This is second in a series about reporting sexual abuse. To read from the beginning, click here.
by Christina Enevoldsen
When I decided to report my dad, I didn’t even know if my sexual abuse, that had happened forty years ago, could be prosecuted. I checked on the Arizona statute of limitations but because of how it’s worded, I still wasn’t sure. I also didn’t know if I remembered enough to make a case, especially since I didn’t have any physical evidence. Even though I was full of uncertainty, I decided to do as much as I could.
I was familiar with the process of reporting sexual abuse since I’d gone with my daughter to report her abuse. I left a message for the detective who handled my daughter’s case when we reported her dad. I held back the tears as I choked out the words. Then I hung up and waited.
I didn’t hear back for a couple weeks. It was agonizing. I felt forgotten, unheard and discounted. I discovered that I should have phoned the main number of that unit instead of calling the detective who worked on my daughter’s case.
When the detective who was assigned to my case finally called me, I missed the call. Later in the day, I listened to the detective’s message but I couldn’t bring myself to phone back. All I wanted to do was go back to bed. I wished I could put abuse and its issues in a box and not have to think about any of it. Was it worth it to report my sexual abuse?
I spent some time letting the sorrow wash over me. By then, I’d already learned that feeling the emotions instead of fighting them felt better in the long run. I ate a healthy lunch and rested until I felt ready to return the call.
A few days before I’d decided to report my sexual abuse, my son told me something my mom said. She had no doubt that my daughter had been abused but she added that I’m making up my abuse and that my dad couldn’t have abused me since she was a stay at home mom most of my childhood.
As ridiculous as her reasoning was (since I was a stay at home mom for most of the time my kids grew up), her words cut me. Maybe it was the contrast that she believed my daughter, Bethany, but there’s no way I could have been abused. She’d doubted Bethany’s claim once she reported her father, but it seemed that now, my mom decided Bethany was telling the truth. It’s interesting that in the twenty years that I’d been talking about my abuse, my mom had never claimed that I was making it up before. It’s only when I finally named my dad as my abuser that she accused me of lying. Come to think of it, it’s interesting that in all those years, she never asked me who abused me.
Since I’d heard what my mom said, I’d been particularly sensitive about not being believed. Calling the detective made me nervous about being graded on everything I said.
I returned the call to the detective and he was very kind and gentle. He asked me general questions about where and when the abuse happened. I asked him about the statute of limitations. He’d never encountered anyone my age reporting abuse so he didn’t know. He encouraged me to make the report and then he’d take it from there.
Since the abuse took place in Arizona and I lived in California at the time, the detective suggested I make my report with the Los Angeles Police Department. They would forward the interview to him and he would work the case. The detective told me he’d contact them for me and that I should expect to hear from them so I could schedule an appointment.
Another few weeks went by and I hadn’t heard from anyone at L.A.P.D. In one way, I felt relieved to be able to delay facing this. But in another way, I felt like my abuse didn’t matter. I had to remind myself that no matter how anyone responded to me or to my story, what happened to me truly matters.
I called the detective back and told him I preferred to come to Arizona to make a statement. Soon after that, I made the trip to the Mesa Police Department’s Center Against Family Violence.
The unit is specially designed for children who are being abused. Their under the sea décor reflects a kind of peaceful whimsy that would appeal to children in distress. There’s a large playroom separated from the waiting area by a glass wall. The playroom is full of toys, books and games and is equipped with an inconspicuous video camera so the detective can interview the children while they play.
Having been to the same place with my daughter and walking with her through the process, I expected to feel more comfortable than I did. In one way, the experience and location was familiar, but in another way, it was foreign. This was happening to me. This was my dad I was reporting.
My husband, Don, accompanied me and stayed with me while I waited for the detective to take my statement. Don was there, but I felt alone. As supportive as he was (and always is), I felt insulated from his love, as though he couldn’t reach me. I felt just as isolated as I did when I was a child.
When the detective was ready, he led me to a small room. It was very similar to the one I’d been in a few years earlier. It was furnished with children in mind, supplied with stuffed animals and tissue.
The detective wanted to know the specifics of what had happened to me—what my dad did or made me do, where we were, how old I was. He also asked me what I’d like to see happen to my dad. I told him that my dad had a lot of back pain so it was hard to imagine him in an uncomfortable prison cell.
In my heart, this wasn’t about my abuser or what might happen to him. I wasn’t there because I wanted to see him suffer, but I was done protecting him too. I was making my police report to stand up for myself. Whether or not that affected him didn’t concern me. This was about me.
I left the interview feeling tired but good. I felt good for standing up for myself, no matter the outcome.
A few days later, my husband and I were on the seven-hour drive back home to Los Angeles and had stopped at a restaurant for lunch. The detective called me while we were there to let me know that the statute of limitations had expired. If my abuse had lasted two years later than it did, it would be possible to prosecute.
The detective asked me how I felt. I was disappointed but I told him I was okay. All along, I’d had conflicting feelings about my dad being in jail. The detective replied, “Yeah, I didn’t think you were vindictive.”
I was stunned by the detective’s response. I quickly thanked him for his help and hung up. Vindictive? Is that what he thought of someone who actually wanted to see their abuser pay for the crime? No, I didn’t want to see my dad suffer the way he caused me to suffer, but what if I did? Would that make me vindictive or is that just seeking justice? The detective had been so kind and supportive up until that point. I felt as though the rug had been ripped out from under me.
For the long drive home, I wrestled with the detective’s statement. Did he believe that it was vindictive to report abuse if the abuser was your father? Or was it because the crime was committed so long ago and he believed the only valid motive for reporting abuse was to stop it from continuing? I couldn’t guess what was in his mind.
In the end, I accepted that whatever the detective’s reasoning, whatever he believed, that was about him. As for me, I don’t have to justify my motives for reporting my dad to anyone. I reported my sexual abuse for me. Sexual abuse is a crime. Having a crime committed against me is a good enough reason to report it.
This is second in a series about reporting sexual abuse. To read the next in the series, click here.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how I took back my life after abuse, I invite you to read my book, The Rescued Soul: A Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. In it, I spell out the details of exactly how I’ve healed, using excerpts from my journal, very candid stories and detailed examples. It’s definitely up close and personal! It’s a healing guide, workbook and journal all in one. I put a lot of love into all 518 pages.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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