ST. CLAIR, MICH. - She wasn’t even old enough to start kindergarten when the abuse began.
But she knew when it was coming.
Her father’s voice would change, he would call her to him, he would take off her pants and underwear, and then he would touch her inappropriately, the same way each time. She would freeze, too scared to move or talk.
The 33-year-old St. Clair resident was a victim of sexual abuse until she moved out of her parents’ home. The Times Herald does not publish names of sexual assault victims.
“I always knew it was wrong,” she said. “I just wanted it not to happen. He would say ‘you have to listen to me, I am your dad, come here,’ and he would get angry if I didn’t listen. He would say ‘you are a little girl, you can’t tell anybody, no one will believe you.’ He would brainwash that into me.”
A year ago, her father was sentenced to two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, said Sheryl Eckert, St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office victim rights coordinator.
The victim said while it was a long and emotional process, she hopes other victims also find the strength to tell their stories.
National Crime Victims Rights Week is April 2-8, and calls attention to the resources in the community that victims can access. Reporting any crime, especially sexual assault, can be daunting and scary, but there are resources in the community to make it less intimidating.
Eckert said many victims don’t report crime because they are embarrassed, shameful, received threats from an abuser, are being controlled by an abuser, or are afraid of the legal system. The St. Clair County Victims Rights staff is an advocate for crime victims and provides services to victims. Advocates provide a wide range of support from answering questions to sitting in the courtroom with victims.
The 33-year-old St. Clair victim said her case took about a year and a half to go through the process, but it was worth it.
“(The abusers-molesters) keep continuing and doing it,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing. People think molesters are these weird, creepy quiet people, but the people that molest children are family, friends, neighbors you welcome into your home. It was my dad who was a Sunday school teacher, an elder, a deacon.”
While the touching always made the St. Clair resident uncomfortable, she never told anyone because she was ashamed, embarrassed, didn’t know if it was even a crime, and she wanted to push the memories away. Fast-forward through her teens and early adulthood, through the birth of her three sons, and finally her daughter.
“The turning point for me is when I had my daughter,” the victim said. “I thought I had to do whatever I could to do to protect her. That was my thinking: stop it from happening to other people.”
Different criminal offenses have different statutes of limitations, meaning the maximum amount of time you have to report a crime after it happens. There is no statute of limitations for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
She said she dreaded testifying – she didn’t want to re-live those memories – but she knew it needed to be done.
“I testified and it was horrible because they are asking every detail. It is a lot, but I had to do it, so I did it,” she said. “I know I did the right thing. I just feel if every person who got molested could stand up and really do what I did that would be amazing, even though I did it late and didn’t know if it was a case that could be taken, but I wish other victims knew that they have a voice and legal rights, and what happened to them is wrong.”
She said while pressing charges doesn’t take away the trauma or guarantee something as simple as an apology, it does give victims a voice and a chance to prevent their abuser from abusing anyone else.
Juana Studier, 32, of Marysville, was a domestic violence victim who also gained support through the Victim’s Rights Unit.
“It is kind of scary going through (the court procedure),” Studier said. “But you can’t give up. I know a lot of people give in because they get tired of spending years in and out of the courtroom. It gets exhausting, but it is well worth it.”
Studier’s ex-husband was charged with one count of home invasion first degree, one count of unlawful imprisonment, one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, one count of domestic violence, third offense, one count of aggravated stalking, and habitual offender fourth offense.
“I never gave in and he tried to get his attorney to work with me to lower the sentence but I didn’t budge, and the prosecutors never made me feel like I needed to budge, they were there for me,” Studier said. “They worked to keep him behind bars to keep me and my daughter safe.”
Eckert said if someone is a victim of child sexual abuse and wants to report it many years later, he or she needs to call the police department in the jurisdiction where the abuse took place. So if the abuse happened in Port Huron, the victim would call the Port Huron Police Department.
If someone is a victim of sexual abuse and wants to report it immediately, they should call the police and go directly to a local hospital to have a rape kit completed.
For all other crimes, the procedure is the same as well – call the police department where the incident took place. In general, police will take a report from the victim and gather any other evidence, talk to the suspect, and then create a report to submit to the prosecuting attorney for a charging decision.
Victims can call the St. Clair County Victim’s Rights Unit at (810) 985-2301 with questions about any aspect of the procedure. Blue Water Safe Horizons, which also offers support services for sexual assault and domestic violence victims, can be reached at (810) 985-4950.
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Contact Nicole Hayden at 810-989-6279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nicoleandpig.
© 2017 Port Huron Times Herald