WARNING THIS STORY CONTAINS THEMES THAT SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT MAY FIND TRIGGERING. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18 GOING ON 19
Justice came quicker than my attempted anticipation. By attempted anticipation I mean I didn’t really focus on the concept of my assailant being captured and prosecuted. Yes, I’ve found new relief I didn’t have before, but now a new restlessness stirs in me. I have a feeling it’s a work the Lord is doing, not my soul’s work in a new branch of grief. I can’t quite focus on what I’m supposed to do, but I know Dmitry Stephanopoulos is a big part of that something ‘to do’. Dmitry is my attacker.
He was number five in the lineup. The minute his tender voice transferred through the microphone, flashes of that night came back to me. All the men in the lineup wore black baseball caps and sleek shades. I thought true healing was winning, but seeing and hearing Dmitry made me realize that my healing was losing.
Now I’m in a small room without a single window in sight. There isn’t even a one-way mirror, which should make me feel at ease. I’m not being treated like a criminal.
A Latina woman with a fiery spirit, in a black pantsuit and a fuchsia, ruffled dress shirt enters with Detective Camp. The detective looks pasty and plain beside the woman. The Latina woman introduces herself, “I’m Alexandria Camilla Rodriguez-Ortega, Assistant District Attorney.”
The Assistant District Attorney is on this case. I thought they would just send someone from the DA’s office, or is every lawyer from the DA’s office an assistant? I have no knowledge of how our justice system works; I only know what I see on TV.
I’m actually relieved I have a tall table to hide my very obvious, pregnant belly. I’m 26 weeks. Detective Camp looked disappointed when she saw me walk in today. Not that I care what she thinks.
It’s been as hard as I imagined. At church everyone looks at me with their judgmental eyes. True, I could tell everyone what happened, but I refuse to be pitied. Not because I couldn’t take the oppression of pity, but I don’t live for my church’s acceptance. Okay, it’s kind of messed up to think like that. The church is family and no matter how well one person can know another, our expectations can be too grand. That’s why it’s immensely important that each individual be Christ centered and not self-righteously centered. Attempting to walk in righteousness on our own instead of allowing Christ to carry us makes us fail in epic proportions. I understand my church in Tucson has some learning and maturing in Christ to do. They let their mind cast judgment on what they see. The Lord will open their eyes and they will see, and even more amazingly, they will not judge me.
People in the secular world are more understanding. Women make small talk and ask when my due date is. The fact that I’m only 19 doesn’t startle women in the least. I find it odd, some young women my age envy me. Of course, when envy strikes the hearts of young ladies, Matthew is circling me somewhere in the distance. They assume he’s my man and gush over how handsome he is.
“Are you willing to testify?” Ms. Rodriguez-Ortega finally asks. What has she been doing while I’ve been thinking?
I nod my head.
“I asked you a yes or no question,” She states, firmly demanding a “yes” or a “no” from me.
Nervously, I say, “Yes.”
Squinting her eyes in a scrutinizing manner she asks, “Are you sure, you don’t sound certain to me.”
As sternly as I can while nodding my head, I say, “Yes.”
She crosses her arms against her chest and she begins circling the table like a hungry shark. The banter of her slender heel points ring in my ears as they tap with each step on the tile floor. She tells me to be clear and strong when asked a yes or no question on the stand. If I seem uncertain about anything, that will give the defense attorney a door to try to discredit me. Apparently, as the good ole Christian girl, I’m the key witness to guarantee the book will be thrown at the assaulter. The other two victims who agreed to testify live rambunctious, secular lifestyles. One is a sorority girl, the other is a stripper. I’m assuming more than the three of us have been attacked, but refused to testify.
“No woman deserves to be raped, but the jury will be more inclined to remember your testimony than the others.”
“There’s a jury already?” I ask, confused. They arrested him last night from my understanding.
“There will be. The sorority princess, Chelsea Godfrey, is the DA’s daughter.” She says.
Standing on my left she pulls up an empty chair and takes a seat beside me. Her behavior reminds me more of a cop than a lawyer, then again I’ve only seen lawyers on TV.
“You’re going to get attacked the most on the stand because you have the most credibility to lose.”
How can I lose credibility by telling the truth? Ms. Rodriguez-Ortega further explains that because of the pregnancy, the defense will test me by using my Christianity against me. If I can be made to look like a hypocrite, my testimony might as well be false. If I can’t live the Christian walk, why would my Bible sworn testimony count for anything?
“Is there anything I should know?”
I know she’s indirectly asking me if my rapist really is the father of my unborn child. Lord, I don’t want to answer that question.
“Is that handsome man out in the hall here with you?” She asks.
Yes, Matthew brought me down here. He can’t leave until I can. Then again, I’m not being held here by law, I’m free to go anytime I want. But, if I plan to testify I better get used to this line of questioning.
I answer exactly how she says to answer a yes or no question; I give her a firm, “Yes.”
“Have you ever been romantically involved with him?”
“How many relationships have you had in your life?”
“What kind of relationships?”
“One and it began this past January.”
She drilled me with hypothetical questions for about two hours. Once I was free to go, my small world in Tucson got very large.
Suddenly, I was Miss Paparazzi. Because of Chelsea Godfrey, the case hit every newspaper and news channel in town. Until the trial actually began, I saw my face on the cover of the Daily Star twice. As fascinating as it was that the DA’s daughter got raped, a pregnant rape victim sold more newspapers. Footage of me leaving the police station was featured on every local channel for the 10 o’clock news. My name, my face, and my pregnancy made national news. Reporters and journalists stalked me attempting to get a personal interview.
I just gave my testimony. I didn’t think I could ever be so nervous. Last week I was nervous when they injected a needle into my womb to collect a sample for a DNA test. A court order sanctioned the act. Now that I confessed everything that happened to a large crowd, I feel more liberated than when I told Makayla. I couldn’t stop my tears, nor did I want to. I was able to release the bottled-up stress I didn’t know I had.
I’m not done. As the last victim to testify and the key victim of the case, the defense gets to cross examine me now. The defense attorney is Sean Michaels. He’s a short man, thick but not chubby, and he looks like the kindest man in the world. However, he’s proved he can be a vicious pit bull. He made Chelsea and Candace cry over their shameful lifestyles. He knows how to play the devil’s advocate.
As he approaches me my nerves have melted into peace. My father, mother, Matthew and Drew T all prayed over me before we came to court today. All sitting together, they are in the front row behind the prosecutor’s table. Where two or more are gathered, God sure does answer prayer. My father specifically prayed that God’s peace would rest upon me during the defense’s examination. Thank you, Lord, that his prayer was answered!
“Are you currently involved with anyone romantically, Miss Tyler?” Mr. Michaels asks.
“Is he here today?”
“Could you point him out?”
I point to Drew T. “That’s my boyfriend, Andrew Thomas Donahue.”
“How long have you known him?” He asks, crossing to the other side of me, closer to the jury.
“Since I was seven…”
“How sweet, would you say you’ve been friends all that time, from then to now?”
Looking at the jury he asks, “When did you discover your feelings for Andrew?”
In all honesty, not until after the rape, but that’s when he grew up!
“Over winter break,” I say.
He turns back towards me and asks, “When did you fall for him over winter break? Be honest now.”
“Objection!” Ms. Rodriguez-Ortega blurts out, not even rising out of her seat.
The judge asks the grounds for the objection. Ms. Rodriguez-Ortega questions how relevant Mr. Michaels’ questions are to the case. He claims he’s exploring my credibility. She accuses him of being on a fishing exhibition. The fact that I swore on the sacred book I believe in means I have no reason to lie, and adding “be honest now” is a cheap way to play the jury.
Finally, Mr. Michaels puts the bickering to rest by questioning, “If Miss Tyler has nothing to hide, then she can answer every question I intend to ask. Can’t she, your honor?”
The judge takes his side. The objection is overruled.
“I’ll ask you again Miss Tyler, when did you discover you had more than platonic feelings for Andrew?”
That’s an excellent question. Excellent as in he may have stumped me. I can’t take too long to answer the question. People could think I’m pausing to come up with a lie. I’m just trying to search for the truth…
“On Thanksgiving Day, I guess. He suddenly wasn’t J.P.’s little brother, Drew T. He was a grown, young man of his own.”
Mr. Michaels nods his head and makes an ‘mhm’ sound. He takes a moment to ponder what I’ve said. Looking at Drew T, yet still partially facing the jury he asks, “Do you think my client looks like your boyfriend?”
What kind of question is that?! Drew T is lighter than Dmitry, but I guess.
“Yes,” I admit aloud.
“Are you sexually involved with your boyfriend, Andrew?”
“Your boyfriend is a handsome guy, why not?”
“I vowed to save myself for marriage.”
He asks if I’m wearing a purity ring. I show him my hand. I wear the thin gold band my parents gave me as a purity ring behind Elaine’s ring. I was finally able to take it off before I left home to go back to school, and I tried to give it to Drew T, but he told me to keep it because the only woman he plans to give it to is me. Mr. Michaels asks me to explain why it looks like I’m engaged. I explain that Andrew and I are courting, taking it slow to make sure we’re meant for each other, but one day we will be married.
“You and him are going to raise the child, that’s the plan?”
Now I really don’t know what to say. During mid-terms, I took dad’s side. I realized school would be even harder with a job, a husband, and a baby. I’ve been talking to couples through an adoption agency and I found one couple that will allow me to name the baby. But Drew T took me out for dinner last night. He wants to get married this summer. He’ll move out and find a job and together we’ll find a place to live. He wants us to raise the child together.
“I don’t know.”
Mr. Michaels asked me to clarify.
“My parents suggested adoption was best and Drew T thinks we should raise the child together…” I sigh.
“Why is that?”
I explained the prayer session I had with Melissa. Except for a few jury members, most of the jurors looked at me as if I was a lunatic when I mentioned speaking in tongues. Mr. Michaels didn’t choose to pick at anything but the name: Joshua.
“Why the name Joshua, it’s so common, isn’t it?”
I explained that I don’t like the name because of its commonality, but I do like its meaning. Joshua means “the Lord saves”. I explained that I don’t even know if I’m having a boy. The couple I’m considering to adopt the baby want to be surprised.
“Let’s say you have the baby, and it’s a boy! Congratulations,” he smiles at me, “Whose last name will Joshua carry, Mr. Donahue’s or my client’s?”
“I don’t know.”
Walking over to his table he picks up a folder and questions, “You don’t know?” He opens the folder and looks inside its contents as he approaches. He closes the folder and then asks, looking me square in the eye, “Does your faith not claim that lying is an abomination? That lying is a sin! And according to your faith isn’t sin SIN? Meaning no sin is greater than another? So lying is just as bad as fornicating, is it not?”
“So let me ask you again, whose last name would little Josh carry?”
I give the same answer I did the first time and I add, “I would have to decide whether or not I’m keeping the child before I could make a decision like that.”
Mr. Michaels cringes his face into a pondering expression. “Just to clarify, Miss Tyler, you’re saying if you kept the child, then you would contemplate which last name to give Joshua?”
I nod my head. Then I remember I’m supposed to be firm and strong, so I confidently say, “Yes.”
Facing the jury, he asks, “You’re admitting that you might lie to your son? You would tell him a little white lie to protect him from the mean bullies on the playground. Does that not mean then that you would lie to protect yourself? Because right now Joshua is in the distance, but you’re here. What would your family, and your church, think of you if you got knocked up? What would God think of you if you broke your vow of purity?”
The jury is waiting for my response. The poised look in Mr. Michaels eyes gives me the impression he thinks he put me in a rock and a hard place. But he just helped the Lord bestow a revelation on me. I do know whose last name Joshua would have if I decided to raise him.
“God would still love me,” I say and I take a deep breath to add, “But Joshua would have my last name, because he would be my son if I kept him. A lie is a lie and I don’t want to lie to my son. Therefore, Mr. Stephanopoulos would be listed as the father on the birth certificate. He will be, regardless if I keep the baby or not.”
Keeping his confidence, he says, “The defense rests your honor,” as he takes his seat.
The judge adjourns court and tomorrow the lawyers will make their closing arguments.
As we all shuffle out of court, my parents are talking about where to go for dinner. There are so many options here that we don’t have at home. They can’t decide if they want to try a mom and pop place, go commercial and eat at places they can only get in Albuquerque, or places they’ve heard of but never tried.
Drew T has a firm but gentle grip around my hand. I’ve grown used to the feeling holding his hand has given me. Comfort and security… I always felt comfort holding my mother’s hand, and I always felt security holding my father’s hand, but not together. I haven’t seriously thought about Drew T’s second proposal. If I had, I would have told my parents. I was looking straight at my parents when I told Mr. Michaels I’d give Joshua my last name. My mother was disgusted and my father was the usual… unreadable. I have a feeling if my mother met my father the day she left my biological father, and my father promised to whisk her away and take care of me and her, she would have lied to me and led me to believe Glenn was my real dad. She probably would have never told me unless I got cancer or something, or she would have waited until her death bed.