Sunday, September 1, 2013

Custodial dad finally convicted of sexual abuse by testimony of adult daughter (Norfolk, Virginia)

Survivor stories like this one, where the child victim of sexual abuse finally receives justice and healing are inspiring in many ways. 

However, there is a tendency for the story to focus only on the individual's triumph against the rapist father. 

If you read this account carefully, it becomes evident that this father was able to obtain CUSTODY of this girl and her sister despite a past history of abuse. And the custody allowed the sexual abuse to continue for years afterwards. 

This narrative also suggests that the mother just somehow "dropped out" of her daughters' lives. 

But that's not typical of what we know from the research about abusive fathers, especially the ones intent on total custody. At least 99% of the time, they battered and/or raped the mother as well. Then they go on an all-out assault for full custody if the mother leaves. It's a way to punish the mother for "abandoning" them and to secure full control over the child victims. Typically, as we see in this case, the father denies the mother any visitation and contact. And the courts allow this again and again.

Who are the judges, social workers, guardian ad litems, etc. who allowed this man to rape these girls for so many years? They need to be held accountable as well. 

I'm glad this woman has reconciled with her mother and "forgiven" her. But I don't think the full story of what the mother endured is being told here.

A mighty spirit The horror of sexual abuse and the weight of her decision to prosecute her father nearly cost a young Norfolk woman her life.

There are almost 1 million suicide attempts every year.
There are almost twice as many suicides as homicides.
Every 14 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life. Suicide is the third leading cause of death of 15- to 24-year-olds.
More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.
SOURCES: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide By Bill Sizemore

The Virginian-Pilot
September 1, 2013


The colors of life are fading 

As the soul descends into nothing 

Alongside an illustration of tears falling from an eye, those words begin a series of drawings Christa Clemons created in her sketchbook over the course of a week in June 2009.

A little later that week, she wrote:

The pit is empty 

Beginning to fill with darkness 

No hope, no light, no life 

Just a lonely loveless world 

Soon after that, against a black background, she drew a pile of pills beside an open medicine bottle on a table with these words:

Take them 

No way out 

Clemons left work early that day and drove to a local psychiatric center. She told the intake worker she was having suicidal thoughts. She was given a statement to sign, promising to call a 24-hour crisis line before she harmed herself.

That evening, she called the number and got a recording. She left a message, but no one called back. Typical, she thought. No one wanted to help.

She could almost feel the peace she was longing for. In her sketchbook, she drew a single black flower with a two-word message: • I’m sorry

The next morning, she grabbed a Pepsi from the refrigerator, got into her car and downed 40 to 50 pills.

Then she drove to her workplace, a commercial shipyard in Norfolk, went into a warehouse, lay down and went to sleep.

An hour later she woke up, unable to walk. She crawled to a restroom. As she began to vomit, a co-worker found her, half-carried her to his truck and drove her to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

She drifted in and out of consciousness as doctors flushed her system.

Back home after the ordeal, she scrawled one more entry in her sketchbook:

I’m still here 


Clemons’ desperation that week in 2009 was rooted in a childhood steeped in verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

She grew up in Ohio, the second oldest of four girls. She remembers her father, David Clemons, as an authoritarian who belittled her in front of her siblings and subjected her to humiliating punishments. Clemons’ mother left her father, remarried and dropped out of her life after her father won custody of the two oldest girls.

When she was 16, she says, her father tried to force her to touch his genitals after a night of drinking. She pulled away, ran into her room, locked the door and cried herself to sleep.

Not until she was 24, however, did she find out how widespread the abuse was. Living in Norfolk after a stint in the Navy, she reconnected with a childhood friend who told her she had been abused by Clemons’ father as a teenager. 

Then she reached out to her younger sisters. They told her that their father had done things to them, too.

The day of that revelation is burned into her memory. “No, no, no!” she remembers screaming. “Why? They were innocent!”

After her hysteria calmed, she called the Belmont County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Department and reported her father as a suspected child sexual abuser.

Making the call was painful, she says.

“He and I were really, really close. He had a lot of psychological control over me. It was very conflicting, turning him in. I didn’t want him to hurt anyone else, but at the same time it was really heart-wrenching to accept that my father had done these things.

“I lived to make him happy, because I was scared of losing his love and affection. He was the only person who hadn’t abandoned me.”

By the time her father was arrested in November 2008, Clemons was overwhelmed by a welter of emotions. She felt ashamed, isolated, worthless. She seriously considered changing her name.

“It seemed everything he told me my whole life was a lie,” she says. “I felt completely alone.”

She felt anguish, too, over her younger sisters – for failing to protect them from the abuse and then forcing them to face a past they weren’t ready to deal with.

The criminal proceedings moved at a ponderous pace. With each delay in the trial date, Clemons fell further into a spiral of depression.

Trying to numb the pain, she began drinking too much. She had bouts of fatigue and wild mood swings. She became sexually promiscuous. She started burning herself with a cigarette lighter, as if inflicting physical pain would overcome her emotional distress. She still has the scars on her arms.

It was all a silent cry for help, she sees now.

“The signs were there, but no one picked up on them,” she says. “Nobody knew what was going on inside me, because I put on a mask.”

Her suicide attempt only intensified her feelings of shame and worthlessness.

“I felt like a failure on top of everything else,” she says. “It was like, I can’t even do this right.”

Nine months later, at his trial in February 2010, David Clemons was convicted on two counts of raping a child – his youngest daughter, who was age 4 at the time – and eight counts of sexual conduct with a minor, later amended on appeal to corruption of a minor – the family friend, who was 13 at the time. He was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison.

For Christa Clemons, who had undergone months of therapy after her suicide attempt, testifying against her father was liberating.

“Being able to face him and point him out to the jury – as scary as it was, it gave me closure,” she says. “After I stood up and said, ‘You did this,’ I was able to begin healing.

“It was like I faced my demon and confronted it, and I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.”

In a strange way, she says, her five years in the Navy helped steel her for the challenges ahead.

Military service wasn’t her idea. She wanted to go to culinary school. But her father, who served five years in the Navy in the 1980s, pushed her in that direction.

One day soon after she graduated from high school, she remembers, “He said, ‘Let’s have some father-daughter time.’ And he drove me to the recruiter’s office.”

As an engineman, a traditionally male job in the Navy, she faced repeated sexual harassment from higher-ranking male sailors, she says. Three times, she reported the perpetrators to her chain of command, but none was disciplined. In some cases, her complaints brought retaliation.

Ultimately, she received a medical discharge for chronic costochondritis, a painful inflammation of the cartilage between the sternum and the ribs. Doctors have told her it is stress-induced. She has only occasional mild flare-ups now.

“It all made me stronger and able to stand up to my father,” she says.

Likewise, her childhood friend who was victimized by Clemons’ father seems to have gained strength in the aftermath of the abuse.

“She got married and has a beautiful family,” she says. “She’s not letting it destroy her life.”

Clemons’ youngest sister, on the other hand, has had a rockier path, marked by brushes with the law and bouts of mental illness. Clemons doesn’t know where she is now, which tears at her heart.


Victims of sexual abuse are at high risk of suicide, according to Chris Gilchrist, a Chesapeake social worker and founder of Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide, a support group.

“It’s a violation,” she says. “The victim feels shame. And when the abuser is a trusted person, the shame is heightened.”

Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide, Gilchrist says.

“Trauma can change your brain chemistry. You can’t think your way out of it. Any thinking that leads someone to suicide is depressed thinking. It’s not reality-based.”

Counseling, often accompanied by medication, can help the sufferer get to the source of unresolved trauma and develop healthier coping skills, Gilchrist says.

“When emotional wounds are treated, they heal,” she says. “And they leave scars that empower you.”

Some people seem inherently better equipped than others to handle the stress, Gilchrist says, and Clemons seems to be living proof of that.

“There was something mighty in her spirit,” she says.

Clemons credits a constellation of other people for her recovery: Her boyfriend, who has been a consistent source of support. The detective in Ohio who pursued the case against her father with a relentless passion. Her sisters, who had the courage to come forward and confront their past.

Above all, she credits God. She has joined a church and found strength in its community of believers. God, she says, “has placed people in my life who were there when I needed them.”

She went back to school to pursue her original career path, culinary arts. She has nearly completed work on a bachelor’s degree in food service management and has landed a job with a local bakery.

The Virginian-Pilot does not typically identify victims of sexual abuse. But Clemons wanted to tell her story.

“I want people to know there is hope,” she says. “You don’t have to stay down in the pits and feel that life isn’t worth living.

“Bad things happen. It doesn’t mean it’s your fault, and you’re not alone. No matter what you’re going through, there’s somebody who’s been there, and they’ve made it out.”

Next Saturday, Clemons will walk in the annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk sponsored by Survivors of Suicide to help foster the healing of others touched by depression and suicide.

She has reconciled with her mother and is in regular contact with her. She has forgiven her, she says – and her father, too.

“It’s not for them, it’s for me,” she says. “Now I can let go of that weight that was holding me down. 

“It was hard, life-and-death hard. But it was worth it.

 “It was worth fighting for.”