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I Served Justice and Protected Other Children

When I was 4 years old, I was adopted from an orphanage in Romania and came to the U.S. I don’t know anything about my biological parents.

I was adopted by a German couple who lived in Delray Beach, Florida. Everything there was unfamiliar. People looked and dressed differently. I didn’t know what a hair dryer was or how to eat a banana. I had to learn English, and I had a new sibling.

I lived in Florida for nine years with my new family. Since my adoptive parents were from Germany, we’d take trips there every year, which was fun. Another good memory was taking hip hop dance, Jazzercise, and gymnastics lessons. I wanted to be like my sister, who was taking ballet and tap.

But when I was 13, my father started to molest me. It happened often, more when he was drinking. I had a computer in my room and he would come in my room at night and show me porn photos on the internet. Sometimes that was all; other times he’d do different sexual things to me. I never knew what would happen when he came in my room.

We moved to Donalsonville, Georgia, that year, and the abuse got worse. He moved from porn photos to making me watch porn videos in my room at night. He told me that if I were still living with him when I was 17, I would have to have his baby. He also told me that if I told anyone what we were doing, he would kill me.


During the day, he’d say that he would take me back to Romania to find my birth family. Our conversations in the daytime were completely different from the sexual talk and threats at night.

I used school as an outlet and tried to leave home issues at home. My parents didn’t go to church, but I took a bus to church when I could on Sundays and Wednesdays to get out of the house.

In 9th grade, right around Easter, I told a friend from school what my father was doing to me, and she told a teacher. Soon after that, I was in class and I was called to the counselor’s office.

“Oh Lord, I’ve done it,” I thought to myself, but also, “Maybe it will all be over.”

I found out I wouldn’t be going back home, and that I would have to live with people I didn’t know. I couldn’t even go home to get my clothes or toothbrush or shoes. I felt like I was homeless, and why? What had I done? I was 15 years old.

I had to go through a forensic interview process because of the abuse. It was very scary. Someone from Child Protective Services (CPS) drove me to a building in Albany, Georgia. First we went to the hospital to get evaluated because I had told them that my dad had messed with my private parts.

Then we went to the child advocacy center, into a room with blank walls and many teddy bears. The lady said to choose a teddy bear, and I chose a soft purple one; I still have it. They put me in a room with a double-sided mirror and a tape recorder. I felt intimidated and embarrassed when the lady handed me a piece of paper with an outline of a man and said, with a tape recorder running, “Now tell me what, when, how he messed with you.” I didn’t want to give details, so no charges were brought against my adoptive father.

image by YC-Art Dept


But they must have believed me, because I did go into foster care. I was shuffled through seven foster homes and two group homes. I stayed for two years in the second group home, in Valdosta, Georgia.

My mother separated from my father, and I went on home visits to see her up until I went into the group home in Valdosta. I had a love/hate relationship with my adoptive mom, who has her own mental issues. I tried to be a good daughter, buying her the Dove chocolates she liked and a sparkly white candle.

But I never knew how she would react to me during the visits. Sometimes she would show up 30 minutes late; other times she was unfriendly. On three of the home visits she told me, “It’s time for you to leave” before the end of the visit. Once when I told her something my father had done, she said that if I were younger, “I would bash your mouth in.” She would speak to me in German, which I don’t understand. My father called a couple times from prison when I was there, and, right in front of me, she told him about what I was up to.

The first Christmas after I left she attempted suicide, and she tried again several times after that. I didn’t see her for a while after that, but she talked to me over the phone about killing herself. I had the group home staff listen in to our conversations because I wasn’t comfortable talking to her about that.

I had to accept that I had tried all I could with her. I told myself, “I have to love me; take care of me; and make my life what I want.”

It was hard for me in the Valdosta group home—mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was a therapeutic group home. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome with a low IQ because of not communicating and not making eye contact with people who were talking to me.

Testifying Against Him

My social worker encouraged me to reopen my case because of the way I was acting in therapy sessions—I shut down and wouldn’t talk. They told me that if I testified, they could punish the perpetrator and keep him from hurting other kids. I had a very good social worker who told me to write down everything that happened, “and we will bring this to court.”

I cried as I sat in the social worker’s office, writing everything I could remember.

Once they thought they had enough evidence against my father, the social worker drove us to Seminole County, Georgia, where the case was being reopened. She told me that all I had to do when I testified was to say “yes” or “no” to questions. I wasn’t in the courtroom very long. I was able to sit in the waiting room where the plaintiff goes before and after testifying. The session was very quick; I can’t remember if my father was in the courtroom while I was testifying.

When it was time for my mom to testify, I couldn’t hear what she said, because I was behind a window. I wasn’t allowed in the courtroom while she spoke. I could see that they had my nice 5th grade dance photo up on the overhead projector, and I could see her crying.

I was still behind the window when authorities told me to come into the courtroom when the verdict was announced. I took photos with my disposable camera as my father was arrested and brought to the chambers.

image by YC-Art Dept

Eventually he was sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole for aggravated sexual molestation. My social worker picked me up at my school and took me to the group home. She dropped me at the main office building and said, “Stay here until we have an all-clear that you can go back to the group home building.” She told me that the prison transporter said my father had threatened to kill me.

Later I learned that my adoptive mom again tried to commit suicide during and after the court proceedings.

Building My Life

Looking back, I’m glad that the social worker and I reopened the case to get justice served for what my adoptive father did to me. But at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of what was happening. I was dealing with a lot of emotions, and I was being overmedicated. At one point I was given so much Zoloft that I would sleep in class. I was sent to an inpatient treatment program while I waited to have my prescription changed.

At the treatment program, the counselor told me I had to speak in sessions or else I couldn’t return to the group home. I missed five days of school because of this and had to fight hard to keep excelling in school.

At the group home, I spent a lot of time alone. All I wanted to do was finish high school. I worked hard, and eventually I got my high school diploma. I attended four different high schools across the state of Georgia and graduated with a 3.46 GPA, but I couldn’t pass the graduation test of the Atlanta public school system.

The Seminole County Division of Family and Children Services applied for me to get into the online high school diploma program as quickly as they could and I was accepted. I completed the program in May 2007 and received an online high school diploma that wasn’t accredited to certain colleges.

Despite this being a hard time for me, there were aspects of the Valdosta group home that I did like. People from the surrounding community would come each weekend to host activities, and I met several mentors who made a real impact on me. When I wanted to give up, they encouraged me. They were always just a text or phone call away when I needed them. I still keep in touch with two of those mentors.

At 21, I aged out of foster care and had nowhere to go. I ended up in supportive housing. I qualified to be in there because of my Asperger’s and other diagnoses therapists had given me. I got used to not communicating, but after justice was served, I slowly opened up to certain people I could trust, like my two mentors.

I turned to Job Corps and took the health occupations training. Eventually, I earned enough money to rent my own apartment, and step by step I worked my way to Albany Technical College in Albany, Georgia, and graduated with a diploma in hospitality management. I was in the Presidential Scholars and National Technical Honor Society.

For the last six years, I’ve roomed with a friend. Running has become a big passion of mine as a coping method, and I’ve finished 11 half marathons. Another way I cope is writing poetry.

Another thing that helps me is telling people about my struggle and offering advice and encouragement to those who need it. I’m a supporter of Dougherty CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and EmpowerMEnt (an initiative founded by former and current foster youth in Georgia to change the system). I’m a Foster Care Alumni of America member; and an alumna of Team in Training: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which lets you raise money by running. I am a 2017 Angels in Adoption recipient, nominated by one of Georgia’s congressmen; and a Jefferson Awards nominee. In 2013, I was named an Honorary CASA Advocate.

My life has not been easy, but I take it day by day, step by step. Not giving up and helping others is how I create my own hope.

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