thrive in a safe home.