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Life is unpredictable. None of us can say what will or won’t happen. When facing a life-defining moment, we can prepare a response. However, until we are actually faced with that moment; we cannot say what we will or won’t do. Hear the heart of this first responder’s account of the day her son was abused.

The day was like any other day. I went to work and to be honest, nothing unusual stood out to me about this day; it is now a day locked into my brain that I will never forget. I am a single mom of two sons, my oldest was 14, and my baby boy was ten at the time. I was not always present for my boys the way I wanted to be. One reason is that I was their sole provider so sometimes I could not be present. That is not an excuse; it is my truth. I guess I share that with you because I want you to know I was a bad mother, and I am not a terrible person.

I gave my boys the best foundation that I could. They were latch-key kids so after school they would come home, have a snack and start their homework. We had a neighbor who was an older single guy, and he would play catch with the boys or invite them over to play video games. I never thought anything of it because I taught my boys always to stick together. If one person goes, the other goes along. They knew this. It was my way of trying to keep them safe and teach them togetherness when I could not be around.

During the summer months, the boys would spend the morning in enrichment camps, walk home for lunch and then they had the option to go to a park around the corner from our house or stay home and play indoor games. For some reason, on this day; my boys did not stick to the plan. Like children sometimes do, they did their own thing and hoped I wouldn’t find out. My oldest son wanted to walk to the park to play basketball, and my younger son wanted to play video games. They were on our porch talking about their dilemma, and our friendly neighbor overheard them and invited my baby boy to come and play the video game at his house; while his brother went to play basketball. That way they both got what they wanted. Of course, this sounded like the perfect plan to my boys, and they went along with it.

I returned home early from work this day (unfortunately for me I wasn't early enough). I pulled up in front of our house and saw my ten-year- old sitting on the porch. I knew right away by how the was slumped over that something was wrong. I figured his big brother had bullied him, or not allowed him to have his turn with the game or one of their other sibling challenges. I was wrong. In my worst nightmares, I could not have imagined what my son would share with me. My first question was where is your brother? He lifted his head, and his eyes were red, I could tell he had been crying. My internal alarms went off because my boys were never really the emotional type.

“Rick went to the park to play basketball,” he said.

Right away I begin to scold him on why he hadn’t gone with, and he knows they are supposed to stick together and in the middle of my scolding he dropped his head and began to cry. I dropped my purse and keys and sat next to him on the porch. I knew this was bigger than him being left behind. Something in his cry was alarming, and I knew whatever it was; it was not good. My stomach twisted with his sobs and I could feel my heartbeat in my throat.

I broke into his moment of sobs and asked what happened. He explained that our neighbor, who would sometimes keep an eye on the boys for me had invited him to come over. He heard the boys arguing over if they would go to the park or play video games and invited him over to "solve the problem." I had never allowed either of them to go alone, and they knew this was the rule. I always figured that as long as they were together, they would be safe. I was right.

My son explained to me that our neighbor sexually assaulted him. I was speechless. Immediately I felt confusion, fear, hurt and rage rising in me. I had no idea what to do, so I cradled my son and let him cry. Moments later my older son walked up to the porch as he returned from the park. He caught my eye and saw me holding his brother, and he knew something was wrong. I asked him to take his brother inside the house.

Once the door was closed, I rushed to our neighbor’s house to confront him. He had left by that time, and until this day, I am glad he wasn’t home. I’m not sure what our encounter would have been, but as angry as I was, it probably would have landed me in jail. I went to our house and called the police and made my son share with the officers what he told me. They had me take him to the hospital for evidence and an examination.

The months after that are still a blur. We pressed charges, and our neighbor was arrested and convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to sixty years. His sentence meant nothing to me. I was in a rage. I am still in a rage. I was angry with my older son for leaving him. I am angry with myself for leaving them both and allowing a sick man access to my sons. Our lives changed forever that day. My son has never been the same. I would give anything to trade that moment in time and restore his stolen innocence. It was my fault.

I'm thankful for my dear friend being brave enough to allow me to share her story. She really is an amazing mother and a loving parent. Knowing her the way I do, I am also glad the neighbor was not home. Walking with her through this heartbreaking experience gave me a first-hand look into the responder’s perspective on the situation. I recall her anger, disbelief and even her deep regret. However, I admired her ability to put her emotions aside and be there for her son. Their journey was not an easy one, and the conviction did not come overnight, but it came. For her son, this was a sense of justice, and he felt his mom was so brave for standing up and protecting him. To my friend, it was not enough.

Responders come in different variations, anybody working with children should be prepared to respond to the unthinkable should the unthinkable happen. Be ready. You are stronger than you think and more powerful than you know.

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