I found myself nodding along as I read a recap of a presentation given by Connilee Christie, who works with children who report being sexually abused. Especially, this part:
Success often is measured on prosecutions, she said. In part, she said, because it is easily measured.
But that is not how the Children’s Advocacy Center in St. Louis measures it. The center abides by what is called the “Child First Doctrine,” which states:
“The child is our first priority. Not the needs of the family. Not the child’s ‘story.’ Not the evidence. Not the needs of the courts. Not the needs of police, child protection, attorneys, etc.”
“Sometimes that means no prosecution,” she said.
I’ve written before about the difference between “justice” and healing. Just because your abuser didn’t go to jail, or didn’t go to jail for as long as you thought they should, has no bearing on your ability to heal. I see the same sort of thought pattern in what they are doing for children in St. Louis. Yes, it would be wonderful if justice could be served in every case, but that’s never going to happen. We can do as much as we can to try and carry out justice in these cases, but getting a guilty verdict is dependent on so many things that are out of our control as survivors or those who wish to help them. It depends on being able to take the stand, having others do the same, having a jury believe you versus the person you are accusing, etc.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue justice, but that can’t be the only goal and the only definition of success. Success when dealing with victims of sexual abuse is in getting them the help they need, keeping them safe, and getting them on the path to healing as soon as they are able. The best part is that we can do that without waiting to see what the criminal justice system comes up with, and we can do it regardless of the results.
A survivor overcoming their childhood and learning to live a full life is just as much of a success as seeing their abuser convicted. But the two are not the same thing. Healing can happen regardless.