Maria Moore, Guest Blogger (’16, University of North Carolina School of Law)
My story actually starts several years before I was raped, on March 7, 1997 when I was in third grade. I was called to the principal’s office, and the usual chorus of “OOH!”s that can be expected from a group of third graders accompanied me as I left the classroom. I walked the familiar path to the office of our school disciplinarian, wondering what I had done this time.
It was not the principal who awaited me, however. It was a stranger, who told me she was a detective, and that everything was okay now and that I had nothing to worry about as long as I told the truth. Then she told me that she knew I had been touched in an inappropriate way by a family friend and that as long as I did everything I could to help, I would be safe from that ever happening again.
My parents were not present. A lawyer was not present. The principal was not present. It was just me, the detective, and her tape recorder. I was 8 years old. Little did I know that my little sister, age 5, was in another chamber of the catacomb that encompassed the administrative suite of my elementary school. She was being asked the same uncomfortable and odd questions about a family friend we both loved.
The detective proceeded with a line of questioning that included everything from my usual activities with said family friend (let’s call him “Q”), which involved the types of innocent enjoyment a normal grown man can be expected to have with the daughters of two of his closest friends, to my vivid and unusual nightmares. Somehow, these two things were later combined and used against Q in the papers. Later that day, a female police officer picked my sister and me up from our after-school program and brought us home in a squad car. The police had already arrived at my home and discussed the situation with my parents, who allowed entry because the police officer who knocked on the door said simply, “Your children have been hurt.”
When we walked in, my mother called us to her room and asked whether there was any truth to the allegation that Q had ever touched either of us in a sexual way. The answer was a resounding “no.” When we emerged from the room, a man I did not recognize proceeded to scream at my mother for allegedly “yelling at us” and “telling us what to say.” This upset me and my sister greatly. Never once during the harrowing 6-month investigation was any evidence uncovered that Q had indeed abused us. We went through family therapy, individual therapy, physical examinations (this being a euphemism for having cameras and fingers shoved in our vaginas and anuses), repeated visits from a social worker and various police officers, and countless questions.
This man did not abuse us. This was an innocent man who ran afoul of some of his co-workers and whose life was destroyed because of it. He was described in the paper and on the news as a Satanist and a child molester. He, along with unnamed others (including my parents), were supposedly part of a group engaging in Satanic ritual child abuse. I believe the lead detective on the case wanted to make a name for herself with one or more convictions.
Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, my parents were warned that my sister and I could be taken from them and that we were not to leave town. Q was forced to serve 30 days in jail on a trumped-up pornography charge for the heinous crime of having obscene pictures of an adult ex-girlfriend in his attic. He has never set foot in the state of North Carolina since he got out of jail, with one exception – my wedding day. This is a man who loved two little girls in every sweet way that an adult man can. His absence from our lives is deeply felt and incredibly unfair.
One good thing, if you can possibly stretch the meaning of “good” that exceedingly far, is that Q’s lawyer was able to keep his name off of the sex offender registry. Yes, you read that right. No evidence of any wrongdoing was ever found, yet the prosecutor was still aiming to put the name of an innocent man on a list that would act as a scarlet letter branded on his chest for the rest of his life. For no reason.
During the time that our local police department actively and tirelessly wasted taxpayer money pursuing this entirely meritless case, there were undoubtedly an innumerable amount of girls and women actually being sexually abused and assaulted, women whose attackers were less visible and whose stories were less striking, and who therefore garnered significantly less attention (read: none.)
I know this because I was eventually one of those girls.