Lynn and Troy Stone are pictured with their daughter. "We can educate and equip people to protect children and provide them with a safe place to come to," says Lynn. "There is hope of a world where sexual abuse is abolished." [photos by Elennie Ramirez]
It can come from strangers or a trusted person already in your life—a one-time event or grooming done over a longer period. Often this trusted person is in your family, church, school or neighborhood and exercises some power or control in your life. Both scenarios have the potential to change your life forever. Being sexually abused by an individual you know often brings extra baggage carried in a completely different way.
However, there is good news. It is called prevention. We can educate and equip people to protect children and provide them with a safe place to come to. There is hope of a world where sexual abuse is abolished. To get there we need to unmask the problem. Voice the secrets. And most of all expose the abusers.
Join me in this endeavor as I share our family’s story.
In October 2019, I assisted our church at an event to encourage members to become involved with non-profit organizations in our community. While there I helped to staff a table for Children's Advocacy Center (CAC). Most of their material was education for prevention of sexual abuse in children. I was intrigued by the handouts, so I brought some home.
A few nights later we gathered in our basement as a family to go through the children's part. This was just intended to be educational for our children. There was no way in the world one of them had been sexually abused.
I remember it as if it was yesterday. When the explanation of good touch and bad touch began it wasn't uncomfortable at all. I was thankful for the materials’ help to say things I had wanted to say for years, but just never knew how. Everything had been well received to this point. I prompted with a question I, of course, knew the answer to, "Has anyone ever had a bad touch?"
To my utter horror, one of our girls raised her hand. We sat in disbelief and confusion for a moment but finished the discussion. Afterward, my husband Troy and I pulled that child aside to inquire where her answer came from.
After a short, poorly done investigation, we came away even more confused. She immediately named Uncle Scott as the one who had done the bad touch. The timeframe was two years earlier when she stayed overnight at their house while we were in the hospital with a newborn.
Scott was married to Troy’s sister, Mindy. Our two families enjoyed spending as much time together as possible. When it came time to choose a family for our children to be willed to, the easy choice was Scott and Mindy.
Scott had abused one of our children? How could that be? Surely it was an accident? He was just picking you up to play and accidentally did that, right? At that moment, our 6-year-old child knew we did not believe her. The relief of telling this secret after so long must have felt amazing, only to have us assure her it couldn't have happened. She back-pedaled and agreed it was an accident, or maybe even a dream.
We talked to a few of our other children, and they confirmed that nothing had ever happened to them. It was all just a weird mess we didn't want to think about ever again. Scott was such a nice guy. He loved our family. He would never hurt anyone. Especially one of our younger children. Why would he ever have been attracted to a 4-year-old child?
Troy and I decided we wouldn't completely dismiss the conversation though. We would put up more barriers to protect our children. No more sleepovers and keep our children in view while around Scott.
Then came July 4, 2020.
That morning our youngest child developed a fever, so I stayed home while Troy took the rest of our children to Scott and Mindy’s house to celebrate the holiday with a swimming party and meal. That was the last day anyone in our family ever spent time with Scott and Mindy’s family again.
Troy and the children came back that evening with stories of the day’s fun, food and conversations. Monday morning came and Troy headed off to work. The children decided to swim after lunch. After putting on her swimsuit another one of our girls came running into the living room saying, "Mom, Scott was inappropriate again!"
That statement got my full attention, and I asked her to explain. She described Scott being inappropriate with her in the pool during their visit on July 4, two days earlier, and that Daddy had also been in the pool helping the little kids. She then told me she thought something bad happened to her other sister again as well. I knew in that instant we had been wrong. Our kids had never been safe.
I immediately went to talk to her sister, who nine months before had told us of a bad touch. I asked her what had happened at the pool. “Nothing,” was her reply. I begged her to tell me the truth. She replied with the worst words I have ever heard in my 40 years of life ... "I already told you."
My heart was pierced, this was the time to truly listen to her and believe her. She described the abuse with tears running down her face. I thanked her for trusting me again with the information. I immediately called Troy, explaining what little details I knew. He had been in the pool the whole time but never saw anything? How could that be? We were not sure, but we knew we had to believe the girls this time.
Troy suggested talking to his dad, a former cop who also did private investigation work. After awkward chitchat with his mom and dad, I began relating the details I had heard from our girls just an hour or two before. They shook their heads, even cried a few tears and agreed Scott needed help if this was true. I told them of the conversation from nine months before and insisted there was no way this wasn't truth.
We called Mindy to join us and shared what we knew. She called Scott to come over immediately, but before he arrived, I asked her if there was anything we needed to know. She was very upset but explained there was something in his past that included a two-year-old girl and that at times she had been concerned about their own daughters. At this point she said to her parents, “You both knew this.” We realized this was a family secret.
Scott arrived but denied all of it when confronted, using his tears to change the atmosphere in the room. Everyone pleaded with him to tell the truth, but he stuck to his story of playing a game that must have been misunderstood. At this point the focus in the room shifted to me. Had I talked the girls into saying something happened when it didn't? I knew it was time for me to leave. That was the last time I ever saw or talked to any of them again in a family type of way.
The confusion over what had just happened was heavy for us on the ride home. We had gone to a safe place for help and left feeling blamed. Is this how our daughter had felt nine months before?
Troy talked to the girls separately when we arrived back home. They explained to him the exact same story they had told me. He apologized that this had happened, hugged them and told them he believed them. We didn't realize at this point how much our lives were going to change forever.
The next morning Troy called his dad again, asking him to speak as an investigator not a father. His dad explained that Scott probably “got his hand caught in the cookie jar but would never do it again.” It was now time for Troy to be the Christian man he was and forgive Scott. He said, “Things are different when it is family. Your girls are fine. They will get over this. If you bring it to court, you will surely cause more trauma upon them.”
Was that true? We didn't know what would happen if we brought this to the attention of law enforcement. The decision at that point had to be Troy’s and it weighed upon him like a boulder. Providentially, some close friends pointed us in the direction of a family who had been through something similar years before. We met with this family before the day was over.
The father said something that struck a chord with Troy, “No one can rate the trauma from any abuse. Who can say what those girls have been through, how they feel and how they will be in the future? You standing up for them, believing them and fighting for them is your duty as a father.” I was so thankful for men willing to stand against evil, even within the boundaries of their own families.
First thing the next morning, Troy called the police department and scheduled an appointment.
There are many ways people report sexual abuse or are reported on. Often victims call the CAC to ask for a forensic interview. Others are called by Child Protective Services (CPS) if the child tells a teacher or counselor, and they report it to CPS. I know a mom who called 911 and was told the police would show up at her house. I’m not sure which avenue is best but am thankful for the way our story played out.
The detective, Michael, was someone we knew and that helped. He interviewed us on July 8 for almost three hours about every detail and conversation we could remember. To our amazement, he wasn't shocked about anything. He had been doing this type of work for 20 years, in over 1,000 cases, and the stories all had a similar flow.
Michael used words like abuse, perpetrator, grooming, 1st and 2nd degree, victims, interviews, arrests, jail and judges. What world were we about to embark on? We would soon take our next steps into a scary, uncharted future. He closed the interview by making an appointment for our children at the CAC for their forensic interviews.
How do you prepare your children for a forensic interview? We were asking our traumatized children to tell a stranger about their unspeakable abuse. We told them they needed to be brave, tell the truth to whatever questions were asked, and that we loved and believed them. From our first visit to the CAC, we were surrounded by professionals who took us seriously, advocated for our girls and showed nothing but kindness and compassion. The interviews went well, and the team recommended medical evaluations of both girls.
Michael called us by the end of the day to tell us he had a warrant for Scott’s arrest.
On the morning of July 19, 2020, two weeks since the girls had disclosed the sexual abuse to us, Scott was interviewed but admitted to nothing. When confronted about any history of abusing children he said that information was supposed to be suppressed, and he needed a lawyer to talk any further. Michael booked him in the jail for the night and moved on to interview Mindy.
He was met outside Mindy’s house by Scott's mom. Michael asked her about Scott’s past problems with this type of offense. She volunteered dates, affected families, and that he pled guilty and received court counseling at the age of 14. Mindy was still defensive, insisting that Scott didn't do this.
Scott was arraigned the next morning and his bond was set at $25,000. He returned home 24 hours after entering the jail.
Our girls’ medical appointments took place three days later. During our initial meeting with the nurse, we learned a lot about signs of anxiety. She explained that some kids may tell everything at disclosure, some may give details slowly, and some may never tell the whole story.
Each child’s visit alone with the doctor was important, especially for our state. Doctors are the only people, other than sometimes the parents, who can retell the child's testimony in a court setting. In the end, her need to gather the information validated for us that their disclosure was the same.
Even with detailed explanations and care taken to answer every question, the medical exams were very stressful. The doctor focused on how healthy their bodies were and assured each of them that no matter how they were hurt their bodies were normal. Troy and I met with the medical team and reviewed the results, which included recommendations for counseling and weight management. The girls’ first day of counseling was Aug. 11, 2020. Both girls loved their counselor from day one.
The nights were almost always heavy and long. The separation anxiety became almost unmanageable. The girls played but were always watching where we were and what we were doing. They seemed to carry a weight of guilt and fear of the unknown that no child should ever have to carry.
One quiet summer day the police showed up in our driveway with a subpoena to appear in court. Scott had decided to exercise his right to a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings are often waived as a right of the defendant but in our case, Scott used it as his right to have one.
It would force our girls to testify and see if they could handle being on the stand. If they broke down and cried, couldn’t tell their story, then the case would be over. It was a gamble Scott decided to take. That night we called on our prayer warriors. There was nothing we could do. If God wanted our case to go on, He needed to speak through our girls, they just needed to be willing.
They both showed impossible strength at the preliminary hearing on Sept. 2, 2020. We weren’t allowed in the courtroom, but our son witnessed it all. He was broken to the core by what took place. Watching his tiny sisters point out their abuser and describe the unspeakable things he did to them. Then the defense cross examination trying to confuse and manipulate them to mess up their story. All for the right of the defendant? It was a day we hoped would never happen again to anyone.
The judge ruled mostly in our favor. We were headed forward to trial. If all went well, Scott would soon be behind bars for 25 years. We left the courthouse with a trial date set for November 2020 which was eventually delayed until the following November! It was only with the help of our counselors that we were able to press on during that year.
Many court motions were filed before the trial began. We wanted to use his past victims to help our case. They wanted to use my past sexual abuse and many other attempts to destroy our credibility. In the end none of those were allowed. Just our girls against their abuser.
On July 4, 2021, I wrote the following words in my journal:
Today our country celebrates the fight for freedom in the United States of America. For our family this day represents another fight for freedom. Freedom from sexual abuse and its effects on victims, survivors and their family and friends.
One year ago today, our children went off to a holiday party and our lives have never been the same. We have learned so many things since that day.
These hard truths are ones every parent or caregiver needs to know. We learned the hard way. My voice will not stop educating parents about uncomfortable topics no one wants to talk about. The statistics are heart wrenching, and the only cure is talking to our children AND keeping them safe from potential situations. That is where we failed. We believed if we just kept them close, never spent a night away from them, watched them at the park and loved them so much they wouldn't fall prey to sexual abuse. While that is a good start, we need to be talking to our children also.
… Today our family fights for our children's safety, the safety of our extended family, the safety of our community and ultimately the safety of our country and world. … Only our true Justice System in Heaven will prevail, and our Ultimate Judge will bring complete peace. But for now, we have the freedom to fight this wretched evil called sexual abuse.
The trial finally took place Nov. 2–5, 2021. The verdict was Guilty. We had won. Our family and community will be safer. Scott was taken to prison and will spend the next 25 years behind bars. He went still proclaiming his innocence. We know the Lord is near to all who call on Him in TRUTH!
Lynn Stone is a home educating mother to 11 children, ages 4–25. She is a passionate advocate, speaker and writer about sexual abuse prevention. She and her husband Troy believe we can be a voice for those who live in silence and ultimately stop child sexual abuse through education and truth.