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In praise of one woman's strength and courage

Posted: March 9, 2012 - 1:08am

I am writing this My Turn out of a need to openly recognize Darcy Ervin’s strength and courage in publicly coming forward with her identity as SAM, a young woman sexually abused for years by her father. Because of the layered complexities surrounding child sexual abuse and the associated trauma, and because of the social stigma, it’s a rare day when a victim says, “this happened to me and it’s not ok;” and yet, given the right circumstances, it’s one of the most healing things a survivor can say.

It’s also one of the most risky and scary things a survivor can say. I’m not sure where Darcy found the courage to move into this fear, and the mettle to stand up and speak out. Victims of child abuse, domestic violence and rape, whether children or adults, have done nothing wrong, have nothing to be ashamed of, deserve to be safe and protected. They deserve to be able to come forward and have loud and clear community support saying, this is unacceptable, and the perpetrator must be held accountable.

As I understand it, Darcy confided in a friend whose sister overheard a phone conversation and spoke to an adult, who reported the abuse to the authorities. And once reported, Darcy spoke up in an effort to protect her siblings. Her father denied that he raped Darcy, and people wanted to believe him. I understand this — it’s hard to fathom that a father could intentionally cause such trauma and harm to his child, to someone he is supposed to love and protect. Yet according to the findings of two judges, Darcy’s credibility is undeniable. There is no benefit to Darcy in fabricating these allegations. This young woman lost her family, her mother who stands by Brian Ervin, and her younger sister and brothers. She no longer has relationships with any of her immediate family.

When Darcy spoke her truth, she lost her family and gained her freedom. It’s unfortunate that Darcy had to choose, and it highlights her courage and strength. She restored some of what her father took from her — her ability to be her precious self, to make choices based on HER wants and needs and not her father’s, and her ability to follow her own values, thereby building integrity and self respect. Darcy Ervin staked claim to her freedom.

It’s very different from the freedom her father claims after serving his prison sentence. Her father’s attorney said in court that he was not a worst offender because of “his lack of criminal conviction, his age, his sterling military record, his sterling employment history… no significant history of drug or alcohol addiction.”

Let’s not fool ourselves. Sex offenders come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Many maintain a positive external demeanor. Some are college educated with advanced degrees and some are high school dropouts. Some have trust funds and some are homeless. The comfort we get from creating and believing stereotypes of who child molesters are and aren’t puts children, families, and communities at great harm and great risk. There is no gain in believing men of privilege cannot be rapists when in fact, they may use their privilege to manipulate victims, partners, families, and systems, including those meant to hold them accountable.

I know Darcy has given much strength to many people in our community, and I know there is much support for her. I know this by who was in the courtroom during Brian Ervin’s sentencing hearings, by online comments to Juneau Empire articles, and I know this by emails written to me as Executive Director of AWARE. Last October, results of the Juneau Victimization Survey revealed that in their lifetimes, 47 percent of women experienced intimate partner violence, 35% experienced sexual violence, and 55 percent of women had experienced either domestic violence, sexual violence or a combination of both. These Juneau women are our friends and family, our neighbors and coworkers, in our faith communities and in our hearts.

No matter the demographics of their offenders; may every one of these women know that AWARE is a resource, 24/7 at 586-1090.

May every women in her healing process be inspired by Darcy’s strength and courage on their path to regaining wholeness. May all of us in Juneau, men, women and children, be inspired by Darcy’s capacity to face incredible difficulties and injustice with perseverance and grace, on our individual paths to freedom. No child should ever have to endure what Darcy has been and is going through. As a community, may we be inspired towards a policy and practice of zero tolerance for domestic violence, sexual assault, and the intentional harm of children, whether the victim is a child or an adult; and may we stand united for safety and support for all victims and protective parents, and accountability for perpetrators.

• Tabachnick is the executive director of Aiding Women In Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Inc.

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