Editor's Note: This is part of a series looking at child abuse, and the services available to children, in honor of April’s distinction as Child Abuse Awareness Month. Today’s story tells the story of the case, which prompted the start of DCCSAN. The name of the survivor has been changed.
Before and after - that’s how Julie White describes her life.
Before – a carefree childhood in northeast Oklahoma.
After - when a close family friend did the unspeakable, and she became a child victim of sexual assault.
Julie’s after began when she spent the night with her mother’s best friend’s family.
The man, a local pharmacist, would use the visit to enter her bedroom and rape her.
She was 9-years-old.
Telling her story
Julie first told a cousin about the incident. The pair were reading magazines and Julie was worried she might be pregnant. The cousin encouraged her to tell her parents.
Telling her parents about the incident, Julie then found herself at the police station recounting first what happened to a detective and later describing the abuse in detail, in a written report.
“I had to write out everything that happened,” Julie recalled. “I used verbiage that was absolutely not appropriate for a 9-year-old.”
A few days later, Julie told her story to Department of Human Services caseworkers. That disclosure eventually led to the forensic interview in a counseling room with dolls, a table and a video camera.
By that point, Julie had told her story six times.
After the forensic interview, Julie was taken to the children’s advocacy center in Claremore for a physical exam. This meant Julie would need to tell her story for a seventh time to the doctor and nurse.
Julie said the medical personnel were able to document some physical findings, which indicated signs of abuse. Prosecutors later used this as evidence during the trial to prove the man’s guilt.
Julie said her memories of the investigation are limited. She remembers the main things, who she told, and all of the exams.
She also remembers going to “tons of counseling” – first in one-on-one sessions with a therapist, and then later, in-group sessions.
“I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I felt different than everyone else,” Julie said.
Julie’s abuse came at the time before child advocacy centers in Ottawa and Delaware County existed.
Now when a child discloses abuse, law enforcement personnel have the child questioned by a trained forensic interviewer at a facility like Delaware County Children’s Special Advocacy Network in Jay or the Ottawa County Child Advocacy Center in Miami.
This means the child’s retelling of the story is limited to the forensic interviewer and the medical personnel.
Others working the case – including the detectives and DHS caseworkers – use the recorded interview rather than questioning the victim multiple times.
Eventually prosecutors brought the man to trial. The man hired one of the best defense attorneys, at the time, in northeast Oklahoma to fight the charges.
Julie, now as an adult, knows the attorney was simply doing his job.
But for the 10-year-old girl testifying, she describes her encounters with the attorney as “an absolute horrible experience.”
“I was so mad,” Julie said. “He made me feel so horrible.”
While she does not remember each moment of the trial, one remains etched in her memory.
“I remember puking in Ben Loring’s trash can and laying in a fetal position by his desk,” Julie recalled.
She knows the judge called a recess in the case, and then Assistant District Attorney Barry Denney and others fought to have the judge allow her to finish her testimony sitting at an angle so she would be looking at the judge, rather than her abuser.
“I was a little kid, and little kids are vulnerable,” Julie said. “Going through the questions in detail was terrifying.”
Eventually the courts found the man guilty. He received a 20-year sentence for raping Julie.
The case would eventually prompt Denney – now a judge in Delaware County – to gather people together in Delaware County to form DCCSAN.
“I remember when they first started to raise money for DCCSAN,” Julie said. “I remember going to one of the first Winterset [fundraisers].
“I think the fact that we have this, is amazing. [Victims] shouldn’t have to tell their story 500 times, to 500 people.
“In a way, I was envious. Why didn’t they have this when I needed it.”
Julie said for a while, she was obsessed with knowing where the man was – especially after he was released from prison.
“I had the thought that he might be planning my demise [while in prison],” Julie said. “It sounds crazy, but a lot of victims worry about that.
“He made my life hell. He took my innocence away from me.”
At that time, lifetime sex offender registration was not required. At this point, Julie knows the man is free, living in northeast Oklahoma.
“You get through it,” Julie said. “It does happen.”
Eventually Julie completed her nursing degree. In her first year of nursing school, she decided to pursue the SANE or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner’s certification.
“It was important to me,” Julie said. “You have to be a nurse for a year before you can take the class, so I made it one of my first goals.”
Certified in Oklahoma, Julie is now working to earn the national certification.
She credits Denney, and the way he handled her case, for much of her success. The pair have remained friends to this day. Denney and his wife attended Julie's graduation from nursing school.
Julie works for a hospital in northeast Oklahoma. As a trained SANE nurse, she meets with victims and documents their stories. She also conducts the necessary physical exams, documenting in writing and in photographs any abnormal bruising, wounds or physical findings.
During those exams, she collects evidence of the assault, which is then turned to law enforcement officials following a strict protocol.
Julie said the examination also includes a discussion with the victims about all medical issues related to the incident, including sexual transmitted diseases and aftercare with their primary physician.
“The one thing I always tell them is to please follow up with an advocate,” Julie said. “There are so many resources available. Help is available.”
Julie said she became a SANE certified nurse for one simple reason – to help others.
“There are resources out there. People can help,” Julie said. “Victims are not alone. This can happen to anybody.”
Help is Available
Everyone, regardless of job, relationship or age, is mandated by Oklahoma law to report abuse.
In Title 10A, the state statute says "anyone suspecting child abuse or neglect must report it.”
If you, or someone you know, is a victim of physical, sexual or mental abuse, contact the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.
For more information about the services offered at DCCSAN - the Delaware County Children's Special Advocacy Network - persons interested may call 918-253-4539 or visit www.dccsan.org.
Changing the Laws
While Julie told her parents - and authorities - about the abuse when it happened, many childhood abuse victims do not, for a variety of reasons.
The disclosure often comes after the child becomes an adult when the statute of limitations for potential criminal charges for the offender has long pasted.
A bill, HB1468, currently moving through the Oklahoma Legislature, could change this.
Known as the Hidden Predator Act, it modifies time limitations for prosecuting certain sexual offenses.
Authored by Rep. Carol Bush (R) and Sen. David Holt (D), the bill has multiple co-sponsors including Rep. Ben Loring (D-Miami), Rep. Josh West (R-Grove) and Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow).
West said he joined the bill, because as the spouse of a therapist who works with child abuse victims, he has seen the lifetime effects of abuse.
West said the bill, which extends the statute of limitations until the victim reaches age 45, allows survivors additional time to seek justice.
For McDugle, the decision to support the bill is personal.
When the legislation came before his colleagues, McDugle stood in the House chamber and began to relate his experiences as a teenage victim of abuse.
At the age of 14, McDugle, like many of his friends, was drawn to the "cool youth leader" within his community.
One night the youth leader invited a group of students to his home. McDugle said he went, not thinking anything about the event.
At some point the other students left, leaving McDugle alone with the man.
"The next thing I know, he's having me in his bed," McDugle said. "His motives were inappropriate. He began to touch me."
McDugle said he felt confused by the man's actions. Unable to drive, he felt trapped, unable to leave or seek help.
"It was a one time incident, but I've had to deal with it for 35 years," McDugle said.
At the age of 42, McDugle felt bold enough to tell his wife, and then later his parents. He has since told his story through multiple platforms, in hopes it encourages other survivors to seek help.
McDugle believes most survivors do not seek help until they reach their 40s, when maturity helps them realize the abuse was not their fault.
Current laws in Oklahoma say that criminal charges may be pursued up to 12 years from the point of discovery. For adults, this means 12 years past their 18th birthday, or until the age of 31.
"It takes longer for a child to process abuse," McDugle said. "This is an important bill."
When McDugle's colleagues voted on the bill in February, it passed with no dissenting votes. He believes telling his story made the bill stronger, which led to the 92 to 0 vote in the House.
It has now moved to the Senate, where it has gone through the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting scheduling for a floor vote.