Occasionally, I will do an internet search for “Raymond Lewis Firth” the teacher that molested my daughter. I am confident that his name will one day turn up in the news again because studies show child molesters never stop molesting until the day they die. Today, I was surprised to find a picture of me on the internet that I had never seen before. The picture stopped me in my tracks. Picture or no picture, I will never forget that day, it was one of the most important days of my life. That day definitely lead me to the path I am on today.
In this picture, I am reading my victim impact statement in the courtroom when Mr. Firth was sentenced. When it was my turn to stand in the court room and be heard, I began by reading my daughter’s victim impact statement that she wrote herself, in pencil, her third-grade cursive writing. I still have that letter to this day and sometimes it makes me sad that my daughter seemed so much stronger then. She was confident and articulate. She had such a strong sense of justice at only eight years old. She had liked her teacher but knew without a doubt what he did was wrong. I have a feeling if she wrote that letter today it would sound vastly different.
I can tell by the picture that I am reading my statement because mine was typed and a couple of pages long. I was hell bent on letting Mr. Firth and everyone listening know that I wasn’t a sucker, that I knew he would never have to serve his already ridiculously short sentence. I was going to have the day in court that the District Attorney never allowed me to have because she offered him a plea deal instead of going to trial like I so desperately wanted. I was going to make sure everyone heard my daughter’s words even if they didn’t get to hear her voice or see her sweet face.
I wore orange that day in honor of Chelsea King who was murdered during the time we were going through our criminal case. I also mentioned Chelsea in my victim impact statement because the man who murdered her had previous sexual assault offenses and shouldn't have been out on the streets. My heart broke for the King family. I told Mr. Firth and everyone in that courtroom how angry I was that he was only being sentenced to 3 years and 8 months for molesting 3 students and knew that he would only have to serve 22 months before he would be out molesting kids again.
On that day, a young woman got up to read an impact statement on behalf of her baby sister who was a victim of Mr. Firth. She said that Firth had molested her too when she had him in the second grade. My mind started racing. I had never heard or seen this young lady until that day and I wanted to know why. As soon as the sentencing was over, I bolted out the door and tracked her down in the hall. There were news reporters everywhere wanting to interview me but all I cared about was talking to that girl. I didn’t want to upset her, but I needed answers. I went up to her, she was with her dad, and I asked if I could hug her. I thanked her for sharing her story. Then I asked her how old she was and what year she had been in Mr. Firth’s class. She was in his class his first year of teaching, my daughter was in his seventh year of teaching. I felt like I had been punched in the gut, it knocked the wind right out of me. Seven years?! You mean to tell me, he was molesting his students for seven years and nobody had every come forward (according to the DA)?
I walked back to find the DA and asked her if she knew about this young lady and she said yes. I was furious. I was no longer going to be silenced by the school and the DA, I got an attorney immediately. When we first reported what the teacher did to my daughter the DA looked me right in the eye and said, she wasn’t going to press charges because my daughter was the only one to ever come forward and it would just be a case of “he said, she said”. She told us there was a ten-year statute of limitations and said if anyone else comes forward in the next ten years she would then open a case. Another victim came forward nine months later. After I filed a civil suit, my attorney was able to obtain the school records that showed there were numerous complaints over the seven years prior. Had that young lady not spoke up in court that day, I would have never known. We were lied to by the school and the DA. That day changed our lives.
I didn’t have anyone to stand by my side that day in court so now I do that for others. As a victim advocate, I go to court with others to be a witness when they read their victim impact statement. Not a witness in the legal sense, in the personal sense. To bear witness to their courage and their perseverance. To listen to what they have to say. Because any victim who has the courage to stand in public scrutiny, the tenacity to stick it out for years (yes it takes years) in the criminal and/or civil courts and be vulnerable enough to tell their story over and over, only to get everything they have ever said or done scrutinized by strangers who just don't have a clue, deserves to have someone stand by their side and I say, I'm here for you.