Wednesday, April 29, 2009

National Crime Victims' Rights Week - Part I

by Lucy Puryear, M.D

In honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, I would like to present a case of mine that tells the inside story of someone suffering from being the victim of crime. In Part One, I will present her story. In Part Two tomorrow, I will discuss the case and talk about the after effects of incest and rape. This is a real story, although details have been changed and identifying features altered to protect confidentiality.

Elizabeth was a young girl of three when her stepfather began molesting her. She doesn't remember much about those early years, but has vague memories of being scared at night and not wanting to be left alone with her stepfather. Her mother told her that she was frequently treated for urinary tract infections when she was little.

At the age of five, Elizabeth remembers her stepfather calling to her from the garage, "Come help me fix your brother's bike." She was both excited and uneasy. Excited that her stepfather was asking for her help and uneasy that she would be alone with him, away from the eyes of her mother. "Come on, we'll go for ice cream afterwards." It was the first time she remembers her stepfather putting his fingers inside of her and more. It wouldn't be the last.

The abuse happened until she was thirteen. It stopped when her mother and stepfather divorced and her mother and she moved out of town. She never told her mother or a teacher or her best friend. Her stepfather told her not to tell or he'd kill her mother. She believed him and kept her mouth shut.

Elizabeth got good grades in school, was in Girl Scouts, and sang in the church choir. No one ever asked her if there was anything wrong. No doctor ever questioned her urinary tract infections. Her mother never wondered why Elizabeth tried to avoid being alone in the house with her stepfather.

In high school, Elizabeth started getting in trouble. She started hanging out with the "cool" kids and would meet up with her friends to smoke pot before school started. Drinking and other drugs followed and her grades began to slip. Drinking and drugging were an everyday occurrence and sex with any boy who showed her some attention was not uncommon.

Elizabeth's mother couldn't understand why her daughter was acting so out of character. She had been a sweet child and always willing to do any chore that was asked of her. She never complained and seemed to get along with everybody. Although Elizabeth never seemed very popular or had friends over to the house, her mother thought it was just because she was shy and liked spending time with her mother. She considered them to be very close.

In college, things seemed to turn around. She was able to get a scholarship to a small college out of town. Elizabeth decided it was time to turn her life around and put the past behind her. She made great grades and some good friends. No more drugs or alcohol and no more promiscuity. She was determined to go to law school and make something of herself. She wasn't going to be a victim to what happened to her as a child.

In law school, Elizabeth was studying late one night in the law library. Constitutional law was her most difficult and most interesting class. She wanted to do well in the hopes of getting a prestigious clerkship.

"I wanted my mom to be proud of me again. I know I had let her down when I was in high school. I was a really bad kid and caused her lots of grief," she told me on her first visit to my office. "I was raped that night. I caused her grief again."

Elizabeth was referred to me three months after she was attacked and sexually assaulted by a man who accosted her as she walked across the semi-dark campus. She didn't recognize the man and was unable to recall any distinguishing features. She just remembered his voice telling her not to scream or he would kill her. She thinks he had a knife but was too frightened to check. When he finished he told Elizabeth not to move for an hour or he would come back for her. She lay there for what seemed like forever before she found the nerve to walk home. She did not report the assault to the police.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "It was stupid of me to be walking alone that night. I was just asking for trouble, at least he didn't try to kill me. It could have been a lot worse."

Elizabeth had taken a leave of absence from law school and moved back home to be with her mother. She had not told the school about the assault, only saying that she was ill and would need to take some time off.

In my office I saw a woman severely depressed. She wouldn't look me in the eye, sat on my couch wringing her hands, and couldn't stop crying. She had lost twenty-five pounds in the last three months and was close to being hospitalized for the effects of malnutrition. Elizabeth kept repeating over and over again, "It's all my fault, it's always been my fault."

Please share your thoughts and feelings about Elizabeth and how you might go about helping her. In Part II tomorrow, I'll post my thoughts and relate how Elizabeth is doing.


Anonymous said...

I too am a survivor of rape. My story is different yet very similar. The feelings that she had are "normal" To feel it was your fault, thats what i have read. Elizabeth needs to be strong and realize it was not her fault, it was the person that did it that has the issues. I went to the police but they did absolutely nothing and I knew who the man was, because it was on a date and he drugged me, but because I could not remember where he lived and because I showered the SUFFOLK COUNTY PD, NY did nothing. I also went to the hospital where a woman in her 70's came to the waiting room and told me there was really nothing they could do, she gave me some pamplets. So even if you go seek help, it doesn't mean you are going to get it. Elizabeth needs to keep her head high and strive to be the best she can in life. She survived this long and is obviously a very strong willed person. I hope Elizabeth is doing better.

Leah said...

Elizabeth's story is much like mine. I was molested by my paternal grandfather for years. I hated spending the summers with him and would rather have jumped off a bridge than to be left alone with him while my grandmother went to the store or visiting or whatever. I can remember to this day his awful nasty smell of sweat and sometimes alcohol. It will be with me forever. I also remember him repeatedly saying, "Now, don't go telling anybody cause I'd hate to see you get into trouble." I really believed would.

The first time I had sex I was raped. I had run away from home because my mother had anger issues and wouldn't deal with them. I didn't report it because I too felt like it was my fault. If I hadn't run away it would never have happened and I figured that is exactly what my parents would tell me. In fact, it would be many years before I even admitted to myself it was a rape. I was 15 years old when this happened.

I went back to FL and lived with my uncle, the only sane person in my family, got my GED and was accepted to a college out west. I wanted it that way. To be away from everything/everyone I knew and that had let me down and caused me so much pain. I associated myself with the smartest, kindest and happiest individuals I could find and I adopted their ways of living. I learned all over again how to live and be a productive adult. Making that move was the best decision I ever made and it changed my life for the better. I did have therapy several different times along the way and that gave me the strength and means to reconcile with my family [except my mother, we have been estranged since 1990 and I was 24].

I do my very best to never look back but there are times like this when you hear about someone else and it all comes back. Only this time I am strong enough to handle it. Elizabeth probably needs meds as I did. And with the meds and an excellent therapist like you, and a good support system she should come through this just fine.

Lucy Puryear MD said...

Thank you all for your honesty about your own lives. It is important to know that there can be recovery and healing with good counseling and sometimes medication. I wouldn't be in the business I'm in if I didn't believe in redemption.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts about the case tomorrow.

Rose said...

Poor Elizabeth. My heart is broken for her. She needs a great listener and a safe place to process all of her emotions, feelings and details.

And that B*(&^&^&&* of a step dad needs to be prosecuted.

Leah said...

The Statute Of Limitations has probably run out on Elizabeth's case. I found out that when my parents considered prosecuting my grandfather [I was 14 and had been molested for 8 years] the sheriff in their rural community wouldn't do it because we weren't Alabama residents. This was back in the mid 70s. Actually the real reason was that he was considered a pillar of the commmunity and they didn't want the embarrassment. Then after I moved backe to AL from living out west I was 24 and I talked to a lawyer about is [I was a paralegal by then] and found that for child sex crimes the Statute of Limitations begin when the child turns 18 and run out two years after that. So I was too late. I don't think there should be a Statute of Limitations for sexual crimes against children. I even lobbyied the Alabama Legislature for this but the majority didn't feel that it was worth LEs time to chase down child molesters indefinitely. Very sad and needless to say I wasn't my grandfather's only victim.

Unknown said...

It broke my heart reading Elizabeth's story. I am a mother who encountered things my girls had written alleging abuse by their father. In my case I was the one vilified. I have read that is common. I sought help, but the system further abused me and I have literally been driven from my girls.

My situation is in a family that has a stellar image. It is also in a family with a highly publicized unresolved murder. I live with real fear everyday.

I decided to dig into the unresolved murder and have been further devastated by what I have learned. The family has not been forthcoming about circumstances in the case and have influenced a man wrongfully for the crime. Authorities involved in the case tied this man to another murder and gained a wrongful conviction.

I am faced with revealing things that my daughters may have even supressed. I continue to take a pounding by people who want to attach other motives without knowing the circumstances.

With documents in my hand, I was a mother crucified by the system and my girls still do not get genuine help.

I hope for Elizabeth, as I hope for my girls, that she can be proud of herself, speak up, and let people know the courage she has had. Shame is a crippling control and should be broken.

Cheryl Dubey said...

Thank You to all of you for sharing your stories. It saddens me to know that these things have happened. I appreciate the strengh and courage each of you have and your willingness to share with us what you went through.