Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse may envision confronting their abusers — but even if they do get the chance, it’s not likely to be before an audience of nearly 400,000 witnesses. That’s how many YouTube viewers have watched so far as a young California woman telephones and confronts her former middle-school teacher and basketball coach over alleged sexual abuse that began when she was just 12 years old.
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The 28-year-old mother of three, who is going under the name Jamie X to protect her privacy, posted a video of her phone conversation with a high school assistant principal on Friday. “Do you realize that you brainwashed me and you manipulated me and that what you did was wrong?" Jamie asks on the video. A woman identified as the alleged abuser replies, “Yes, and I regret it.” A visibly upset Jamie continues, “You sicken me, and every day when I think about what you did, you sicken me. You should be so ashamed and so disgusted with yourself."
As of Tuesday, the assistant principal had not been charged with a crime and had not officially admitted to any criminal misconduct. Still, the fallout has begun, according to school officials. They say in a statement that, after learning about the video, they contacted local police and met with the accused before she “tendered her resignation” on Friday.
But for Jamie, the results of the now very public phone call remain to be seen.
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The mother of three said that her former basketball coach 16 years ago manipulated her into a sexual relationship starting when she was 12 and lasting until she graduated high school. “She told me that my family didn’t love me — that nobody cared about me, that she was my only friend and the only person who cared about me,” Jamie said in a press conference she held with her fiancé on Monday as a way to handle the growing number of media inquiries over the YouTube video, her attorney, David Ring, tells Yahoo Shine.
Jamie tracked down her former teacher online and made the call before Ring had ever met her or taken her on as a client, he notes. “She did it on her own,” he says, adding that he generally advises clients against such a move, since the legality of it is questionable. Ring, who is still investigating the various statutes of limitation to see if Jamie will be able to bring a legal case against her former coach, adds that Jamie had “zero expectation” that her video would become as big as it has. And the massive public attention has no doubt been a lot to handle.
Still, the young woman’s motivations for making the call are understandable, experts tell Yahoo Shine.
“An individual who has experienced sexual abuse can have a variety of motives—revenge, simple justice, validation — which happened here — or perhaps wanting to protect other children from being victimized,” Judith Cohen, MD, director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Obviously this is a precarious route to take, but you can understand why she did it, because with a more typical route, it’s unlikely that the teacher would have acknowledged it. Not that this is psychologically or legally the best approach, but the legal system often lets victims down.”
Cohen adds that she is “far less concerned” about how all the public attention over the abuse will affect Jamie’s children. “One of the most protective things a parent can do is to talk, in detail, about sexual abuse,” she notes. “So she has provided a very powerful message about not letting people sexually abuse you. There’s nothing for her to be ashamed about in having had this experience.”
Jamie’s children, in fact, are largely why she says she was inspired to come forward now — as one, at 11, is approaching the age she was when the abuse allegedly began. That helped her to realize how young she was at the time, and how she could not have been to blame, Ring notes.
“You see that all the time,” National Center for Victims of Crime deputy executive director Jeff Diom tells Yahoo Shine about survivors coming forward when they have children of their own. “At the time it happens, victims might not recognize that it constitutes abuse, because the perpetrator is someone the victim knows, trusts, and looks up to. It’s really a mind game.”
Still, confrontation is not necessarily the best path to healing, notes Dr. Patti Feuereisen, New York psychologist and author of “Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse.” After first stressing to Yahoo Shine the rarity of this particular situation, as “Men are the perpetrators of most sexual abuse,” she notes that she’s disturbed by some elements of Jamie’s confrontation. “At one point she says her life was ruined by this. She’s a young woman, and this gives the impression that your life will be ruined,” Feuereisen says. She also fears that Jamie could be “putting herself in a dangerous, vulnerable position.”
That, she explains, is because, “Healing from sexual abuse comes from disclosing to someone who will give you a supportive, loving response — and confronting your abuser is not always a tool for healing. Sometimes it can make a person feel more isolated because he or she is hoping for a certain response they might not get.”
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