I’ve spent the last six weeks at the Audrey Hepburn CARE Center and the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center. I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine. I come in at 9 am and stay in the office all day, moving from seat to seat and rotating through jobs. My tasks vary. I’ve done everything from faxing invoices to researching risk factors for human trafficking. I learn so much every day about the roles that social work and medicine play in the field of child maltreatment. Recently, I learned about the legal side of child abuse allegations.
The main purpose of the CARE Center is to provide forensic evidence of child abuse that is admissible in court, so the legal sphere has been hovering on the edges of my consciousness all summer. Then I entered a courtroom for the first time. The lighting was fluorescent and flickering. The seating was squished, and the air conditioning blew constantly, making us shiver. We weren’t allowed food or water or electronics of any kind. We sat there for four hours while the lawyers went back and forth about a plea deal. In the end, a grown man who abused a child had bargained his way out of any jail time and only pled guilty to minor charges. It was the first time all summer that it occurred to me that the work the CARE Center does is not always enough. I’ve heard dozens of heartbreaking stories. I’ve seen the medical reports, complete with pictures of injuries. And those stories have made me sad, but I know that if they’re with us, it’s because someone noticed that child was suffering and reported it. And when a doctor or social worker finds evidence of something done to that child, it means that child will be safe in the future. The CARE Center is a place of hope, and I have fallen in love with the work that they do. I didn’t feel that way in the courthouse.
I have never been so angry as I was when that man read his “apology”. It was less than a sentence, read from a piece of paper, with a blank, unfeeling gaze. But then the victim got up and read a victim impact statement. She was so incredibly strong. Then her mother got up and made me cry with her fierce defense of her daughter. The victim’s whole family was sitting in front of me. I watched them visibly shake. But I want you to know what the victim said. Because it is the whole point of everything I have done so far this summer. It is the whole reason the CARE Center exists. And it is the reason that my righteous anger with the legal system is tempered into a drive to keep fighting for kids like her. She said, to the man who ruined her life, “You don’t get to win anymore”.