There was a bridal shower held at the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center on Friday. While on the surface this shower may have seemed like a regular run-of-the-mill affair, it was far from that. This shower was held to honor a young woman whom after suffering indecencies at the hands of a trusted family friend was able to trust a man enough to marry him.
Grace, not her real name, found herself at the door of the child advocacy center when she was 14. Her abuser was a trusted member of the family – someone who came over to her house for dinners and birthday parties.
“That abuse was the first time anyone had given me any attention,” Grace said. “For a teenage girl, that’s the best thing – someone telling you you’re beautiful.”
Grace kept what happened secret until she was in a relationship with her first boyfriend. He was unable to keep such a heavy secret to himself and told someone about it. It eventually got back to Grace’s family.
“When it all came out there was complete disbelief,” Grace said. “Some people believed me, some didn’t. They said, ‘we all knew him, we trusted him.’ It got real messy.”
The police were called, and a road officer came out to their house and took her statement. Within a couple of days, Grace had her forensic interview at the child advocacy center and was set up for therapy. The relationship with her first boyfriend ended quickly after that and once the case got into court, almost all of her friends turned against her.
“Several of them got up on the stand and said that I was a horrible person and was sending dirty pictures to other people (which she wasn’t),” she said. “That’s how it goes. It made the rest of high school no fun. It made it to court when I was, I think, in my junior year in high school.”
Grace’s abuser was found guilty and he’s still in prison. After she graduated from high school, she attended Meredith College and got a degree in social work. She volunteered at the child advocacy center and when a position became available two years ago, Sherry Reinhardt, the director of the center, suggested that she apply. Now she’s helping other victims make their way through the long process of healing.
Grace and her fiancé have been together for seven years now. It took a very long time before she was able to be intimate with him and after she told him why, he was nothing but supportive.
“He always took time to listen to me and helped me through my anxiety a lot before it was diagnosed,” she said. “He’s always been really great and supportive of me. We say now that it doesn’t affect just the victim of the abuse, but everyone around them. Almost 10 years from the abuse, I still have triggers and night terrors.”
Lincoln County Sheriff Office Det. Sgt. Dan Renn worked Grace’s case. Once law enforcement receives the report, it’s assigned to a detective to handle the case. Then an interview at the child advocacy center is set up. Once the forensic interview is completed, potential witnesses are sought out.
“Grace provided a lot of details which is very important,” Renn said. “A lot of times with sexual assaults, they’re being disclosed well after the incident has occurred, so you don’t have physical evidence. We look for physical evidence – to corroborate what the victim’s saying. Our job is not to talk for the victim, but to support them.”
After losing the support of many of her friends and family, Renn was impressed by how Grace made it through it.
“A lot of times we become like the family members,” he said. “We get so close to these people. It’s stories like Grace’s that make us keep doing this job. We saw Grace as a teenage girl grow into a young lady that we’re proud of.”
Judge Micah Sanderson was the assistant district attorney while Grace’s case was being tried.
“The case was very difficult to begin with,” he said. “Anytime there’s a rape of a child by an adult – it’s difficult. Grace was very stoic – that stood out to me. She did very well, she was very mature about it. The details that she could recall were remarkable and incredibly detailed.”
Sanderson added that he was particularly pleased that the offender was convicted because he was a coach for girl softball teams.
“I think of the potential harm that will be prevented,” he said. “We don’t try a lot of cases because victims don’t want to go through it. Who wants to be retraumatized – it takes a strong person to do that. We couldn’t have done it without Grace.”
Now that he’s a judge, Sanderson doesn’t have a lot of contact with the child advocacy center, but he believes Grace’s value at the center is invaluable.
“She experienced almost every step at the child advocacy center which most people have not,” he said. “Her experience began as a victim and she went through the whole process. Anyone that can empathize with people rather than just sympathize for them has a greater voice. She’s not just saying, ‘I understand,’ she’s saying, ‘I understand because I’ve been through what you’re going through.’ I use this quote from Levi Lusko sparingly, but it’s one of my favorite ones, ‘don’t be selfish with your pain.’ Grace is using what she went through to help others.”
Many can’t understand how Grace could work in a job where she’s constantly exposed to the horrors of child abuse.
“There’s a starfish story I like to tell people,” she said. “There’s thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. A little boy was walking on the beach throwing them back. This old man walked up to him and asked what he was doing and told him that he couldn’t save them all. The little boy said that he knew that, but if he could save just one, he made a difference in a life. That’s what I live by – if I can help one child, then I made a difference in their life.”