I was sitting in my Brooklyn apartment on a warm Saturday evening in June when I opened a letter from an unexpected sender, the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision. It was a notice for a hearing. After the words Hearing Type, the letter read, “Relief from Sex Offender Registration.”
As I continued to scan the document, my eyes fixated on the name of the criminal—a name I had spent nearly 17 years trying to forget. It was the name of my former stepfather. I was 13 years old when he was sentenced for molesting me. He was required to serve three years in prison, after which he’d have to register as a sex offender. Now he was petitioning the board to waive that requirement—for relief from the consequences of molesting me—which perpetrators in Oregon can file for once it has been five years since their parole has ended. Essentially, he was petitioning to move forward with his life as if he’d never done anything wrong. I was being notified in case I wanted to attend the hearing or make a statement.
As I read and reread the notice, I couldn’t get over the hearing type: Relief from Sex Offender Registration. Relief.
I wanted relief when I was 12, desperately attempting but unable to make friends with any of my male peers because I was too afraid of them. I wanted relief from the hours, dollars, and tears spent at therapy, trying to unpack what he did to me and how it would affect every part of my life, for the rest of my life. I want relief from the recurring nightmare that I have of him, to this day. I spent 17 years trying to get relief from this person, so it felt completely backward that he was now trying to get relief from me.
I called a friend who’s a lawyer familiar with sexual offenders. She reminded me that those who commit sex crimes reoffend at a higher rate than any other criminal category, especially as you consider that 6 in 10 offenses will go unreported. It became clear to me how lucky I had been to be supported by a legal system that so often falls short for those on the receiving end of sexual abuse. Relief, it seems, is rarely afforded to the victim.
The process of reporting and persecuting sexual assault is riddled with failure points—all of which I miraculously avoided. First of all, when I told my mother that my stepdad had been molesting me, she believed me, and reported it to the police—in 60% of sexual assault cases, that never happens. (Legal action is even less likely if the victim is not white.) Second, law enforcement arrested my perpetrator. Third, my abuser pleaded guilty and was sentenced for his crime, which makes him a part of the .005% of abusers who will go to prison for their actions. There was a chain of command that enabled me to receive some semblance of relief. Most victims aren’t so lucky.
At 13, when my abuser was sentenced, my healing began. My dad gave me the most important piece of advice to my recovery process. We were camping with my family just weeks after my offender had gone to prison. My younger cousin was camping with us at the time, and my dad asked me to go tell her what had happened to me. I looked at him confused and asked why. He sat me down and said, “When you tell other women what happened to you, it may prevent something similar from happening to them.” He reminded me that my story is now a source of experience, understanding, and ultimately power. “Good or bad, what we go through allows us to create the world we hope to see,” he said. My story is a chance to make sure other women never need relief.
I ultimately attended the hearing of relief and made a statement against my abuser’s petition. It was like stepping back in time: the sterile courtroom, the empathetic looks from the staff checking us in, and the carefully orchestrated tango of logistics to ensure that the two parties do not see each other until absolutely necessary.
As my abuser was being interviewed by members of the board, I listened intently to evaluate, just as the board was, the likelihood that he would reoffend. This was ultimately the crux of whether he would be granted relief from the registration or not. It seemed to me that throughout his testimony, he struggled to label what he did as criminal and often minimized his actions in comparison with those of the men he met while in jail. The board’s evaluation was thorough and fierce, digging into every comment in which he tried to deflect blame. Even in that moment, I felt sad for him. All I could see was a broken man. Our criminal justice system focuses on punishment instead of rehabilitation, and he seemed to be a product of it.
I read my statement. My voice trembled and my hands struggled to stay still. I spoke to the panel as instructed, but I could feel his eyes on me. Instead of allowing intimidation to sink in, I imagined how terrifying it must have been for him to see me. After all, I was a reckoning confirming the truth: He was guilty.
Ultimately, the board granted his petition for relief. He had no criminal record after his felony conviction and was therefore considered “low-risk” for recidivism.
But his relief is not the point. Throughout the experience I realized that the outcome of the hearing was neither what mattered nor something I could control. I could never get relief from him—that’s something that I’ve worked very hard to find for myself. In a system that rarely affords justice to victims, finding relief becomes even more important, more powerful. When we share our experiences with abuse, privately or publicly, in a courtroom or in a living room, we deliver relief to ourselves.
Kaitlyn Barclay is an angel investor and CEO of Scout Lab, a creative agency based in New York City. Follow her @kaitlynbarclay.
Originally Appeared on Glamour