Cassie’s Law: How did I get from there to here?

Dealing with the emotional and legal aftermath of one’s daughter being raped is more than any mother should have to face. Finding out that rapist has legal rights to visit with the victim’s sister is terrifying. Both daughters being under the age of 7 makes it all the more overwhelming.

I never imagined my life reaching this point. For many weeks now, I’ve contemplated just what I’m going to share – and how – with countless strangers about very personal and painful goings on in my life, with the hope that said strangers will care enough to help me.

I’m not looking for money/donations. I’m looking for you to listen to my story, sign a petition, or two, share my story, and possibly volunteer for my cause.

When my first daughter was 11 months old, I found my marriage ending and my journey as a single mother beginning. It was difficult, but sharing day in and day out with my daughter made any difficulties worthwhile. She was the light of my life.

I ended up meeting a new love interest who seemed like a good match for me and someone who realized how precious my daughter was. We fell in love, got married, and had a baby of our own.

I could write a book about how our marriage was. I could write another book about signs of what was coming involving my oldest that I missed.

Most simply stated, I loved and trusted my husband, and thought my second marriage would last. I was devastated in May 2011 when our marriage abruptly ended. I felt so blindsided and confused.

In June 2011, my estranged husband showed up at my new residence for a scheduled visit with our 9-month old that was supposed to take place at my residence, and my husband and his brother proceeded to physically assault me and take off with the baby, injuring the baby in the process. The police had to be involved to get my baby returned, and my husband was arrested and I was issued a restraining order. (Both brothers were indicted and arraigned for endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated assault with intent to cause bodily injury,  detaining a minor child, and interference with custody. Both brothers ended up taking a plea deal for the charge of interference with custody.)

My then 4-year old daughter started asking me several times a day if I would ever forgive “Daddy A****” if he were to tell me he were very very very sorry. She asked me if I still loved him. She asked me if we’d ever live with him again. She asked me why did he try to kidnap her sister, and if he wanted to hurt her sister. For two months, I answered her questions, presuming I was comforting her at the lost of this father figure and friend.

My oldest turned 5 in July 2011.

August 2011, my daughter’s endless questions became painfully put into perspective. She asked me if she could tell me a secret. (Secret wasn’t a word she and I used.) I said yes. In very simple, innocent terms, she explained to me what life with my estranged husband had been like for her. She proceeded to tell me that my ex had been mean to her, had hurt her. She explained to me what it felt like to be anally penetrated.

Heartbroken and devastated don’t even begin to describe how I felt. I called the pediatrician to get her examined. The pediatrician said only one doctor in our area did that kind of exam on someone so little, and that was Dr. Finkel. I was provided with the number. I called Dr. Finkel’s office to schedule an appointment, and I was told they only see patients brought to Dr. Finkel by DYFS. (DYFS, the Division of Youth and Family Services of NJ, is known as Child Protective Services in other states.) Despite my nervousness about DYFS getting involved with my kids, I called and explained my situation. A DYFS investigator was at my house the next morning. We talked about life and toys and cartoons for about 20 minutes, and then I was asked to leave the room so my daughter and the DYFS investigator could talk privately. I did. My daughter shared with the DYFS worker what happened to her, and the DYFS worker would change the story somewhat and repeat it back to her. My daughter would correct him. This process repeated several times, but my daughter’s recollections remained consistent. The DYFS  investigator asked me to come back in the room, and informed me what my daughter said was substantial and I was given an appointment with Dr. Finkel at NJ CARES and an appointment with the prosecutor. I was also informed that DYFS was suspending visitation between my ex and my youngest for the time being.

I took my daughter to the prosecutor’s office. A worker put us in a play room, and made casual conversation with my daughter and I for about 10 minutes. Then the prosecutor asked to speak with me privately in his office. He explained to me how the process works. Then he saw my daughter privately and video taped their conversation. He couldn’t prompt her or ask her questions for this interview. He simply told her that he was friends with the police, and if someone has hurt her or was hurting her, he wanted to know about it so he could help her. My daughter proceeded to tell him her story. She remained consistent.

My daughter was seen by NJ CARES. Because NJ CARES works with the courts and my daughter’s case is still in the courts, I can’t give the details. I can say she was examined on video and interviewed on video. In response to how her exam and interview went, she was accepted into the NJ CARES program and assigned a therapist.

September 2011, my daughter started Kindergarten. It was bittersweet for me. She was starting a new chapter of her life and growing up. This was also the first time that we’d be separated in this fashion. She never attended daycare or preschool, so sending my daughter off to be cared for by strangers was a little intimidating. After just 3 days of attending half day kindergarten, my 5-year old had a nervous breakdown. She was suicidal. She wanted to die and she had a plan. I took her to the crisis unit, and my baby was admitted to an in-patient  psychiatric hospital. I was allowed to visit with her for one hour per day. My daughter struggled with having to go to school and not be home with me. It was revealed that my ex told my daughter if he told their secret to anyone, he would kill my daughter, kill me or kill both of us. My daughter felt like she could protect me when we were home together, but once she started school, she was worried she’d come home and find me dead. It was overwhelming for her.

My oldest is now 6, and the baby is now 2. Their birthdays are this summer. The baby’s father has not had visitation with her, supervised or unsupervised, since the DYFS investigator suspended visitation in August 2011. There is still an open DYFS case in my home, but not because of anything I’ve done. DYFS is involved with my children to offer support services and protect the girls. We’ve moved from the house my ex knew of to a new home. My daughter attends a school other than her local district school. That way, if my ex ever learns where she goes to school, he won’t find our home in the territory her school serves. If he finds our home, he won’t be able to stalk my daughter to our neighborhood school. My daughter is in weekly therapy to deal with her trauma. The group BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) have accepted my daughter into their group and provide their friendship and services.

I’ve been warned by DYFS and by therapists and countless social workers that DYFS’ current protection will not last forever. Baby Cassie’s biological father, the man who repeatedly raped my older daughter, still has his basic parental rights intact. As long as they are intact, a number of things could go wrong that would allow him access to my youngest daughter. If he’s not found guilty for raping my oldest, he’d have access to my youngest. If he’s found guilty of raping my oldest and does jail time, but is released while Cassie is still a minor, his debt to society will be considered paid and he’d have visitation rights with her again. I’ve also been told there are times a  prosecutor can decide not to proceed with charges, despite the amount of evidence at hand, and if that were the case a sexually abusive parent could petition the court for DYFS’ protection to be lifted and unsupervised visitation to be granted, and the fate of that petition would be at the mercy of the presiding judge.

I’m not seeking revenge. I’m seeking a system where a child’s right to be safe from a sexually abusive parent is more important than a parent’s right to have access to their child. I’m seeking affirmation that I will be able to protect my youngest daughter from experiencing the same fate my oldest experienced and is still suffering from. I’m seeking peace of mind.

This is where Cassie’s Law will be born.

I want to get legislation passed that if a parent has been found guilty or plead guilty in court or if DYFS (or a similar organization in another state) or NJ Cares (or a similar institution in another state that works with the courts) has substantiated sexual abuse, that said parent forfeits their “right” to visitation with their minor children.

I don’t know if this is something that would get passed first in NJ and then duplicated in other states, or if this is something that would be passed on the federal level. I’ve never attempted to get legislation passed before. I know this is going to be a long process. I think it will be worth it if the end result is the welfare of innocent children outweighs the parental rights of sexually abusive parents in the end.

I want to know that Cassie, and any child in a situation like Cassie’s, will be safe.

How can you help? You can connect to Cassie’s Law on Facebook, Twitter, and Word Press, and let your friends know this cause exists. You can sign the petitions circulating to gain awareness and support for this cause, most importantly signing the whitehouse.gov petition located at http://wh.gov/f90R. (If the whitehouse.gov petition can get 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the White House will review the petition and issue a response.) You can contact your state and federal senators and congressman and let them know you’d like them to support Cassie’s Law, and you can ask them to sponsor Cassie’s Law. You can join our group setup for volunteers, and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with this cause. I’m sure things will come up that I haven’t considered or imagined, and I’ll discuss these things with the volunteers as they arise. You can touch base with your local representative once a month to remind them you want them to support Cassie’s Law. You can interact with the Twitter and Facebook pages and Word Press blog to keep on top of happenings and share the happenings with your friends. You can help by making people aware and by asking officials that Cassie’s Law become a reality.

As of right now, I don’t see fundraising becoming an issue. If it ends up being an issue, you can donate services or products to a local fundraiser. For example, do you teach piano lessons? Are you a singer / band / photographer / DJ / etc and have a service that could be auctioned off or used for entertainment if a fundraiser were to be planned? Are you a lawyer who could help draft Cassie’s Law or offer legal advice if the need arose? Are you a radio show host who can discuss this topic with your audience, or a blogger who can share this cause with your audience? There are endless ways you can help! You can attend, and invite your friends to attend. If a fundraiser does become necessary, I’ll be sure to list any official fundraisers on our web page and via our social media.

Please go to our Facebook page and “like” it. It may also be helpful to click the “like” button a second time and check that you’d like to get notifications from the page.

https://www.facebook.com/cassieslawnj

Please go to our Twitter account and follow us.

https://twitter.com/cassieslaw

Please go to our Word Press blog and subscribe.

http://cassieslawnj.wordpress.com

Please go to our webpage and add us to your bookmarks.

http://www.cassieslaw.orghttp://about.me/cassieslaw

If you’d like to volunteer for this cause, please join our group for volunteers. If you have ideas on steps we should be making or things we should be considering, this is the best place to be heard.

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/cassieslaw

Please sign the three petitions in circulation for Cassie’s Law. All three exist for a specific audience, all all three need equal amounts of love and signatures.

http://signon.org/sign/cassies-law-providing.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=7202664

http://wh.gov/f90R

https://www.causes.com/causes/815669-cassie-s-law

Please contact your local representative and tell them you want them to support Cassie’s Law. Let them know this is important to you, and you’ll call back in a month to ask them what they’ve done to support this bill/cause.

Then please use your voice on social media, and let your contacts know about Cassie’s Law and that you support this cause and ask them to support it, too. Share one of our pages or blog with them.

Knowing what could happen to my Cassie if I sit back and do nothing is what is motivating me right now, but this isn’t just about Cassie. This is about the rights of all children in a situation like Cassie’s, who have a sexually abusive parent they need to be protected from.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and thank you for anything you do from today forward that lends awareness and support to Cassie’s Law.

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