You want to see a miracle? Be the miracle. ~God in Bruce Almighty
If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other? ~God in Evan Almighty
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance. ~George Bernard Shaw
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. ~Albert Einstein
Just follow your heart. That's what I do. ~Napoleon Dynamite
I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. ~Frank Costello in The Departed
Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer. ~Mark Twain
This is a doughnut stuffed with M&Ms. That way when you're finished with the doughnut you don't have to eat any M&Ms. ~Dr. Rick Marshall in Land of The Lost
I can't control the cards I'm dealt, just how I play the hands. ~Professor Randy Pausch
Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. ~Professor Randy Pausch
I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. ~Michael Jordan
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. ~Mohandas Gandhi
To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing. ~Raymond Williams
I keep finding in the news, on blogs, and other places that people publish opinions (sometimes disguised as, or obscured with, facts) the message that you were “spared from having to testify at trial” and your attacker was released from prison after serving only five years, only to attack more young girls just like you. That message might mislead some to draw conclusions that would be wrong. And it breaks my heart to think that it might be hurting you.
I know that you weren’t spared at all.
I know that although you weren’t spared, you spoke up back then.
John Albert Gardner was not released too soon from prison to attack other girls because you didn’t testify at trial. He was put in prison because you did speak up, for yourself and for those other girls. He was released too soon because our laws do not adequately protect victims of sex crimes. He attacked those other girls because he is a monster.
The fact that he was still able to harm others is a failure of our society and our legal system. But you – at the tender young age of thirteen – did all that you could do to stop him, and you did stop him for as long was possible given our woefully inadequate legal system.
Our stories ought to dispel the notion that not testifying at trial is the problem. I can’t tell your story, but I want to try to shine a light on it by telling another from three perspectives, all mine. In particular, I want to pick apart the fallacy that you were spared. My purpose is to honor you, and other girls like you, who speak up. And, I’m not forgetting for a minute that there are many more girls of all ages and in a wide variety of circumstances unable to speak for themselves, so we have to speak up for them, too, whenever we are able.
A Prosecutor’s Perspective
I lay claim to the prosecutor’s perspective because I worked in the office of the Los Angeles District Attorney as a certified law clerk during my last year of law school. I assisted the D.A. with hundreds of cases, including sex crimes, and prosecuted over sixty felony preliminary hearings on my own. I learned in law school, working as a Judicial Extern for a federal judge, and during my time in the D.A.’s office that most cases are resolved by a plea agreement. There are many reasons for plea bargains, including that the criminal justice system would collapse if every case went to trial.
One of the reasons often first pointed to in cases involving sex crimes, is that a plea agreement makes it easier for the victim. It doesn’t. It might spare the victim from telling the story in one courtroom setting. But it doesn’t spare him or her from telling the story. And, in some cases, the victim actually wants to tell the story at trial and doesn’t get the opportunity.
What is also overlooked is that a conviction in any case requires that a jury find that the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime charged was committed by the defendant. In cases involving sex crimes especially, guilty is a very difficult verdict to get. A plea bargain can ensure that the perpetrator will be sent to prison for some period of time rather than risk being set free entirely.
Even to get the case to the plea bargain stage, the victim must endure telling the story multiple times, e.g., to family members, police officers, social services, prosecutors, physicians, and mental-health professionals. I know that you had to endure that.
A Parent’s Perspective
I have three daughters, two of whom are now about your age. I also have a daughter who is now just a few years younger than you were when you were attacked. I can tell you that the strongest urge that I have in my life is to protect my children. If something happened to one of them, my first and foremost concern would be their overall health and safety. Sometimes our children’s interests and the interests of the community are one and the same. At particular points in time, though, it may seem that our children’s interests and the interests of the community conflict. If that were to happen with one of my children, I would put her interests first. If that is what your parents did for you when making decisions about you, their minor child at the time, then I believe that they did their best as parents.
A Survivor’s Perspective
When I was fourteen, I testified against my father in court for sexually abusing me throughout my childhood.
My father was in the courtroom, the right of the accused in our legal system. He stared hatefully at me while I sat on the witness stand and answered the prosecutor's questions. I had to describe in graphic detail what he did to me over a seven-year period, some of it violent. When it was over, it was decided, not in consultation with me, that he would plead guilty to whatever offense it was that they offered him.
Plea bargains are not always made to spare the victim from testifying. Plea agreements often take place following the testimony.
My father served time in prison, followed by time in a mental-health facility, and became a registered sex offender. At the time that my father was released, my mother took him back. I was 16 and still living at home. Back then registered sex offenders had to carry a card with them at all times identifying them as such. My father showed his card to me, and my mother asked me to look at it carefully and afterward reminded me of it regularly, as though it was a burden that I had caused him. I moved out when I was 17. At the time, operating in naiveté and denial, I believed that my father had molested only me, learned his lesson, and would never touch another child. I later found out that he molested other victims, and that he has since been in and out of prison for violent crimes. Although I have no contact with either of my parents, the last I heard, he is out again.
I recently filed a written report with law enforcement, and have had several conversations with a detective in the jurisdiction where my father resides, not for the purpose of further punishing my father (there is nothing that I need from him for me), but to warn other potential victims so he cannot hurt anyone else, and so that law enforcement could monitor whether his description matches any unsolved crimes. If he has re-offended, those victims can be helped and other potential victims beyond them protected. It seems to me that the most effective thing that I can do now concerning my father is to make sure I fully warn those charged with the duty to protect innocent people like us from dangerous people like him.
I am NOT saying that testifying in court is useless. Speaking up is never useless – before court, in court, and after court. My father was put away and placed on sex offender registry, just like John Albert Gardner was put away and placed on that list. Even as inadequate as are our laws, and as painfully short as the enforcement system came to keeping those two monsters from hurting others, they were put away and marked to warn others because two little girls spoke up.
Telling the story is essential for our safety and our healing, and one of the most difficult things imaginable. We must work together so that the story in which any one of us might find ourselves does not become the subject of rank speculation and misguided opinion. Rather, we must ensure that every survivor is supported and uplifted by the community. Our laws must change so that when survivors speak up about violent sex crimes, the result is a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the perpetrator. Victims of violent sex crimes don’t get a second chance; neither should the perpetrators.
From time to time people will say that a particular case will inspire positive change in our laws or our community. And from time to time it will – and that is a very good thing. I want you to know that what you did inspired positive change too. When you spoke up back then, you got that ball rolling. You are a hero.