I Can't Stay Silent

We tell our kids not to drink, to not take drugs, to not watch pornography, to not smoke, but we don’t talk much about rape.  Do they know what rape really is or are they listening to all the excuses for what rape isn’t?

I can’t be silent.

My cell phone rang around nine o’clock in the evening and the voice on the other end asks if I know where my niece is.  My niece Cassidy moved into my home for the second time as a teenager, the first time at sixteen and the second time at eighteen.   Her age is significant because at eighteen most young adults are eager to make decisions on their own, go where they want to and spend time with whomever they want.  I’ve already been through this phase with my three older kids. 

Friends have asked me why my husband and I ever let her live with us in the first place.  She’s family.  I don’t know if I need to give any other reason or explanation, but I will.  When Cass was in ninth grade she had a boyfriend, she allowed him to take some photos of her on his phone that he promised he would never share with anyone.  And, you guessed it, he did.  It spread like wild fire throughout the school and Cassidy was devastated.  The school called her parents and predictably they scheduled a meeting.  The short of it, the boy didn’t get in trouble and Cassidy went into a depression.   My brother was the one who relayed the information and I was upset to say the least.  I could only imagine how embarrassed and horrified my niece must have felt.  The cruel words shouted at her were more than anyone should have to endure.

Our two families live about eight hours away from each other, so my house would give her a safe distance from the cruel teenagers at her school.  Within days, my brother and I agreed that it would be good for Cassidy to spend some time with my family and they made the eight hour drive it took to get from Texas to Missouri, praying the whole way.  Everyone who loved Cassidy wanted her to be in a safe place where she could heal.  We spent the next nine months living life, loving her and helping her process through hard things she had been through in her young life. 

There are so many things I love about Cassidy, we had a lot of fun and I learned from her.  After spending time with us, then going home to be with her family for over a year, she ended up coming back to us.  This time she was more broken than before.  This time, I saw a different Cassidy and it was more difficult to be part of her life.  Even when she didn’t know who she was anymore, I knew.   

Her brokenness was evident because she no longer felt like she deserved the best.  She was willing to settle and to be used.  Because of this, she was experiencing anxiety and depression.  

Broken people find broken people.  They found Cassidy and she found them. 

There were so many days that I was fearful to approach her bedroom because I knew she had hit such a low place that she felt like ending her life on several occasions.  Not knowing the condition I would find my niece was daunting. 

 I was there to help her through panic attacks by drawing a bath, talking her through her fears or taking a walk up my long driveway to get energy out.  I learned something every time and my capacity for compassion grew. 

The voice on the other end of my cell phone was an observer of something that concerned her enough to give me a call.  Cassidy was at a local grocery store, barely able to walk or talk.  The boy she was with had to hold her up and the video footage that the grocery store had showed she was extremely impaired.   Her boyfriend, although it’s difficult for me to call him that, was purchasing condoms and lubricant.  That boyfriend is the son of my friend, a really wonderful woman. The friend who called me that night; she’s a friend to the boy’s mom and to me.  It sounds a bit complicated, but I’m grateful she was at the right place at the right time. 

Divinely placed at the store at that moment, my friend called me.  She described for me what she witnessed and I quickly asked her to stop them from leaving the store. We hung up and I began dialing the parent of the boy Cassidy was with.  There was another boy who was driving Cassidy and her boyfriend around but he wasn’t in the store with them.  They all three drove away and after about thirty minutes the parents of her boyfriend talked them into meeting up so that they could bring Cassidy back to me.  The minutes were excruciating for me.  My mind flash-backed ten years prior to this phone call.  I was furiously driving around town looking for my oldest child, who was a teenager at the time.  The worry I experienced was an agonizing fear that I hope I never have to feel again.

After discussing where to meet, I started out on the drive praying and hoping that nothing tragic had happened to Cassidy that evening. When Cassidy got out of their vehicle it was evident that she couldn’t walk without someone helping her.

The boy’s mom assured me that she had checked her pulse several times to make sure she was ok.  I asked for as much information as I could think of asking at the time.  I asked what drug was she had taken, and if she had consumed any alcohol.  As expected, I didn’t get a straight answer.  All I knew for sure was that they all three took Xanax.  I asked the boy’s mom, who is a nurse if I should take her to the hospital but she made me feel comfortable about just getting Cass home and letting her get some sleep.

I tried to talk to Cassidy on the drive home but she was pretty out of it.  Once I was home, the boyfriend’s mom called to let me know her son confessed that besides the Xanax, they drank alcohol and that he was really worried about Cassidy.  I helped Cassidy down the basement stairs and into her bed.  Her jeans were too tight for me to help her get out of so I just took her shoes off and tucked her in. 

My body was shaking with fear.  I wasn’t able to fall asleep because I was worried about my niece.  Her words were quiet and unintelligible as she lay in her bed.  I wondered if I should stay in her room to watch her because I feared her not waking up. I had an night of unrest while I thought about the nights events over and over again.

In the morning I woke Cassidy up to go to work, but was shocked to see dirt all over her feet.  I pointed out her dirty feet and had her go wash them.  We were both confused by the muddy feet because everything was a blur.  She didn’t go to work that day.  She stayed with me and I just went about my normal day until I could see she was panicking.  She had been texting backing and forth with her boyfriend and he gave her details about the night.  She was horrified to hear about what happened.   It confirmed to her why she had scrapes, bruises and dirt in places that dirt doesn’t belong.  She felt ashamed and didn’t want to tell me what she found out so I pushed just a little to get her to open up. 

I was distressed and angry to hear what she had gone through and struggled with wanting to blame her for being with someone I told her was not good for her.  The good old, “I told you so”, was the last thing she needed to hear from me.

My mind wanted to go through every way she messed up by being in the situation she was in but I stopped myself.  Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. The perpetrator always has a choice while the victim doesn’t.   

I called the boy and asked him about what happened.  I ended up being able to talk to both boys because they were together and I already knew what they had texted to Cassidy so I had pieces of the story.

I called the parents and asked to meet.  His parents are good people and I don’t judge any parent by what their children do.  I know better than that.   Even though they pleaded with us to not press charges, Cassidy had to make the decision herself.  It’s a brave decision.  It’s a decision that could put a person under scrutiny or could save other girls from the same plight.

The next day, she decided that it was best for her to go to the hospital.  Each person who interacted with Cassidy and I at the hospital was kind and treated her with respect.  A dedicated nurse comes to the hospital for cases of rape. 

Even though she was with her boyfriend, she had taken a drug that made it impossible to make any type of sound decision.  Her boyfriend and his friend took advantage of her state.  Even though each time that her boyfriend’s best friend asked for her to have sex with him she had said no, he felt it was ok to have sex with her while she was drugged that night.  That is not consent.  He said she wanted it.  She couldn’t consent. 

Missouri Law describes consent as:  when you can show that the person you had sexual contact with was capable and did consent to all of the sexual acts involved.

If you want to see more about Missouri Law, click here

The nurse assured Cassidy that she did the right thing; telling her that the injuries on her body were consistent with rape, not relationship.  It took a lot for Cassidy to report the rape but she did it and I stand behind her decision. 

The day that I sat with Cassidy in the police station was memorable. It was a good day for her, not one of her panic attack, anxiety type days.  After waiting for Cassidy to finish her interview, it was my turn and I told the detective everything I could remember.

When he was done asking me questions, I asked him a question.

He probably thought I was the most naïve parent in the Springfield, Missouri area.  I told him that I heard our town is a high crime area for rape (among other things) hoping he would tell me that was only a rumor, that things aren’t really that bad. 

My fears weren’t calmed one bit, instead I felt infuriated.  Before that day, I felt safe. After my conversation with the detective, safe isn’t how I would describe my town. Our area is known for all kinds of crimes (rape, murder, robbery), yet only a small percentage of them are being dealt with. 

I still have two children that I’m raising.  My youngest child is a female, so my fears were not put to rest when I thought about the dangers she could be exposed to in my town, or in any town.  I don’t want to live in fear but I don’t want to turn the other way, ignoring what is going on. The reality is that I live in an area where I need to be aware of what’s going on. Springfield, Missouri has a higher amount of crimes committed than the national average.  It was quick and easy to find that information on the internet.   

There was a night after the incident that my family and I were watching a movie together in our family room which was just outside Cassidy’s room.  I felt a nagging feeling that I needed to go in there and talk to her so I peeled myself off the sofa and softly knocked on her door.  She was laying in bed so I sat beside her and engaged in conversation.

The next day, she opened up to me about how she was doing emotionally.  To my shock, she told me that she had planned to kill herself the night before and even wrote a suicide note. She took the steps to prepare for her suicide by going into my bathroom where I had hidden her old prescription medication and sneaking them into her room.  The pills were on her floor and the notebook underneath it. I asked to if I could read it so she grabbed her notebook and passed it to me. 

My heart sunk, all I could think about was how thankful I felt that she was alive.

I asked her why she didn’t kill herself.  Cassidy answered, “Because you came in my room to talk to me.” 

My heart sunk as I realized how important every decision we make is.  My decision to peel myself off the sofa saved a life.

Her bravery wasn’t enough.  Watching a girl go through the agonizing process of reporting a rape leads me to a greater understanding of how strong women are.

The boys had confessed while being recorded, it was a twenty minute detailed conversation while the detective sat listening and that wasn’t enough evidence.

The details that they shared made Cassidy experience anxiety.  Like most victims, she felt disgusted with herself.  She hated the fact that she couldn’t remember anything about that night but she went forward not only for herself but for all the other girls who will suffer the same way.

The rape kit, that wasn’t enough?

The scrapes, bruises and dirt, they weren’t enough?

The video footage of not being able to walk unassisted, that wasn’t enough?

What is enough? 

After months of gathering information, the prosecutor believed that they didn’t have enough evidence to press charges.  Shock!  Serious shock!

Why does all of this concern me?  Because apparently a guy can take advantage of a girl and get away with it, at least that’s the message I’m hearing.  What this says is that if a girl is drugged or drunk she deserves to be used.  

She gets to live with trauma while he moves on. 

She will deal with the flashbacks while he moves on. 

She will deal with her body remembering what her mind tries to block out and he will move on. 

Understandably, girls don’t rush to report a rape because in their experience most of the time girls aren’t believed.  The victim ends up living with the shame.  They think it’s easier to just ignore it but the sad thing is it shows up in various ways for years and years until she decides she better deal with it.  A predator seeks out the wounded and now that she is wounded, she might be susceptible to more victimization.

What did I learn?  I need to talk to my children more.  I need to know what’s going on in the teen world so I can properly guide my children and their friends.  I need to be available and not shame anyone who has been victimized.  Healing is a process that may take many years so be patient.  We, as parents need to team up. We need to have each other’s back and show support.

How is my niece?  She went back home after this ordeal and is working really hard to get her life back together.  She is changed, how can she not be?  She is disappointed with the outcome but satisfied that she spoke out.  She is a fighter, a survivor who will help other women who go through similar situations.  She is a good listener and she is bold.  Cassidy be the one to tell other women the truth; that it’s not their fault. 

What will I tell my sons?  Under no circumstance do you ever touch a girl who has been drugged or under the influence of alcohol.  She cannot say yes, so it is rape.  If you see a girl that is impaired in any way, take her home, call her parents but don’t be alone with her under that condition.  When a girl says no, she means it.  Respect her.  Be a gentlemen and you will stand out in a world that doesn’t even know what that means anymore.  Just because pornography portrays women as enjoying rough sex, rape and being belittled, doesn’t mean it’s true.  It’s fake, it’s damaging to men and women, not only in the moment but for a lifetime.  The pornography industry wants you to believe a lie. Watching it, believing it’s anything remotely real, will shape how you view and value women.  If you’ve seen it in the past or currently viewing pornography, stop it, talk to me or your Dad and we will help you get that junk behind you. 

What will I teach my daughter?  Don’t put yourself in a position where someone can prey on you.  Choose your friends wisely.  Know how to defend yourself.  Tell me if anything has happened so I can help you.  I will not shame you, I will support you.  Be there for your friends because unfortunately the likelihood of this happening to them is high.

According to the website www.pychiatrictimes.com , rape is a crime that is defined as an unwanted sexual act that results in oral, vaginal, or anal penetration.1 Generally speaking, there are 2 major types of rape. Forcible rape involves unwanted sexual penetration obtained by the use of force or threat of force. Drug- or alcohol-facilitated rape occurs when the victim is passed out or highly intoxicated because of voluntary or involuntary consumption of alcohol or drug.

In an article on www.rainn.org , is says the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported.

That should make your blood boil.  As parents we should be grieving the injustice that is happening daily.  The affect of rape doesn’t just hurt the victim but the whole family.  After the rape, Cassidy was offered free counseling for her and for her family.  Now I get it; after the whole process of reporting and then being told the case isn’t strong enough, there is devastation and fear.  A family needs to work through the trauma of rape because secondary trauma is a real thing.

According to the website www.aifs.gov.au , the term "secondary traumatization" is generally used to refer to the ripple effects of sexual assault where a secondary victim experiences similar trauma symptoms to the victim/survivor themselves.  Remer and Ferguson (1995) outlined a model of "trauma processing" that can be used to understand the effects of rape on both primary and secondary victims. The specific aspects that apply to secondary victims are:

§  Trauma awareness:  The secondary victim may not always know all the details straight away. Each disclosure by the primary victim may result in a new level of awareness for the secondary victim, both in terms of their knowledge of what happened, and the effects on the primary victim.

§  Crisis and disorientation:  For healing to occur, the trauma must be recognized, "dealt with", or "integrated". This recognition involves a degree of being "off balance".

§  Outward adjustment:  An appearance of coping, but without the full depth of the trauma having been "integrated". This occurs at both personal and relational levels.  Established relationship patterns will prevail, as if there had been a return to the previously existing status quo, usually until the primary victim begins to "move on" in her/his own healing process.

§  Re-organization:  New forms of relating will develop as a result of the "integration and resolution" of the trauma. Reorganization will also occur in terms of the personal cognitive schema of primary and secondary victims.

§  Integration and resolution:  The trauma is integrated and resolved within the person's life; the person has "recovered".

The literature suggests this is not a linear process.  Individuals may return to various stages from time to time in a back-and-forth process.  For example, if a primary victim feels she or he can trust a family member to respond in supportive ways, they may disclose further aspects of the abuse over time, perhaps prompting a return to the "awareness" phase. This may also mean the healing of the secondary victim is intertwined with that of the primary victim.


Because of Cassidy I can’t stay silent, because of your daughter, sister, or wife, I won’t stay silent. Together, let’s be a voice for all the victims.