Sixteen-year-old Hailey had a long history of migraines dating back about three years. They were debilitating, often sending her to bed in agony for more than a day. Because of her health, her family decided online schooling was a better option for her. Hailey found online schooling unchallenging and had gone from a straight A student to barely passing.
She had undergone many tests including MRI’s and CT scans, blood work, and nerve conduction studies, and had been seen by doctors in Wyoming and Colorado. Hailey was taking seven prescriptions daily that left her tired and unable to focus. Finally, her local neurologist told her parents that there was no physical reason for condition and suggested the underlying cause was most likely related to “some sort of trauma or mental health issues.” As it sometimes happens in these cases, Hailey’s fourteen-year-old cousin had disclosed sexual abuse by her father the week before, which immediately raised alarms in her mom’s mind.
Hailey’s mom took her for a “mother/daughter date” that included pedicures and ice cream. When they got home, her mom sat in the car and quietly asked, “did your tio touch you?” Hailey denied emphatically. Her mom’s “mommy sense” didn’t buy it and she went on to tell Hailey that her cousin, Maria, had disclosed sexual abuse by her father, Hailey’s uncle. Hailey promptly broke into tears, “He told me he’d leave her alone if I didn’t tell.” Her mom promptly started the car telling him to meet them at the Casper Police Department where Hailey made a statement.
Hailey spoke quietly and thoughtfully with the detective while her mom and dad listened in stunned silence. They were a close-knit family and did everything with Maria’s family. Hailey and thirteen-year-old sister, Adelina, practically lived at Maria’s house. They often spent the night and, after Maria and Adelina were asleep, Hailey’s tio would come get her out of bed and sexually abuse her. He threatened to do the same with Adelina and Maria if Hailey ever told anyone and Hailey kept the secret for three years before learning he lied and was also abusing his step-daughter, Maria. Adelina was also interviewed and it was determined that she had not been victimized.
The detective scheduled forensic interviews for both Hailey and Adelina at The Children’s Advocacy Project. Adelina denied any abuse and it was determined she had not been victimized. Hailey disclosed and was referred to counseling with a trauma therapist at CAP. Over a period of two years, Hailey participated in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and EMDR as she processed the abuse and began to heal. The therapeutic process took time. While healing emotionally, Hailey began to have fewer migraines and cut back on prescription medications. She began to focus better, and her grades and outlook improved. She even reached out to the best friend she’d cut herself off from.
When time came to prosecute her tio, Hailey and her family decided to accept a plea agreement that would allow both Hailey and Maria to avoid testifying. At the sentencing hearing, Hailey faced him while she told the judge the story of her abuse, the threats and manipulation she had experienced. She carried with her a copy of all 725 pages of her medical record and a bag containing empty bottles that had once held both the prescription and over-the-counter medications she had once taken on a daily basis to show the judge. Her uncle was sentenced to twenty years and will be deported upon release from prison.
It's been eight years since Hailey made her statement to a detective. She still struggles with depression and anxiety, but has attained a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Wyoming and works with underprivileged children in another state. In 2020, Hailey met her future husband and they now have a daughter, Isabella, named after Hailey’s maternal grandmother.
Trauma doesn’t look the same from victim to victim.
In Hailey’s case, she exhibited somatic health concerns, specifically migraines. She completely isolated herself from friends and became anxious when she left the house. Her grades fell. Other child victims have been known to go from average to straight A students, or suddenly keeping a spotless room. Still others become promiscuous or begin engaging in high risk behaviors including drugs and alcohol. The common denominator is that the changes can’t be attributed to a known event, are extreme, and happen suddenly.