Part 1: Walking in the darkness, tripping over the truth

On a Tuesday morning in early June, my husband and I left the house early to brave the traffic into downtown Los Angeles. We had an appointment with “Bob,” a detective who works in the Juvenile Division-Abused Child Section of the Los Angeles Police Department. I had pages of questions to ask him on how he handles child sexual abuse cases. I needed answers to help me develop a critical section of my novel. (See Entering into the Darkness.)

I had taken the day off from work knowing that after the hour-long interview, I would need time to process what I learned. Little did I know, I would also need oodles of emotional energy.

Nervous with anticipation, I called the detective when we arrived in the area. We circled the block as we waited for him to walk from his office to key us into the fortified parking garage.

I prayed as we waited. “Lord, thank you for this opportunity. You keep opening doors for me to get this story written. Help me to ask the right questions.”

After we parked, we followed him to the jail across the street while he turned in an arrest report. Dressed in street clothes, Bob is a soft-spoken, Hispanic man in his forties. Opposite from his side arm, a Smartphone was attached to his belt which constantly required his attention, yet he was remarkably present with us and focused. As we walked, I asked how long he had been in this division. Over fourteen years, he said. He’s had opportunities to move on to other departments, but he just couldn’t leave this job. The work was too important.

“Why are you writing about this particular topic?” Bob asked.

“The theme of my story is when evil is ignored, it flourishes. I’m trying to show how denial makes abuse worse.”

“Sounds like that quote… how does it go? ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”

“Exactly! That quote is in the title pages of my novel. It’s by Edmund Burke,” I replied.

His errand at the jail completed, we walked to a Starbucks. The line was out the door.

“Do you need anything?” He asked. “I’ve already had my coffee this morning.”

My husband shook his head.

“No, I’m good,” I replied.

All of the shaded tables in the courtyard were occupied. We sat at a small table in full sunlight and squinted at each other. I pulled out my pages of questions and a spiral notebook.

We worked through quite a few questions regarding cases of child sexual abuse. Things got a bit crazy when I got to the following question—a necessary one as the 10-year-old victim in my novel is being molested by her older brother.

“While a 15-year-old perpetrator still needs to be held responsible for his actions, do you believe it’s possible that he is simply curious and not a pedophile?”

“I noticed in your questions that you use the words ‘pedophile’ and ‘child molester’ interchangeably,” Bob said. “Be very, very careful how you use the term ‘pedophile.’ Pedophilia is a medical diagnosis. A medical professional must determine if a person is a pedophile—someone who is only aroused by prepubescent children. I read this study by Dr. Joseph Smith in Ireland. He studied child molesters. He learned that most perpetrators knew they were pedophiles between the ages of 14-18. Pedophilia never goes away. Everyone else is a child molester.”

[For a clear distinction between pedophiles and child molesters, see Pedophile or Child Molester?]

I had never understood the difference between a child molester and a pedophile. It was a personal, earth-shaking nugget of truth. Like many first-time novelists, my work of fiction grew from the seed of real-life experience: I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

Safe in the knowledge that my personal experience was well beyond the statute of limitations, I felt free to ask a burning question: “Detective, I really needed to know the difference between a pedophile and a molester. I was molested by my older brother and I need to know if he was just curious.”

“Did you ever report it?” He asked.

“No.”

“How old were you?”

“Well, my earliest memory is age 4. My final memory—I was about 13.”

“How much older is your brother?”

“7 years.”

The detective asked me questions about the specific instances of sex abuse, which I won’t go into here.

“Did he ever show you pornography?”

“No.”

“Is he married, with kids?”

“Yes.”

“How old are the kids?”

“The oldest is in college and the youngest is around 10.”

“Have you ever talked to him about it?”

“Never. But we sort of dealt with it a long time ago when I was 19. Just before he got married, over 20 years ago, my oldest sister asked me about a vague memory involving my brother and me. I had never even thought about the abuse, but when she asked me about it, instant memories popped up. Later, she told my parents and brother about our conversation. He cried. He didn’t think I had remembered any of it. He begged for forgiveness. Soon after that, I wrote him a letter saying I forgave him but I never wanted to speak of it with him. My parents finally talked to me about it. They told me they tried to protect me by keeping us from being alone in the house together. Funny thing is, most of the stuff happened while they were home.”

“Have you ever gone to counseling?”

“Yes—in my 20s. It was really helpful.”

“That’s good. The thing is, now that you’ve told me this, I have to do something about it,” Bob said.

“What… what do you mean? This happened 30 years ago.”

“I’m a Mandatory Reporter. He has underage children at home. I have to do something with this information if you don’t.”

My heart shuddered. What had I done? “Can I have some time to think about it? Like, a couple of weeks?”

The detective just looked at me.

I stared at the table. “Like we said earlier, ‘All that is necessary for the evil to win is for good men to do nothing.’ I know. I have to do something. I’ve always wondered if it was still going on. Oh Lord. His oldest is around 20.”

The detective spoke with quiet authority. “Even if it is still going on, and even though you didn’t report it sooner, it’s not your fault if it happened to someone else.”

It was very difficult to get back to the interview. But I asked him a final question. “What keeps you sane amidst all of this darkness?”

He smiled. “My faith in Jesus. My family. I have an extremely supportive wife. A sense of humor. I exercise when I can.”

“Tell me about the victims who inspire you.”

“There are a handful of kids who best represent all victims. They’re so brave. When I’m singing at church, I pray for them by name.” The detective got all choked up as he spoke. Tears sprang to my eyes. This man has remained soft hearted even as he is a fierce warrior against evil.

As we concluded our meeting, the detective reminded me that I had to report my abuse or he would—he had 24 hours to do something about it. He said to look up child investigations in the county. Call the hotline. Get the case number and give it to him so he would know the issue was being taken care of.

My husband drove us home. My hands felt like wood.

“I can’t believe you told him all that,” my husband said. There was no judgment in his voice. Just acknowledgement of what had happened.

“Me neither.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have to make the call. Now I have no choice.” I paused. “I think this was supposed to happen.”

“It’s kind of a win-win. You’ll either have peace that everything’s okay, or you’ll keep others from being abused.”

My husband knows my history. Years ago he asked the question: “What if it’s still happening?” But I’ve always shrugged it off—minimizing what happened to me, and believing that my brother was just curious. He didn’t mean to hurt me. By all outward appearances, he is a good Christian man: husband, father, provider. But what if he’s only good on the outside? I don’t know because I’ve always stayed far away from him.

“What if they find out it was me who made the call?” I fretted.

“What are you so afraid of?”

“I don’t know. I guess I don’t want my family to think I’m still hanging on to this.”

When we got home, I took a nap. A brief escape. When I woke up, I found the hotline number I would need to call, far away in another state, then began writing out my notes from the meeting. Stalling.

At 7 o’clock, my phone rang. It was the detective. “Have you made the call yet?” He asked with no preamble.

“No, but I looked up the number to the hotline. I’ll do it now,” I replied.

“Okay, call or email me the information,” he said.

Heart thudding in my chest, I made the call.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

As I walk in the darkness.

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8 Comments

  1. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Natalie. I was completely mesmerized reading this post, never once dreaming where you were ultimately going with your information.

    I am so terribly sorry for your experiences as a child, and I think you are incredibly brave. You are also so lucky to have a supportive, loving husband.

    I wish you all the best as this unravels for you, and now that you have friends who are here for you whenever you need to reach out.

    On a slightly different note, this account was beautifully written–as difficult as it was to read, emotionally. You really do have a gift.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for your comments, Kathryn. You’ve helped affirm that it was the right thing to do, to be so open about this experience. I was a little nervous about it. Thanks for joining me on this journey…

      Reply
  2. You express your experience so well; excellent writing. We all need a little help being courageous sometimes — especially when our courage may cost others. Well done…on so many levels.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments, Kim. Amazing what a little push does to get that courage button functioning. I could have let the detective make the call, but that would have been too cowardly…

      Reply
  3. Wow. They say writing from the heart is always best and this piece proves that. May strength stay by your side as you move forward.

    Reply
    • Thanks, C.B. I’m learning… the more transparent and vulnerable I am here, the more my experience can help and impact others. Thanks for your encouragement.

      Reply
  4. Oh, Natalie. I’m so glad for your faith and your trust in that rod and that staff. There’s Light in that darkness. I think you’re right when you said “This was supposed to happen.” It’s about much more than a book.

    Reply
    • You’re so right, Darla. It’s so, so, so much more than the book. I can see God’s hand in every step of this process. It’s beautiful and humbling and full of hope.

      Reply

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