In the first full episode of the Amplified Voices Podcast, Amber and Jason talk with Jean, the mother of a child sexual abuse survivor who talks about her experiences dealing with both the harm her family experienced due to the abuse, as well as their experiences with the criminal legal system. Jean shares her thoughts on how her family was affected, her search for answers, what they thought justice should look like, her spirituality, and their journey to advocacy and healing.
During the episode, Jean discusses her involvement with ACSOL, the Association for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws. Information on this organization can be found at https://all4consolaws.org
[00:00:00] Intro: Everyone has a voice. A story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted. What if there were a way to amplify those stories to have conversations with real people in real communities. A way to help them step into the power of their lived experiences? Welcome to Amplified voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. Together we can create positive change for everyone.
[00:00:33] Jason: Hello and welcome to Amplified Voices. I'm Jason, and I'm here today with my co-host Amber. Good morning, Amber.
[00:00:41] Amber: Good morning, Jason.
[00:00:42] Jason: Today we're joined by Jean Jean is in California and she is the mother of a child sexual abuse survivor. And welcome. Jean.
[00:00:53] Jean: Thank you very much for having me.
[00:00:56] Jason: We’re gonna really give you an opportunity to tell your story and how you got involved in the criminal justice system and what's happened in your family. Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us before we get into it a little bit about you? What your life was like before everything happened and you got involved in the system?
[00:01:13] Jean: Yeah. So I live in a rural area, very conservative area in California. Definitely very red. I was one who believed in law & order, given the harshest punishment, once an offender, always an offender. I remember when Megan's Law came out, I was thrilled to be able to find out who were the perverts, that we're living in my neighborhood. So that way I can make sure that my kids stayed away from those areas. When I purchased my first home, my first response was to go look on the registry to, find out where all the perverts were in that neighborhood to make sure that I lived away from them. Shortly after I purchased my first home, there was a ballot initiative just called Jessica's Law that would prohibit someone on the registry from living anywhere near a park or school. I was like Well, yeah, I'm gonna vote for that. I've got a park on one side and a school on another. I'm gonna protect my kids. I made sure that my kids didn't go to the park alone. You know, they always had to have an adult with them. I made sure that if they were riding their bikes around the neighborhood, they always had to be within view site because the last thing I wanted was someone to snatch one of my kids from me and and hurt them. And I was doing everything that I was told by the media and our politicians on ways that I could protect my Children. And I had the shock of my life about eight years ago when my teenage daughter came out and told me that she was being sexually abused by someone that we knew, and in that instant my whole world just turned upside down. I didn't understand how in the world this happened. You know what? No, that that can't be. But the more she was telling me what would going on, the more I knew she was telling me the truth. I was just in a complete, utter shock and disbelief, but also at the same time knowing that what she was saying was 100% true. You don't want to believe it, but you know it's true, and I started to blame myself. I started thinking that I must be a horrible parent because I didn't see it. I didn't see the warning signs. I didn't see the grooming behavior I didn't see, I didn't see the abuse. And it wasn't until she shared what was going on, that I could look back and I could see all those red lights, all those trigger lights that should have alerted me that something was going on. And that led me to doing research. Well, if it weren't the people on the registry that I should fear, What is the truth? And I went out and I was just searching, searching for data. What is the truth? Because I felt lied to for so long.
[00:04:42] Jason: You're saying that the person that you trusted was somebody that had never got into trouble before and somebody that you didn't suspect? You were busy worrying about the guy that might come to the park or might be lurking in the park, but not this trusted individual?
[00:04:59] Jean: Oh, absolutely. This person wasn't on the registry. They didn't have a criminal background and definitely someone of position of trust to someone that I didn't have a problem with being around my Children. And so I was trying to search and trying to find out what is the truth? You know who is the threat. Was this just a one off? Or is this the truth that people not on the registry are the ones that are the biggest threat? And that's what I found when I did my research. Is that over 90%? Some say up to 95% of sexual abuses committed by people who are not on the registry and are those who are trusted and known by the victim. Hm. And then when I dug even deeper to find that out
[00:05:47] Jason: thing that you did right away or is that part of an evolution? I mean, I could imagine being a parent and finding this out must have been I could almost imagine going into shock and being incapacitated for a while and just even breaking down. I mean, I've heard stories of people just breaking down. I was that your experience, or did you immediately go into I've got to research this and find out what's going on.
[00:06:10] Jean: Both I completely shut down. I was not able to function at all to the point that my parents would have to come over and tell me I have to do dishes. I need to vacuum the floor. You know, just the simple, everyday tasks that you don't have a problem with before. And you're just saying they're almost zombie like,
[00:06:35] Jason: and you have more than one child. So this is affecting both the one that came forward with the abuse as well as your other Children, your whole family
[00:06:42] Jean: correct. And it has such a, huge. I mean, it impacted everyone of my family, you know, to my brothers and sisters and parents and in laws. And it impacted everyone dramatically. And everyone was in a state of shock.
[00:07:06] Jason: And I think you're a religious person, right?
[00:07:08] Jean: Very religious. I've been a Christian as long as I can remember. I've been in the church my entire life and gave my life to Christ when I was still very small
[00:07:20] Jason: Do you think that your faith helped you, Or did you end up challenging your faith? Tell us about that.
[00:07:25] Jean: It definitely strengthened my faith. drew me closer to God because I couldn't do this on my own. My strength was not enough to to be able to handle this. And so I did turn around and I did reach out to my church and try to get help and support. But unfortunately, the church that I was attending at that time when they found out that I was not looking for harsh punishment, that I was actually following the teachings that I was taught
[00:07:55] Jason: that you were that you were brought up to believe
[00:07:58] Jean: Yeah, that I actually had empathy actually had forgiveness. I didn't want harsh punishment because that's not what our daughter wanted. You know, she just wanted that person to get the help and support that they needed. So that way they would no longer offend. She wanted what most victims want-- ownership and accountability and getting the help that they needed. And so that's what we were pushing for. But the church that I attended thought I was crazy and told me that God wouldn't want that. And so I actually had to leave that church because I could no longer attend a church that did not practice what it preached. It's okay for everybody else to have redemption as long as you didn't have that kind of crime or you didn't commit this kind of crime or that kind of crime the church teaches and Christ teaches that everyone is eligible for redemption, that all we had to do was go to him and confess their sins and stop offending.
[00:09:10] Jason: So this affected so many more relationships. Because if you left that church, not only did it affect your entire family now you're leaving a community that you've been a part of from I'm assuming a number of years.
[00:09:21] Jean: Yes, For decades it didn't take long, but I think that other people were also seeing some signs of problems within the church. And so I know several of those people that I have had connections with for decades left to go on to other churches as well. And it's been a struggle for me ever since to be able to find a church that actually practiced what it preaches. There are some that say, Well, we're OK with people on the registry, but we don't want them to do this or we don't want that. And I can't stand for a church that wants to exclude people, knowing what I've been through and seeing how the impact of all of this had on families of the person who committed the harm. God really moved in my heart to reach out to those individuals and to help them, because in my own hurt I needed to help them and their hurt as well.
[00:10:30] Jason: So you went from being someone who was severely impacted in your family to being an advocate and absolutely involved. Tell us a little bit about that journey. Like, how did that come about?
[00:10:40] Jean: Well dealing with the criminal justice system and the way that our family was treated horribly. Being told that our voices were not important because we were not advocating for the harsh punishment really pushed me into getting involved in pushing for reform, which led me to start working with Janice (Bellucci from ACSOL) and Axel. I started going with her to the state capitol to start advocating for reform. I go to the capitol and share my story, but all the while also hearing the family members and the struggles that they were going through hearing the parents and the fact that they can't talk to the friends and families talking to the wives and that they can't talk to people because they also feel the shame of what their loved one committed. They were feeling the same hurt I was daily. And so I really had this heart to create a support group for those who were on the registry and for the loved ones who support them. That's been a long journey, trying to create a support group for those who are dealing with all of this and talking with multiple churches within my community. It's suggesting something like this that, you know, we practice. Redemption is for everybody. We also should offer support. And what a better way to reach out to those who need Christ Most Those who were rejected as Christ reached out to those who were rejected in his days, and I just kept getting the store slammed shut. Fortunately, God finally opened the door to a church who understands and who do believe in redemption for all. And when I asked, they said yes. And so I actually have a support group that meets weekly, you know, at their church for individuals. Obviously with covid-19 right now that's been more remote, but still, I'm able to reach out and help so many people who
[00:12:55] Jason: have you been able to work together during the pandemic?
[00:12:59] Jean: We're doing zoom meetings so that we were talking and sharing with one another until a point that the church feels it's safe enough to, ah, resume meetings in person again. So I'm grateful that we have platforms like this that we can be able to get together and talk and share and have others deal with what they're going through. I get healing by talking to those who have committed harm and finding out their “Why”s and the things that they have done in order to prevent themselves from going down the wrong path. And I've heard so many of them tell me that they find healing because I can give them a voice that they haven't been able to get. I'm coming from the voice of a victim, secondary victim, but still a victim nonetheless, and that they can hear my side. So that way I can offer healing. We're doing a restorative justice circle.
[00:14:06] Jason: So you started off where people in the neighborhood you're terrified of the other, the guy that might come in that's been put on the registry and now you're sitting down in meetings with people who have committed probably some pretty horrible acts and you're finding their humanity and talking with them and getting to know them and healing. And they're healing in your healing. And that's the service you're bringing.
[00:14:30] Jean: Absolutely! I can be in a room full of people who are on the registry and feel like a I’m in a room full of family.
[00:14:39] Amber: Wow, that's really powerful. Let's go back just a little bit and talk a little bit about the criminal justice system and how that process went from the side of somebody who had experienced harm and being the mother of somebody who had experienced harm. What was that process like for you?
[00:15:01] Jean: More traumatic, I think. I know it was more traumatic for all of us than the initial abuse. When this went through, I really sat down with my daughter and really tried to get from her what it is that she wanted out of all of this because as her mother, I wanted to be her advocate. I wanted to make sure that she got the justice that she wanted. Her sense of justice was one year for every here that she was suffering abuse. So that was four years. However, the prosecutor, um didn't agree, didn't feel that that was harsh enough. And so the best offered that was ever offered to the person was 20 years, with the maximum of 30 years. When I tried to tell them that that is not the justice that we were looking for, you know, and told them what she wanted. Her response was, well, she's not old enough to know what she wants, Mind you, she is old enough to operate a motor vehicle. She is old enough to hold a job. She's old enough to baby set kids. She's old enough that if I was in a divorce that she could choose which parent she wanted to live with. She's old enough that if she was criminally charge, she could be tried as an adult. Yet she was not old enough to decide what is justice for her.
[00:16:46] Amber: So you’re saying you really didn't feel like the current justice system, heard your voice and your daughter's voice?
[00:16:55] Jean: No, In fact, they hurt us more. They used CPS as an attack dog in order to get us into compliance, threatening to remove my kids from me because I was not protecting them because I was advocating for a lighter punishment and they were looking for
[00:17:17] Jason: We gotta stop there. So you we're devastated that this was going on. You bring it forward, somebody that you care about was criminally charged, Put through this system. Somebody else that you care about was harmed. And they're threatening you for not taking care of your family for not trying to be as punitive as possible.
[00:17:44] Jean: Correct to the point that I even had CPS looking into criminally charging me. That's devastating. And I was the one who recorded the abuse. And they wanted to criminally charge me because I reported the abuse because in their eyes, I must have known and I allowed it to happen. Therefore, I should be criminally charged. Luckily, I had people surrounding me and advocating that I'm a good mom, that I would do everything that I could to protect my kids and that, thankfully, thank you, God, that nothing ever came of that, but to the point that you would charge someone who reported abuse and took action immediately as soon as they found out we're not talking about days or months or years. I'm talking about hours even to the point that I made sure that my kids were placed in a protective space. So that way I can go and confront the person who committed the harm prior to calling the authorities. I took action immediately, yet I was looked at as being culpable.
[00:19:12] Jason: The same.
[00:19:13] Jean: Yeah.
[00:19:14] Amber: Wow. So now you've been on this journey, you have experienced life along way. I mean, we all are involved in advocacy, but you know, every day we get up and we still have Children and we have jobs and we have other stress makers, if you will. And we keep continuing on what did everyday life look like for you after this process occurred for you, your family, your daughter,
[00:19:44] Jean: taking everything a day at a time. A step at a time was a challenge. It took a good two years to finally get to a point where I wasn't trying to remind myself to breathe. And it still have been years after that, just dealing with the emotional impact that all of this has had. But it's also caused a desire to want to do change. The thing I like to say the most is that if anything the justice system pissed off the wrong person and that, um in order for my healing to occur, I had to do something to create change, which is why I dove into advocacy. I had to do something. They pissed off the wrong person. And I have to do something about this because I’ve seen injustice, and I can’t allow it to continue. Um, and I think that that has really helped a lot with my healing by being involved in reform. It definitely helped out a lot over the years, until the last year or so, where I've been able to start the emotional support group and offer that help. I went through counseling for those two years just to deal with a the initial shock and then another year just dealing with the emotional turmoil of going through trial and the way that the prosecutor treated all of us in order to get the conviction that they were looking for,
[00:21:26] Amber: well, one of the things that you said I really connected with when you said that folks who are associated with someone who's committed harm, you know, maybe their wives or things like that are feeling the same feelings. So you know, that really brings to mind for me that idea of shame. So when we talk about sexual violence and sexual harm, that brings a lot of shame too. Everyone involved in that and the registry. And you know, the regime that kind of surrounds all of the restrictions on the registry and whatnot cause a lot of shame to families. And I know that because you do so much work with families, you kind of see that in your interactions. Let's talk a little bit more about that. What are some of the things when you work with families that you see some of those parallels?
[00:22:21] Jean: The shame is the primary thing that I see. They can't talk to people about it because people see them as enablers. If they're supporting the person who committed harm, then they must have been OK with the harm that was committed, which is not true. Just like I was being seen as that as well, I must have seen the abuse and I allowed it to happen, and all the people that I know who have someone who's on the registry, none of them none of them ever agreed to what happened was okay. None of them believe that what the person did didn't cause harm. They all know that what they believe in and what I believe in is that people are able to change and that when we give them the opportunity and the permission to change. And I think that's the biggest thing is that we have to allow them the permission that they can change. We can't keep telling them. Well, no, you can't change because you committed this heinous offence. They can. We know that they can, because the data shows that the can. We know that the re-offense rates as one among the lowest among all other crimes. So the data is there. We know that that happens. I see it. I've talked to men who have been outside offense free for decades after they committed harm. I know that they also are feeling the wounds of the offense again. I call myself the secondary victim, the family members of the person who committed harm are also secondary victims, whether they knew the person at the time that the offence was committed or even after the offense was committed they still feel the wounds of the offense because of the way society treats them. You know same reason why victims, they feel shame. And when they come out and talk about their reviews and people shame them and blame them well, you must have done something to leave the person on, or whatever they use were all in the same boat. We all feel that same emotion. We all feel that shame in one way or another. We can't talk about it. You can't talk to other people about what you're going through unless they know what you're going through. Family members can't talk to other people about dealing with the effects of the registry because they don't understand what it's like.
[00:24:58] Jason: You talk about the emotional support groups that you're part of, and that's wonderful. And that's for family members like you. There's an opportunity so people can get over that shame hurdle and go and seek it out. They can find those emotional support groups. What's really tough is that people who have committed harm oftentimes the only groups that are available to them are mandated groups that are part of supervision and they're not allowed to associate with people who have also committed harm until years later, you know, so that healing is often delayed. That could be a challenge.
[00:25:31] Jean: And luckily in the county that I live in the mandated treatment provider that the men in my group go to when the men have told them what the support group is about and where it's located, they were given permission to attend, so even though they're still on supervised release, their treatment provider gave them the OK. In fact, they actually encourage it.
[00:26:00] Amber: So can you talk a little bit about what the process did you as the person who is organizing the group? Did you do some work to talk to probation and parole? What was that process? Or is it up to the individual to ask for that permission?
[00:26:16] Jean: This is just individual to individual. Whenever I have someone who is interested in attending and say that they're on supervised release, I told him that they'll first need to talk to their probation or parole officer and talk to their mandated treatment provider to get prior approval. And I offer them to have those individuals contact me if they have any questions, but I haven't had anybody ever contact me. In fact, they've just said Okay, no problem and just loved them to attend.
[00:26:51] Jason: And we need to create that blueprint across the country so that that's available everywhere.
[00:26:56] Jean: Yeah, I think it definitely helps the fact that the group is at a church, that they feel like there's a organization behind it. It's not just an individual group just by other people. I think that that gives it more credibility for those probation and parole officers and treatment providers. If it was just a in home support group that their little maybe a little more cautious of
[00:27:24] Jason: Thank you, I want to take it in a little different direction. When the abuse first became public knowledge, were there people in your circle that surprised you either because they didn't offer you the support you were looking for? They didn't want to hear about what you needed or may have surprised you in another way, somebody who may have been not such a close friend who really came forward and gave you the support that you need it.
[00:27:50] Jean: Yeah, I lost friends when they found out that we were actually supportive of the person who committed harm and supporting their rehabilitation, and we did not want the harsh punishment. It actually fractured my family to the point that I had to cut off family members because they were causing so much more stress and emotional trauma that I almost had a mental breakdown because I just could not handle another aspect of them attacking me because I was not being harsh enough in regards to what punishment that that person should get. On the flip side, I've had people who I thought were going to be totally judgmental or not wanting what I wanted or what my daughter wanted, who were supportive. In fact, some of them were even victims themselves. That shocked me.
[00:28:54] Jason: I think that's very common. You know, once you become a magnet for so many stories, I mean, that can also become overwhelming, right. People come out of the woodwork and share with you. This happened in my family. This happened to me. This happened, you know. So did you experience any of that?
[00:29:10] Jean: I feel the more people who come and talk to me and share their stories with me, it's more healing because we're connecting in a way that no one else is.
[00:29:21] Amber: I'm shaking---you can't see me. But I am definitely shaking my head in agreement.
[00:29:27] Jean: You know every time you talk to somebody who understands what you're going through, the more healing you get and you don't realize that they're still hurt. You know, I've been dealing with this for eight years, and I'm still today. Every time I talk to someone new, I get another piece of healing that I didn't know that I still needed. And I think that this is going to be an evolution. I think there will always be a small piece of healing that will always need to be done and just talking and connecting with other people who are experiencing the effects of sexual harm regards that there the person who committed the harm or if they're the family member or they're the victim were all dealing with the same things. And we're all trying to connect with one another because we all feel the exact same emotions.
[00:30:21] Jason: You realize you're not alone. It helps lessen that shame that can build up and be so devastating.
[00:30:27] Jean: Yeah, we're all looking for the same thing. We're all looking to heal the harm and the hurt that was caused.
[00:30:36] Amber: So what do you feel is the path forward on a personal level and on a policy level, I guess that's two questions
[00:30:46] Jean: on a personal level, I would say restorative justice. Justice brings about the healing that everybody needs and wants. Prison sentences doesn't help. Neither the victim nor the person who committed the harm were as a restorative justice, where the person sits down with the other person regardless of its direct or if it's someone who is of a like mind similar offense, you're able to connect with one another and share and talk to each other and create the healing that needs to be done. The victim can see the person having true remorse and taking accountability for their actions, taking ownership, seeing the fact that what they're doing, an order to help themselves. So that way they do not cause harm to someone else, which is so important to those who experience sexual harm. So it's definitely a better platform in dealing with that. There might be somewhere a prison sentence may be appropriate, but for the most part. I do believe restorative justice is the better option.
[00:32:04] Amber: So what do you say to those folks who are skeptical of restorative justice practices? Who say we're just all hugging and making up and the accountability isn't there?
[00:32:19] Jean: No, There absolutely is accountability. In fact, you know, I talked with Dr Alyssa Ackerman and she does these a lot, and she, she actually make sure is that the person who committed the harm actually does something to show accountability. There is something that they have to do sometimes. Yes, there is an appropriate sentence, which is a prison. Like I said, for us, it was acceptable for this person to go to prison for four years. That was an appropriate sentence. 30 years was definitely not appropriate. But we could also have a restorative justice circle. In order to help heal those wounds for both sides,
[00:33:02] Jason: I want to make sure that Jean has an opportunity to tell whatever part of her story whatever part of your story, Jean, that you want to tell that you really just never have an opportunity to talk about
[00:33:15] Jean: my thing right now is that I really would love for the church is to start working proactively and educating their congregants on sexual violence. What does it look like, what are preventative measures, as well as offering help and support for those who would have committed sexual harm. We know just by looking at media that the church has been horrible in dealing with sexual harm. They need to do a better job. They need to do a better job in educating people on what the warning signs and ways that they can help prevent it. And they're doing a horrible job in regards to putting protections in place for those who are dealing with those who are at risk of sexual harm. And I would also say that they need to do a better job reaching out and helping the people who are indirectly affected, the family members who have the loved one who committed the harm, as well as the families who have experienced a sexual harm. They need to do a better job in helping with facilitate the healing instead of ignoring it. And the church has been really good about ignoring it, and they need to stop doing that
[00:34:42] Amber: and so do you see yourself and organizations that you're involved in as a resource for those churches or people affiliated with religious organizations who really want that for themselves.
[00:34:55] Jean: I would love to be a resource. I just don't know if I have the professional experience to be able to be that, but definitely someone with the personal experience. I am really hoping that the group that I have is a good pathway for other churches to see that you can have something like this in effect and it's not causing any harm to anybody. There's no collateral consequences. As a result, none of the people in the groups that I have attended have re offended so that they can see that there's actually a success in this. And it's not just people talking around talking about their feelings. There's actually, we’re actually developing curriculum as we go longer. It's actually discussions going on it. We have a similar set up like a recovery where we actually have topics that we talk about every single week. And like I said, it is definitely something similar to like a restorative justice where both sides can talk about the hurts that they've experienced and the healing that they're going through.
[00:36:04] Amber: Jean. I really can't thank you enough for talking with us today. And the amazing work that you're doing your voice is so important, and I think that your life experience really adds to the conversation. A lot of times people think that there's us, there's them, there's victims, there's perpetrators. But one of the big things that we're trying to do with this work. And it seems you're trying to do as well as, really bring the humanity in that shared humanity that all of us have together in order to move things forward. Because at the end of the day, it's all about restoring people, restoring people to community and allowing for that healing. So I'm just so thrilled to have you here today and have you share your experiences.
[00:36:52] Jean: Well, I appreciate you guys so much for just allowing need to be able to share this.
[00:36:57] Jason: Thank you.
[00:36:57] Exit: Thank you. You've been listening to Amplified Voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. For more information, episodes and podcast notes, visit amplifiedvoices.show