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Sister molested, police won't help. What can I do?
January 31, 2009 10:09 AM   Subscribe

My sister was molested, and the authorities haven't done a thing. Is there anything I can do to move this along?

So, my little sister confided in me that she was sexually assaulted by her best friend's step-dad while she was sleeping over there. I let my parents know and then I took her to the hospital immediately while my parents got a hold of the police.

My sister's friend has also gone to someone and accused her step-father of doing the same to her. Later on she took it back and the case was dropped. Basically her screwed up mother brainwashed her into believing this was okay, and that if she did send her step-father to jail she'd have to go live with her real dad.

It's now been a year since this happened and after months of the police telling us they were looking into it, they've finally said they can't do anything about it. My sister's friend will not come forward and testify against this man.

Really? We have a doctor's report from the day after the incident stating she'd been touched. Isn't that enough? Basically because he says he didn't do it, and he didn't leave any DNA behind he's free to do this without worry?

This is absolutely disgusting and I can't believe this man isn't in jail yet.

I don't know if there's anything that can be done, but if there's any advice out there to help me put this dirt bag away and give my little sister peace of mind, I'd appreciate it.

I'm not sure if any state laws make a difference in this situation, but for added information we live in the state of Michigan.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
MICHIGAN Department of Child Services now! (http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124-5452_7119-21208--,00.html) (http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124-5452---,00.html)

Adult Abuse Reporting
and Protective Services 1-800-996-6228

Child Abuse Reporting
(24/7) Statewide 1-800-942-4357

I mean RIGHT NOW, goddamnit!
posted by Benjy at 10:18 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Then next, report the Police Department:

Mandated Reporter Hotline

If a mandated reporter is dissatisfied with the response by DHS, the mandated reporter may contact the Mandated Reporter Hotline at (877) 277-2585. Prior to calling the hotline, the mandated reporter must first attempt to talk with the local DHS office director about their concerns.

http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124-5452_7119_44443-157836--,00.html
posted by Benjy at 10:21 AM on January 31, 2009


All medical professionals involved are also legally required to report the suspected abuse to DHS as well. Don't be afraid to give out their names, if they did their jobs they're fine and if they didn't they're legally responsible.
posted by Benjy at 10:24 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do a lot of criminal defense work so I have seen situations like this from the other side of the table, so to speak. In my city there is very aggressive prosecution of child sexual assault, and this nonchalance you are getting from the police would never happen.

Here's my best suggestion. Figure out who is in charge of prosecuting child sexual assaults in your local district attorney's office. Contact them, tell them what happened, ask them what can be done. In most places, even if the police choose not to charge someone, that is not the end of the story. A district attorney can ask a grand jury to indict a suspect, so even if the police refused to bring charges, the person can be prosecuted anyway.

A district attorney is an elected official. It is political poison for a district attorney to be accused of not prosecuting child molesters aggressively. If the assistant district attorney who handles child molestation does not help you, go to the actual, elected district attorney him- or herself. You may have trouble getting through to them but don't stop calling until you get a meeting with that person.
posted by jayder at 10:25 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


My close friend was sexually abused as a child, then she was raped in her mid-teens. I met her in college, several years after she survived the rape. Her abusers where never brought to trial. When I found out about all this, I wanted to hunt them down, and do terribly violence.

I mention this to let you know that, in some part, I understand your frustration (and perhaps rage).

There's no doubt that abusers should be in jail, and that criminal justice can give some comfort to survivors. However, the emotional support of you and your family will make a much bigger difference in your sister's long term emotional health than the criminal conviction of her attacker. Read books. Read websites. Learn from survivors' stories. Learn how best to support your sister. Pursuing criminal or civil action might make you feel less helpless, but you have other ways of helping your sister.
posted by paulg at 10:47 AM on January 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


All my recommended solutions break the MeFi rules on helping you do something illegal.

In lieu of that, find one cop to help, and keep bothering him. Don't get runaround to generic officers.
posted by rokusan at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2009


Look, this sucks, and you should definitely take the above advice about pushing this along through alternate channels, and especially the advice about trying to be supportive for your system completely irrespective of any legal outcome, but... the cops may actually be doing their jobs here.

You've got pretty shaky evidence on which to ground a criminal conviction. All you've got is your sister's testimony and an inconclusive medical report. Without additional testimony, this isn't exactly "beyond a reasonable doubt." The legal presumption is innocent until proven guilty, and allegations aren't evidence. I'm not questioning you or your sister here, just trying to explain how this would go at trial. The prosecution would put your sister on the stand, defense counsel would ruthlessly cross-examine her (you sure you want to put her through that?), the medical report would be picked to pieces (all it really says is that the doctor thinks someone probably did something), and the guy would probably walk. All of which sucks, but as this is probably what the cops and DA are working with here, there isn't a huge incentive to pursue this thing without additional evidence in the form of your sister's friend's testimony, which they have been unable to procure. They probably aren't any happier about it than you are, but there probably isn't much they can do that they haven't already done.

This is why so much sexual assault goes unprosecuted. It's a pretty serious allegation which is frustratingly difficult to prove absent overt violence. Even if there does look like a good chance of conviction, the victim has to weigh that against the prospect of getting up on the stand and basically reliving the event under withering cross-examination, during which time they will probably be accused of fabricating the whole thing out of malice. In your case, a clever defense attorney could tell a story about how your sister, irrationally afraid for her friend, made up a story to get step-dad out of the picture. This is ugly and immoral, but it's just the way things are. Sometimes the best thing for victims to do is to face their assailants in court, stare them down, and do their part in sending them to jail. But sometimes it's best to just move past it as quickly as possible with a minimum of fuss, because the emotional damage to the victim that can be caused even by a successful prosecution can be fearsome.

You do have other legal options, but I can't really recommend them. For a civil suit, all the jury needs to believe is that it's more likely than not that the alleged assault took place, which is obviously a lot easier to prove. You can't send him to jail, but you can make life pretty miserable for the guy. But as a result, I'm not sure exactly what this would accomplish beyond that. The best you can probably hope for is a damages award (which will hurt his whole family), maybe combined with some kind of restraining order, but this doesn't really seem to me like the outcome you're looking for. You want him to go to jail, or at least suffer some kind of criminal sanction so that he doesn't do this again. A civil suit can't produce those results, so unless your family is running up counseling bills or something I can't say it's going to be worth it.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the legal system may ultimately not be your best bet here. It's the worst system possible except for everything we've tried before, as though lynch mobs do get the job done, they have their own problems, no? So don't fixate on the legal situation to the point that it interferes with your sister's ability to heal and move past it.
posted by valkyryn at 12:02 PM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want to echo paulg's advice that your emotional support is BY FAR the most important thing you can do for her. Don't get so caught up in your own anger that you forget to show and tell her that you love her. Remind her that she is innocent, and that there is nothing she did to cause this.

I can't elaborate more on this, but I've heard of it taking several years for police to investigate and arrest molesters, and I've heard of it taking days. In the mean time, it is SO important that you support your sister.
posted by !Jim at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2009


Isn't that enough?

No, it's not. American has what's called a legal system, and sometimes, it doesn't fall in every individual's favor.

What's known is that the girl says she was touched by the step-father's; the step-dad says he didn't touch her; a medical professional determined she was touched; and not a scrap of the step-father's DNA was found on her.

Um?

If you were the step-father, you probably wouldn't put yourself in jail on this non-evidence alone; afford him the same right.
posted by trotter at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2009


As a survivor I can not emphasize enough the importance of what paulg said. What was worst about what I went through was not the act itself: this was something I learned to deal with, learned to see as just one experience in my life, among many others. What did far more damage was growing up in a family where I felt that I had no one to turn to. This made the sense of powerlessness I experienced through being assaulted much worse, and it was the experience of powerlessness, rather than the physical nature of the act itself, that was hardest to come to terms with, that was central to what I went through.

That sense of rage that paulg mentions makes perfect sense to me, it is after all a reflection of the sense of powerlessness that the person feeling it is going through, of the fact that some very wrong happened and it has not been righted, and there is nothing the person experiencing can do about it, so that the fantasy of violent revenge makes perfect sense.

I do not want, or mean, to suggest that this is what you are experiencing but there is something you need to understand as you face the possibility that justice may not be done, something that might help you deal with this.

For there is a terrible and dark irony in all this. If my experience runs true and it is the experience of powerlessness that really matters, as much as the act itself, then we run a great danger. That danger is that in our wish to take justice on behalf of others we might, unknowingly, recreate that powerlessness all over again. This is what I felt during the wave of anti-paedophile vigilantism that overtook the UK at the turn of this century — a sense of other people deciding to feel angry on someone else's behalf without stopping to consider what they might think or feel and it left me scared all over again.

I've have been through my own experience of a failed attempt to prosecute the man that abused me. It was not me who initiated it, but another of his victims, unknown to me, but almost certainly a member of my wider family. When I was approached by the police I did not hesitate to volunteer what I knew, and to agree to act as witness, though this was a painful experience of itself. But through all this I had no great desire to see him punished. What I wanted, above all else, was for other people not to have to go through what I went through, to do what I could to make sure the abuse was stopped. I agreed to do what I did because someone else presumably felt the need for this to happen and the best thing I could do was to support that.

But for me jail and punishment seems, at best an imperfect way to get what I wanted, though it might be all we have. Jail, in particular, can be a terrible place for a child sex abuser, and I felt then, as I feel now, to add the pain and suffering of someone else to what I went through does nothing to help me, or make better what I went though.

I can not, and do not, claim to speak for everyone, but I am not alone in how I feel. This can be especially true for those whose abuser is also a family member. Sometimes, despite what they have gone through, they see that person as two people — their abuser, but also, still a member of their family, even as someone they might even still feel love for. They might not want to add the trauma of family breakup to everything else they have gone through. Instead they want the one thing that all of us want: for the abuse to stop.

So it might be the case that your sister's friend has been brainwashed, but it could also be that she is still capable of making up her own mind and she does not want to see her stepfather jailed, or perhaps she is feeling terribly conflicted over all this. It might seem like a terrible price to pay to see that justice will not be done, but I do not think it is necessarily the worst thing. The best thing that can be done, if this is the case (and you may never know), would to support that decision, because, for survivors, the continued ability to make our own decisions, in the face of powerlessness, is vital. I do not know the age of those involved, but I feel this still stands, regardless.

The best thing you can do for your sister is to be there for her, to allow her to understand that this is not something she has to feel shame over, above all to help her (and her friend) to make her own decisions, find her own way through this, rather than give into the impulse to try to act on her behalf. Prosecution and justice are, ultimately, things that are out of your own hands, healing, and dealing with this are not.

As a survivor healing comes through not allowing the abuse to have any more power over our lives, when it becomes one experience among many. This is perhaps an imperfect process, because we live in an imperfect world and to believe there is to be a single thing that can put right is to be mistaken, justice might help, but it will never solve the problem by itself. In the end this is why we are called survivors — because we have learnt how to survive.


(feel free, of course, to contact me, if you think it would help. Mefi mail and email are in my profile).
posted by tallus at 1:02 PM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've been through this twice with family members. This is my perspective
- The police departments in my area were both diligent in pursuing the case. In one case, the charge was against a day care worker, more than 10 years after the event. The day care is long since closed down but they still tracked down and interviewed former co-workers. However, they told us from the beginning not to count on the courts for our own healing or closure. Like valkyryn described, our case was just not strong enough to put a man in jail even though we were sure of what happened.
- The DA doesn't like to take on cases that they don't have reasonable chance of winning. Personally, I agreed - I thought that it would be far worse to have my loved one go through the trauma of a trial experience and being attacked by the defense attorney and then have the perp just walk free with the blessing of the whole court than to have the case shelved after the police investigation.
- The police now have this case in their records. If there are future allegation against this man, they may be able to show a pattern even though the individual cases might not have been strong enough. From what you say, he is likely to come to the attention to the police again so this is not the end of the story.
- Don't let your anger get to the point where your sister has to worry about you. You don't want her to not tell you next time because you got so upset. Let her know how you feel but keep your cool while you talk about it - keep the worst of your ranting and raving and dark revenge fantasies away from her.
- Has your sister had some counseling? How is the rest of your family doing? If some family counseling would help everyone deal with what happened (and the lack of justice), you might be able to get victim-witness protection to pay for it as well as individual counseling for your sister.
posted by metahawk at 1:05 PM on January 31, 2009


Please call 1 800 656 HOPE for information about local counseling services available to both your sister and you and the rest of your family which is usually provided, long term, free of charge. You and your family and sister can also call this number 24 hours a day to begin to process what has happened. All calls are confidential.
While it is natural to focus on resolution of what has happened through the justice system, it is also natural to use this focus to divert attention from the emotional consequences of the events. Please call the above number so that you and your family can begin to heal, regardless of what happens to the perpetrator. If you need any further information please feel free to memail me.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:06 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is some really terrible misinformation being offered in this thread.

(1) You've got pretty shaky evidence on which to ground a criminal conviction. All you've got is your sister's testimony and an inconclusive medical report. Without additional testimony, this isn't exactly "beyond a reasonable doubt." The legal presumption is innocent until proven guilty, and allegations aren't evidence. I'm not questioning you or your sister here, just trying to explain how this would go at trial. The prosecution would put your sister on the stand, defense counsel would ruthlessly cross-examine her (you sure you want to put her through that?), the medical report would be picked to pieces (all it really says is that the doctor thinks someone probably did something), and the guy would probably walk.

People are prosecuted and convicted based solely on one victim's testimony, every day, all over the country. It is absolutely wrong that one victim's testimony is not enough to meet the state's burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime. Without a doubt, the strength of the case depends on how credible the witnesses are, but please do not think that there is no chance of getting justice just because your sister is the only witness.

(2) The DA doesn't like to take on cases that they don't have reasonable chance of winning. Personally, I agreed - I thought that it would be far worse to have my loved one go through the trauma of a trial experience and being attacked by the defense attorney and then have the perp just walk free with the blessing of the whole court than to have the case shelved after the police investigation.

It's true the DA doesn't want to take cases that are flimsy, but nothing in anonymous's question suggests that this case would necessarily be weak. Credibility of a witness is key. What incentive or reason would anonymous's sister have to make this up? What would anonymous's little sister have against her friend's step-dad, to make such a scurrilous accusation? If she gets on the stand, yes, she will be cross-examined, but if the incident happened, and there is no identifiable motive for making this story up, she should not fear the judicial process.

******

These efforts by various commenters to paint the judicial process as excruciating for victims --- urging her to just forget about seeking justice against her molester --- are misguided. It's important when someone victimizes a child that the victims seek to prosecute. Nothing suggests that this case is weak. I suspect that these warnings ("do you REALLY want to be cross-examined by a vicious defense attorney?") really do deter people from seeking justice for their molesters, with the result that they continue to victimize kids. Anonymous and her sister should not fear the judicial process.
posted by jayder at 1:38 PM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sounds like the type of story some reporter or columnist from a newspaper or TV station might want to investigate. Maybe you could interest someone such as that. The glare of media interest sometimes gets things moving.
posted by Neiltupper at 1:48 PM on January 31, 2009


Please follow up on the case and please continue to mention the other girl and her original claims of assault. If she is still in the home with her step-father, she may be still experiencing abuse.

Know that no matter the ultimate outcome, you and your family have absolutely done the right things.
posted by onhazier at 3:16 PM on January 31, 2009


jayder, I didn't mean to suggest that the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law. To be sure, the legal system abandoned a requirement of two witnesses ages ago, and contrary to TV legal procedurals, circumstantial evidence is perfectly acceptable in court. All I meant to suggest is that this isn't exactly an open-and-shut case for the prosecution and that if they decide not to go forward it may well have something to do with this. Happens all the time, and it isn't necessarily a reason to be pissed at anyone other than the assailant.

I also don't mean to suggest that lack of prosecution is a good thing. It isn't. But it is a real thing, and people do make that choice for reasons that are compelling to them.
posted by valkyryn at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2009


Seconding the RAINN reference (1 800 656 HOPE). Also a great charity to donate to if anyone is in the mood after this thread (I know I am).
posted by vonliebig at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2009


I wish I could triple-favorite jayder's post, but in absence of that power, I repost the most-importest part:

These efforts by various commenters to paint the judicial process as excruciating for victims --- urging her to just forget about seeking justice against her molester --- are misguided. It's important when someone victimizes a child that the victims seek to prosecute. Nothing suggests that this case is weak. I suspect that these warnings ("do you REALLY want to be cross-examined by a vicious defense attorney?") really do deter people from seeking justice for their molesters, with the result that they continue to victimize kids. Anonymous and her sister should not fear the judicial process.

Even if posters didn't intend to discourage that the OP fight the good fight, that's what the effect is. We are herd animals, driven by peer pressure, and it's too easy to avoid an unpleasant duty, especially when we feel it might fail.

For your sister's sake, and your long-term peace-of-mind, pursue this. Fight the bastard. Make the system work.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:55 PM on January 31, 2009


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