By Alan Sorensen
It's nearly five years since she was last raped, but 12-year-old Jasmine (not her real name) still jumps when reminded of her assailant.
"I get terrified when I see things like he had," Jasmine said. "I get scared when I see red Toyotas because he drove a red Toyota. He was a tobacco chewer, so I get terrified when I see a man chewing tobacco. He wore gold chains and I get scared when I see gold chains."
The assailant whose image can bring back memories vivid enough to cause terror in the slim pre-teen was no stranger. He was her mother's new husband; her own stepfather.
Part of Jasmine's terror rests in the knowledge that her rapist is still on the streets somewhere. The five counts of rape filed against him in her case were dismissed as were the accusations by three other youths.
The rapes began almost as soon as her mom and he said their I do's in California, Jasmine said, and they lasted nearly a year, from November 1994 to November 1995. Jasmine was 7 and 8 at the time.
During that year, Jasmine's mother admittedly suspected nothing. Even after repeated abuses at her husband's hands and a separation that led to the filing of divorce papers, she said she had no idea that her husband was doing anything to her daughter.
Jasmine grew apart from her mother and moved in with her father in northcentral Montana before her sixth-grade year. Mother and daughter have since begun write back and forth in an effort to be close again.
Jasmine, for her part, began to believe even as it was happening that she was imagining the sexual counters. "I convinced myself that I made it up," she said.
The first person who had any idea what was going on was the mother of one of her girlfriends. Upon learning of the sexual encounters, that mother reportedly advised Jasmine to forget about it and not to mention it again.
"You apparently told Sabrina's mom what was going on," Jasmine's mother wrote her. "She told you not to tell anyone, that it would get better. When I found out, I went looking for her. They had left town in the middle of the night."
Her mother even recalled one time when she might have picked up on what was going on between Jasmine and her husband if she had been tuned in to what was said.
"One day we were watching news about the Wenatchee sex ring scandal," Jasmine's mother wrote, "and he looked at both of us and said, No one had ever, ever better accuse me of that; I would kill over that.'"
Another of her friend's mothers found out and did contact authorities. Neither Jasmine nor her mother is sure if the woman notified school officials or police.
"I don't know how my friend found out," Jasmine said. "She found out and told her mom, and I think (her mom) told the D.A.R.E. officer and he said to go to the school or police or whatever.
"It was the school who came and talked to me about it."
Part of Jasmine's stepfather's defense was that his wife fabricated the accusations against him because she was filing for divorce. Her mother's divorce lawyer disagreed in two separate letters he wrote to the prosecuting attorney.
In those letters, he described how he went to Jasmine's hometown to go over her divorce papers and called her house to get directions. He knew the moment that she answered the phone that something was wrong. It turned out that authorities had just notified her of Jasmine's claims.
Subsequent medical and psychological examinations confirmed Jasmine's allegations and the charges were brought.
The prosecuting attorney later dropped the charges for what he called lack of evidence and the appearance that the whole story may have been fabricated to improve Jasmine's mother's chance in the divorce case. The prosecutor said he didn't believe that, but that that's how it appeared.
Jasmine's mother argued that the case against her husband was dismissed because he held a respected position in the community and was friends with several police officers and elected officials. She charged that he passed a lie detector test only because he was doped up at the time he took it.
Jasmine ended up having to repeat the third grade because she was held out of school so much that year for reasons related to the rape charges.
Now that she lives hundreds of miles from where her worst nightmare occurred, Jasmine is trying to be like other little girls.
"I was antisocial for quite awhile," she said.
She didn't have enough trust to be comfortable around people, her father said. Now she enjoys singing and dancing.
"I like just normal stuff," Jasmine said. "I'm going to try out for cheerleading next year."
Later this summer, Jasmine will leave the relative isolation and safety of north central Montana and return to visit her mother in California. She knows down to the minute and right off the top of her head how long she'll be at her mom's home. "S weeks, one day and 10 minutes," she said an instant after being asked the duration of her visit.
Jasmine has been receiving counseling from numerous sources since the incidents first came to light, she said, and is still traveling to Havre regularly to see a counselor here.
Now that she is reclaiming the childhood that she lost beginning in 1994, Jasmine wants to share her experience, strength and hope with others. The gregarious 12-year-old admits that the road back has been long and hard, but she wants other children and their parents to know that help is available to them.
She also hopes that making her story public will wipe away some of the doubts that parents, educators, friends, family members and neighbors have about the sexual abuse that they suspect is going on.
"I don't want people to go through what I had to," Jasmine said. "It really hurts."