Monday, June 15, 2009

When Justice Fails the Children: PART III, Kristy's story by Debra Sanders

Part III:When Justice Fails the Children
Kristy's Story by Debra Sanders

It had been a long time since I had told the story of Kristy and of her impact on me personally as well as professionally. Only when someone was involved in my life in a very intimate way did I find myself talking of those years—of my anguish when Kristy was hidden away, my fear for what was happening behind the closed doors of her house and of the incredible sense of powerlessness I felt at not being able to do anything to help her when every fiber in me screamed that I, and the system, were failing her. Only when someone had entered into the most sacred and trusting of relationships with me, did I talk about Kristy or reveal the extreme shock and anxiety that came with being investigated for the very crime I railed against on behalf of the children I saw every day.

And only once did I ever tell the story publicly. Though I hadn’t planned to reveal my experience with Kristy, I found myself telling my story of being investigated to an audience of over three hundred teachers who were attending an inservice I was giving on the teacher’s role and responsibilities with suspected child abuse cases. There had been a comment from a participant regarding the fact that as teachers and educators we really shouldn’t be hugging children anymore and I found myself telling the story of being investigated, of the fear and the anxiety it caused and of my concern throughout the entire ordeal that there was a girl being abused behind closed doors and I was helpless to do anything to help her. The audience was spell bound…riveted into silence by my descriptions of this incredibly bright, sparkling and yet damaged child. I distinctly remember ending with this:

“I tell you this story, the first time I have ever told it publicly, for a reason. Two reasons actually. First, I want you to know that this sort of thing could happen to you…it happened to me and yes, it could happen to you. But secondly, and more importantly, I tell it because I want you to know I still hug children in school and I always will. Children are affectionate by nature and they hug those that they love. If we are doing our jobs as we should be, then our students often associate their love of learning with us. And often the most vulnerable children love us simply because we are kind to them, because we do not abuse them. And they hug us, sometimes they even cling to us.

I, for one, will always return that hug and I will continue to place my hand on a child’s shoulder if it is appropriate to do so for reasons of control or gaining a child’s attention. And if a young child takes my hand on the playground, I will happily let that little hand rest inside of mine. I will never let the fear of a false accusation interfere with my providing treatment, education or kindness to a child and especially for those of you who work with elementary aged children; hugs are one of the ways that children communicate.

That said, I will tell you that I do some things differently now, and I take precautions and preventative steps that I would have never thought to take prior to this happening to me. For one, I will never again agree to work in an office that does not have a window in the door, nor will I cover the window if there is one. I will make sure that if I am seeing a child alone that the time spent together is well documented; and if I have a particularly high risk student like this again, I might consider videotaping all the sessions. I would advise that as teachers you think about what precautions you can take as well, but I urge you to please, not make one of them the removal of physical affection to the children under our care. We didn’t enter into our jobs in education only to educate the minds of our students, but to embrace all aspects of them and to help them learn to trust in and navigate their way through the world. Sometimes, more than any lesson, conversation or lecture, a hug is the most powerful tool we have to give.”

And indeed, for the next decade (plus) of my career, I continued to give and receive hugs from students without hesitation and without regret. I never told the story publicly again, and as I said, though Kristy remained actively alive in my thoughts, I rarely spoke of her, though I was frequently known to tell many funny and tender stories of my many other students over the years (without violating confidentiality of course).

It had been years since I had told the story of Kristy either privately or publicly, but for some reason last summer, I told the story to Merrilyne—the one who calls me OM or OMmie, for Other Mother. I don’t even remember right now what prompted me to tell it, but I did—it was the night before she left to head back to graduate school in Montana.

To my utter astonishment, two days later, the following email shows up in my mailbox:

"I realize you might not want to have any contact with me, but I just wanted to write and thank you for all the help you gave me. I miss you. Love, Kristy"

To say I was stunned is a significant understatement. I was absolutely blown away. I mean, how strange is that timing? I speak of her for the first time in probably ten years and within 48 hours I have an email from her. Not write her back? Unthinkable. Of course I wrote her back.

And thus began what grew into one of the most remarkable, purest, most incredible relationships I am ever likely to have on this earth.And indeed, when she wrote this time, Kristy was about to turn thirty and she wanted to tell me the rest of the story.

TBC. Read on to find out some of the things Kristy told me. Of the torture she endured in order not to make that accusation, the child she became pregnant with and was forced to "throw in a landfill," and the multiple personalities she developed to cope with such extreme abuse.


  1. Debra,

    Oh my heart was racing as I read about you and Kristy. I can't even imagine the horror of enduring such an ordeal. It obviously haunted you and Kristy for years when you were not in touch with each other.

    What a gift from God, to heal both your broken hearts, as you received that loving note from Kristy asking your forgiveness. This is the Lord's way of reassuring you that He knows the truth about what happened, and what your intentions were!

    Thank you for candidly sharing your story; Kristy's story. Per your request, I will pass along your blog to others who need to know of this.

    Praying God's angels of protection will continue to surround you and Kristy, and that your friendship deepens over the years.

    Mary Singer Wick
    author, Amazon #1 bestseller "My Heart's Desire: A Journey Toward Finding Extravagant Love"

  2. Oh Debra,

    What a heartbreaking story, yet there is great encouragement to be found. What a gift that God has brought Kristy back into your life again! This is proof to you that He knows your intentions were good.

    I hope you and Kristy find great healing and joy in your friendship. Thank you for candidly sharing with us what a horrible ordeal you have both endured. Per your request, I will share this blog with others.

    Praying God's angels will minister to both of you,

    Mary Singer Wick
    author, Amazon #1 bestseller "My Heart's Desire: A Journey Toward Finding Extravagant Love"

  3. Ahh Mary, your words both do my heart good and make it weep. Keep reading and at the end, tell me what you think God's intent is. I so like to think that this is about doing the right thing...pure intent.

    The question becomes....when I have finished writing the story on this blog...then how do I proceed to help Kristy and the far too many others like her.....?

  4. Debra,

    I'm glad you wrote a disclaimer at the beginning of Kristy's story acknowledging its graphic content. I couldn't get past the first few sentences. It was all the horror I could bear. How much more unthinkable for Kristy, and you as her teacher/friend, to have endured this nightmare.

    There are no words that can fully express the outrage I feel. I can tell you this, God is angry too. He clearly speaks throughout the Bible of the punishment that awaits those who abuse innocent children.

    Contrary to what others may say, God tells us to pray for our enemies. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44- 45 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven." The fate that awakes them (unless they repent--turn away and commit no more evil) of their sins and ask God's forgiveness, they will receive much worse from the Lord than they did to Kristy.

    God is a a loving Father who hates injustice. Keep bringing this situation before Him in prayer and He will heal both your hearts. Many people might ask the question, "How can this happen to children like Kristy if God is good?" The reason this horrible abuse happens is because the heart of man (apart from the saving grace of God when we surrender our wills to Him and believe His Son Jesus died for our sins)is wicked above all things. What's going on in the world is evidence of how evil man is, not God.

    Anyone who says that man/woman is basically good just needs to look at how messed up the world is as we push God further away from our lives, our schools, our jobs, and our hearts.

    I can't begin to know what you and Kristy have suffered, but please turn to the One who can truly heal all the pain and give you song of praise instead of despair. He's longing to surround you with His protective arms. Pray and ask Him what is the right course of action to take. He has promised to provide this. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge (thank and praise) Him, and He will make your paths straight (clear)" Proverbs 3:5-6.

    Hope this is helpful to you, Debra. Praying for you and Kristy. Keep me updated.

    Blessings and love,

    Mary Singer Wick

  5. Mary,

    Yes...such a feeling of outrage. It is profound.

    I need to reflect on your thoughts. I have always been one who believes mankind is essentially good, but I have always had that belief while keeping God close to my heart--never pushing God or that Higher Power away.

    If you can bear to keep reading, at the end, it will be good to hear your thoughts (as well as along the way, too of course!).

    Thank you for your words Mary and for your outrage.