I was both horrified and disgusted when I read outgoing Governor Matt Bevin’s justification for pardoning a man convicted of raping a nine-year-old girl. The Kentucky governor said he believed that 41-year-old Micah Schoettle was wrongly convicted because the young girl’s hymen, and that of her sister’s who was present during the attack, were intact. Schoettle was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2018 for rape, incest, sodomy, and other sexual offenses. He only served 19 months of his sentence, and won’t have to register as a sex offender.
Bevin’s claim has received a tremendous amount of criticism from medical and forensic experts. Additionally, scientists say that most child survivors of sexual abuse do not display any physical damage. While it’s beyond the scope of this blog to discuss Mr. Bevin’s utter ignorance of medical facts, it’s clearly within the scope of my professional experience to explain the profound psychological trauma that any rape victim experiences, particularly a child.
Rape traumatizes children
The rape of a child deeply injures their sense of physical and psychological integrity, and it causes major trust issues as they mature. These issues impact their sense of self and their capacities to trust others. In order to heal from the trauma, these children typically undergo many years of therapy throughout their lives. However, even if the therapeutic process is successful, issues may still remain. In fact, such a traumatic event can impact a person for their entire life and lead to multigenerational problems, especially when victims become adults and have children of their own.
According to the mother of Schoettle’s victim, her daughter had spent the past three years in therapy, and they finally began to feel safe leaving the house without looking over their shoulders. Because of the pardon, the mother is planning to seek an emergency protective order and is even considering moving to another part of the country. Healing from trauma is a long, slow, and nonlinear process. I commend this mother for doing everything she can to protect her daughter’s mental health and help her move forward with her young life.
Parental responsibilities before and after a child is raped
Parents and responsible adults have a sacred obligation and responsibility when raising children; they must tackle the immense task of fully supporting and guiding young minds so they can become functionally autonomous adults. The impossible balancing act of raising a family in both intact and broken households is hard in the best of circumstances. No adult does a perfect job, and we all make our fair share of mistakes.
Adults are expected to keep their children safe and help them appreciate and understand the importance of protecting their physical and psychological space. Unfortunately, parents cannot be there for every moment of a child’s life. No matter how diligent the parent, a child may still experience shocking, disturbing, and/or upsetting events. When a child survives a trauma like rape, parents may witness a variety of new behaviors in their child, including:
- difficulty focusing in school
- too much or too little sleep
- loss of appetite or overeating
- difficulty leaving home or separating from a parent
Soothing and comforting a traumatized child, obtaining the right mental health support, and helping them move forward is an emotionally exhausting and challenging task. Certain events – such as the anniversary of the trauma, revisiting the location of the trauma, or coming into contact with the person who caused the trauma – can trigger a healing child, resulting in an increase in or a reoccurrence of unwanted behaviors. Parenting becomes much more onerous when supporting a traumatized child.
While Mr. Bevin might have relieved the suffering of those convicted, it came at the cost of adding to the life-long injury of this young girl. She and her loved ones are now enduring additional trauma along with the intense anger and sadness of watching a convicted man go free. I am left both saddened and angered by such an ignorant act.