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Preparation | Getting Support | Get Therapy | Learn Your Legal Rights | Locate Your Perp or Witnesses | Find Other Survivors | Uncover the Evidence | Warn the Community | Report the Crime | Less Personal Activism
1.) Get through the day. Dont hurt yourself.
2.) Get yourself in a safe social situation away from the perpetrator. Distance yourself from him or her.
3.) Overcome shame. Taking action is very difficult for most survivors of sexual abuse. We have to overcome both our own inner shame and that imposed on us by some elements of society. The inner shame, we can eliminate through therapy and carefully thought out activism. The shame imposed by society can be changed only by our activism, for only when we show other people how common sexual abuse has become, will they realize that we are just ordinary people, as they are. Rather than catering to the lowest common denominator in some people of minimal intelligence and deficient compassion by hiding in our fear, we can voice the truth and hope for the best response to our activism from those, who by their understanding, will show themselves worthy of our respect for their opinions.
The following prescriptions for activism do not have a rigid timetable. Some people will report the crime immediately after its commission. Others, like me, will take many years to overcome the internal shame, before finding the strength to help protect others by exposing our perpetrators. Whether we find the courage the same day, or 80 years later, whether the perpetrator is a family member or a priest, whether the criminal is alive or dead, whether a suit is in process or the statute of limitations for prosecution has long passed, we can still take action to expose the crime and thereby warn others to teach them prevention and care.
Find a support system Back to Page Topics
This can be a spouse, relative, friend, survivor organization, peer support group, or therapist.
The first step is disclosure to a person whom you feel can be trusted. If you are reading this, you are well on your way in this part of the journey. The supporters you find can provide emotional support during your recovery and your activism. (Personally, I was fortunate enough to have the greatest support from my wife and family. I couldnt find an organization such as Survivor Connections.)
Get therapy Back to Page Topics
Get help from a qualified therapist who is experienced with and understanding about survivors and our concerns. Besides being competent they must be compatible with your personality.
Learn your legal rights Back to Page Topics
Choosing the right attorney is important. For an adult survivor of childhood sexual assault, this is often complicated by the fact that sometimes it is difficult to find an attorney even willing to take your case. This limits the pool of people from which you can select. Try to find someone who is caring, yet also experienced. At the same time, though, keep in mind that your attorney cannot substitute for your therapist. Your support system during the legal process cannot simply be your attorney, but should be one or all of the following: a victim advocate, a local support group, your therapist, your family, and friends.
The most important factor in selecting an attorney is to make sure that the attorney focuses in directions that reflects your goals. If your goal is to expose the perpetrator so that the public will be warned and thus children may be protected from future sexual assaults, then it makes no sense at all to have your attorney be negotiating a settlement that includes having you sign a Release (settlement contract) with a gag provision that silences you in exchange for compensation.
If you find an attorney who is experienced, caring, and does not allow the use of gag provisions in Releases, please send us their name, address, telephone number, and fax number for us to add to our survivor resources list.
Locate your perpetrator and/or witnesses Back to Page Topics
(If you know exactly where your perp now lives, skip ahead to the next section.)
1.) Hire a private investigator, OR
2.) Do the research yourself. (More personally satisfying, much cheaper, and, may turn up information that only you can personally follow up on.)
1.) Before hiring an investigator put together as much information as possible, from memory or personal research. It will be far less expensive, the more the investigator has to work with. Names, dates, places, ages, social security numbers, employers, relatives, associates, nicknames, hobbies - and anything else you can provide may prove useful.
Interview the investigator to judge their experience and knowledge, determine how much they charge, and ask what information they will need before they begin. If you can develop a social security number, many investigators can easily do the job for less than a hundred dollars. If you have an exact address where the person lived within the past five to ten years, the job may also be relatively uncomplicated. The more you can do yourself the less you will have to pay some one else to do.
2.) Public records and personal contact are the primary ways to develop information. Every bit of remembered or discovered trivia can be important. I started out with just my perpetrators last name - Porter. There are tens of thousands of Porters in the United States, hundreds of James Porters, and likely a few dozen James R. Porters - but there are very few - and likely only one - James R. Porter with the date of birth of January 2, 1935.
Start by building on whatever bits of information you already have. If the person was last known to you to be living in Maryville Junction, Ohio in 1958 then begin there. A great wealth of information is available to anyone through public records. If you dont already know, call the town government and ask where records for voter registration, motor vehicle licenses, property taxes, deaths, births, and marriages are kept. They may be at the town hall, the county level, or at a state government agency. Ask for the information one piece at a time to avoid having the town clerk hang up on you in annoyance.
Once you know where voter registration records are kept, call that location and ask if they have a record on file for the person as of the date when you know they were residing there. Provide the name and address. You are looking for the persons date of birth. If they refuse to look at the records for you ask how you can request such a search in writing. The best thing to do is to go in person to the town halls of many small communities but travel costs might make this impossible.
When you have the persons name and date of birth you can often obtain their current address through motor vehicle driver licensing. Although states have licensing outposts scattered about, there will be one repository of all records kept in the capital city. Call telephone directory assistance to get the number. Call the driver licensing agency to learn the procedure to request driving license information. Many states only require the persons name and date of birth. The cost is anywhere from $2 to $20. If the last-known-address that you have of the person is recent you may not even need a date of birth. The Registry of Motor Vehicles records may hunt for a change of address for you. Ask for the most recent driver license information available and be sure to say that you want even inactive or expired licenses provided. That way, if the person has moved out of state, at least you might obtain a more recent address - and perhaps even a social security number which very often appears on the record.
Property tax records contain the persons address. If someone owns real estate in Massachusetts but lives in Oregon, the owners will receive the tax bill at their Oregon address. If the person has an unlisted phone number and you know the town but not the address where they live, the property tax assessment records on their owned property will provide the exact location where they live.
Directories of licensing bodies, associations, and memberships are good resources to check. Every Roman Catholic priest in the United States, for example, is listed alphabetically by name in the yearly publication called The Official Catholic Directory. Current assignments and addresses are cross-referenced to name. Major public libraries carry the present years directory in the reference department while the older years are usually available from the archives.
Personal contact is the second primary way to locate people. Ask where the person is or was last known to be from his relatives, friends, employers, or other associates. Follow each path that develops - going back and forth from public records to personal interviews.
Search for other survivors of your perp Back to Page Topics
1.) Through reciprocation from others after your personal, confidential disclosure to them.
2.) By publicly reaching out after your personal disclosure.
By far, most of the initial group of thirty other survivors of Father James R. Porter that I met, I found through personal contact. My best explanation for why people opened up to me is that it was because I first disclosed that I had been sexually abused by Porter to them. Secondly, I respected their right to privacy and confidentiality. Another factor is that I purposely refrained from confrontation: I never asked if he had done something to them but waited for the other person to be ready to disclose. Because of my respect for confidentiality the oddity occurred that there were many survivors of Porter who knew each other as children but who did not wish other survivors to know, that they, too, had been his victim. Thus, the right to privacy fostered isolation, but it was absolutely necessary and just.
Eventually, in the personals of two newspapers, I ran an ad that read, Remember Father Porter? Write to Frank Fitzpatrick at ... I got a few positive responses over a period of about six months. This option was fairly expensive.
I made two public speeches in 1990 and 1991 hoping to expose the crime and bring other people forward. Word began to get around about what I was doing. The seeds for activism were being planted. Then going public on WBZ TV in Boston with eight other Porter survivors in May of 1992 caused the big explosion of Porter survivors coming forward. People felt empowered by what we had done.
Uncover the evidence Back to Page Topics
1.) Contact your perp and tape record his or her admissions. Check local laws for the legality of this for it varies widely.
2.) Retrieve your medical and psychiatric records that relate to when you were sexually abused.
3.) Look for previous lawsuits or criminal convictions.
4.) Do your own legal research at public law libraries with the assistance of the librarians. Check your findings with an attorney.
1.) Legalities aside for the moment, tape recording your perpetrator can be valuable in several ways. In a court of law (criminal or civil) admissions made by him might be admissible as evidence. A tape is useful to listen to later so you can dispassionately analysis the perps comments. It can be brought with you to therapy to get feedback from your counselor. The recordings I made of my phone calls to ex-priest Porter were used on many television programs and quoted in news articles with great effect as proof to the public of his crimes.
The approach you make to your perpetrator is of paramount importance. It must be done prior to any litigation or criminal prosecution so that the perp is not already in a defensive posture. No one is likely to make admissions when a court case is underway. When talking to your raper make the positive assumption that he or she and you both know what happened and that there is no question about it. Do not beg for validation or you will provoke a denial. Include something like, I want to talk to you about what you did to me when I was ten. I want to make sure that you are not a danger to anyone else and find out if you ever got treatment for your problem. When you fondled my crotch those nights it wasnt just something that lasted while it happened. Its been bothering me for years and I want to talk about it and know what made you do this to me. Use your name and the perps name during the conversation to get the identifications on tape. Prepare all the points you want to cover ahead of time. If you are making contact by phone you should have a list of things you want to say in front of you.
The legality of taping your perpetrator without his or her knowledge varies from place to place. In Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island, the last that I knew, it was perfectly legal as long as the person doing the taping was part of the conversation. In Massachusetts, however, unless both people are advised that the conversation is being recorded, to do so is a felony. Check with legal experts from the jurisdictionss law enforcement departments for whether taping is lawful or not.
2.) To get copies of your own medical and psychiatric records to use as evidence requires sending a written request to the practitioner or facility. Specify dates of treatment or at least the general time frame. The authorization letter should be signed by you and dated. Give your date of birth and social security number in the letter since records are often identified by these. State that you want any and all records. There may be a fee charged by the facility for retrieval and photocopying. Some places will only send records to another therapist or doctor, so see if you can get cooperation from your present counselor if this becomes necessary.
3.) Checking for civil suits or criminal charges against your perpetrator involves research at the court houses. This can be done by mail or in person. Indices of cases are kept by name of plaintiff and defendant. Because different people can have the same name you might have to go through the files in person to determine if the case was against the same person. There are District courts and Superior courts hearing usually each different cases. The more serious offenses are primarily heard in Superior courts.
4.) There are some lawyers and prosecutors who do not want to be bothered with older crimes. If you are being brushed off with potentially inaccurate excuses that the statute of limitations has passed, do your own legal research. The results can then be presented to convince the legal people.
Any decent law library will have everything you need. These are usually open to the public. Call any attorney or court house for the location of the nearest public law library. In the USA, the General Laws of the particular state contain most of the pertinent information. Look in the index of topics to try to find what volume contains criminal law. Key phrases to look under include: sexual assault, molestation, rape, statute of limitations, crimes against nature, etc.. Start by checking what the current laws say and then work your way back by checking the references to when the laws were enacted to check the status of the law at the time when the offenses occurred. Information about the statute of limitations and the correct jurisdiction (place for prosecution and reporting) may be found under the headings for the specific crimes or under their own headings. Once you find them photocopy the related pages to document your information to present to the prosecuting authorities.
Dont be afraid to ask for help. Often the librarians of the library will be helpful if you ask politely and are patient enough to wait for them to be available. It is a slow process to do all this. Legal research requires persistence and time, and has a learning curve.
If you can find an expert criminal prosecutor who has specialized in handling sexual assault cases whose judgment you are sure you can trust, then perhaps you can avoid this burden. Unfortunately, I found myself that I disagreed with the district attorneys offices evaluation of the Porter case. In that case, my perpetrator had moved out of state and so the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution was literally suspended for the period when he was not publicly a resident of Massachusetts. After Porter was criminally charged, research by the prosecutors found that similar provisions exist in 34 other states.
If your personal research is unfavorable do not give up. Do not assume that your information is complete. Still seek competent legal advice because they may come up with facets of the case that you were unaware existed.
Criminal law is entirely separate from civil law (pertaining to seeking money compensation from the perp). The laws will be in different areas of the law books but still under General Laws. There may or may not be special laws relating to just sexual assault cases. Perhaps sexual assault cases will come under the heading of bodily injury lawsuits or negligence statutes regarding the statute of limitations. Again, do not give up if your work is unfruitful, but seek good legal advice.
Once you are armed with legal information (again, make sure you photocopy the pertinent pages from the law books) you will be prepared to counter any arguments given to you by prosecutors or police who do not wish to even hear about opening a case on a crime that happened many years ago.
Warn the community Back to Page Topics
1.) Phone the spouse of the perp if he or she is unaware of the perps criminal past, to warn of danger to their children or neighborhood children. Identify yourself by name, and as one of the perps former victims.
2.) Write, phone, or talk in person to neighbors and associates where the perp now lives to alert them. Again, identify yourself by name, and as one of his or her former victims.
Quietly - person to person, or publicly - marching in the street with signs. The public needs to know the truth so that they can make an informed decision about trusting that person again. An anonymous accusation will carry much less weight (if any at all) compared to one backed by your personal character and credibility. If was very hard for me to call Mrs. Verlyne Porter to warn her of the sexual crimes against children in her husbands past, but I finally decided it was necessary for her to have this information so she could judge the potential for harm that he might offer to their own children or others.
Two years ago a man moved back into our neighborhood. He had just finished serving 10 years at the Adult Correctional Institution in Rhode Island for sexually assaulting several young boys. I was new to the street and so had not known of Preston Kidd until a neighbor disclosed his history and pointed him out. My neighbor was concerned because I have two children. Quietly, I told the other people on the street to keep their children away from Kidd, and told them why. In December of 1995 Preston Kidd was again arrested for sexual assault on a boy. The police also reportedly found child pornography videos in his home. Preston Kidd lived three houses away from me. The abused boy lives in the next city to us. I felt absolutely horrible when I heard this had happened again. Two years ago I was still in group therapy and had been criticized by several fellow group members for the warning that I gave to my neighbors. I was accused of persecuting someone who had already paid for his crimes. Now I only wish I had been more public with my warnings. This serial pedophile is incorrigible. His repeated crimes prove the value and need for community notification laws. If there had been a public announcement when he was released back to the community perhaps he could not have gained the trust of the family of his present victim. Rhode Island and most other states have reporting laws that mandate that the released sex offender inform the police wherever they live, but there are very few locales where the community is informed of the predators whereabouts. In New Jersey the community notification statute is known as Megans Law after a girl who was murdered by a recently released criminal.
Report the crime Back to Page Topics
To all of the following -
1.) the local police where the abuse occurred and the local police where the perp now lives;
2.) the state or provincial police;
3.) the attorney general, district attorney or other criminal prosecuting authority;
4.) the perps family;
5.) your family;
6.) the institutional leaders and administrators at all levels of the church, the youth organization, the school, the orphanage, the certifying board, or the association;
7.) the Department of Social Services/Family Services where the perp now lives;
8.) Survivor Connections.
1, 2, 3.) Give a formal written statement to criminal prosecutors and police to ensure they have a record of your allegations. Insist that they keep it on file even if the statute of limitations is gone. Be sure and keep a photocopy for yourself. If police want to tape record your statement be certain to arrange it so you can make your own tape of the proceedings at the same time.
The correct locale to report a crime is either the place where it occurred, or in the case of a minor, the place from which the victim was taken. Do not be deterred by questions in your mind or by others (including the police, district attorney, or attorney general) about the statute of limitations being past. That is a legal question that cannot be honestly and accurately answered until a full, detailed report of all events has been given by you. If they try to tell you that the statute is gone without giving you a full hearing then you are being brushed off, because there are too many special circumstances that can change this for a quick decision to be made by them. Always be polite but at the same time firm, persistent, and resolute about your decision to report the abuse. Going to the reporting location (the DAs office or a police station) with your supportive therapist or a survivor advocate from a rape crisis center is a good idea if you are not sure whether you can handle it - and even if you are - just to make sure that nothing slides by you. Some of the special circumstances which can change whether the statute of limitations is gone include the age of the victim, the type of sexual act, whether the offense occurred in multiple states, and whether the perpetrator ever took up residence out of state or lived in one state and committed some of the offenses in another.
As stated above, in most states in the USA the laws provide that the correct jurisdiction for a case to be reported and tried can be either of two places - where the crime took place, or where the victim was taken from. This is to include those situations where, for example, a child is taken from his home to an uncertain place (like I was!). Otherwise, a perpetrator would be able to get away with anything simply by confusing the victim about where they were when the crime was committed.
4, 5, 7.) Tell the story of your abuse to the perps family, your family, and any organizations associated with the perp by phone, by mail, or in person. Give credibility to your assertions by identifying yourself, and by being clear about what occurred.
6.) Describe to an organization what you expect them to do: remove the perp from his or her position, not to transfer them to a new position, actively search for other survivors of the perp, and help you to expose the perps crimes to the unsuspecting public.
8.) Write or call Survivor Connections at 52 Lyndon Rd., Cranston, RI 02905-1121 USA. Phone in USA: (401) 941-2548. Give SC the perps full name and as much other identifying information as possible. SC keeps a confidential privately-held database of reported sexual assault perpetrators. Anonymous submissions are not accepted because the data is maintained for the sole purpose of permitting survivors of the same person to contact each other - but only if both survivors agree to it.
Whether the report is on the same day as the abuse or 80 years later; whether the perpetrator is dead or alive, active or retired, in the same or a different occupation or marital status. Whether the statute of limitations is gone or not.
1, 2, 3.) Reporting in writing to the police and prosecutors serves two purposes: criminal charges on your case may be filed, or at least prosecutors will have a record of another allegation if other victims some day come forward. In the second instance you may be able to testify at the perps trial for another victim, or else provide corroboration and support for their credibility. Although only one can prosecute the other could possibly testify as what I call a lack of character witness against the perp. Some judges will allow testimony of this type into evidence.
Report to all of the criminal authorities individually because in that way you lessen the chance that they can brush you off or later deny that you made the report in the first place. Many police are compassionate and understanding but others are not well trained on how to handle survivors or their reports.
It is never too late to report the sexual abuse. I made my report to the North Attleboro, Massachusetts Police Department and Bristol County District Attorneys office 28 years after I had been sexually assaulted as a boy. I wanted them to have a record of an official complaint being made to them, whether or not they ever decided to prosecute. Although they turned me down personally, eventually my efforts did lead to Porters jail term.
4, 5.) Reporting to the perps family hopefully will serve to put them on their guard so that family members and friends might not be put at risk. But even if they dont believe you at first, at least the seed of knowledge has been planted and their eyes may be opened at a later date.
6.) Warning the organization of which the perp is a member is necessary so that they cannot avoid taking responsibility for the future. Forcing off the blinders will ensure they take action, but only if the survivor follows through by also notifying the criminal prosecuting authorities and warning the public.
Less personal but still important forms of activism Back to Page Topics
1.) Be an activist for legal reform & social change
2.) Volunteer for a rape crisis center, or survivor organization
3.) Be a court room advocate and survivor support person in court
4.) Educate in school systems after being properly trained