I stared at the the courtroom bench in front of me, tracing the wood grain with my eyes. The scuff marks where jewelry had struck the top of the bench. The small nicks on the arm rest. The faint scent of perfume that had permeated the coating upon the wood. I tried to imagine the people that had previously sat here. Had they been scared or angry? Were they shivering, crying? Did they wring their hands or feel ill to their stomach, as I did? Were they breathing hard, desperate to wake up from this nightmare? The memory bubbled to the surface.
I panted, struggling, my arms limp and my feet uselessly suspended in the water. I heard the slapping of the water against the pool’s edge, and felt its cold, unsympathetic touch on my body. The question I have been asking myself over and over, came with the memory. Why couldn’t I scream? I knew this was wrong, but why wouldn’t my mouth work? I clenched the leash in my hand until my knuckles went white, and my nails left bloody marks in my palm as I desperately stared into the wood grain. Pico, the golden labrador resting upon my feet picked up his head and licked my shin.
A calm, loving hand gently touched my shoulder, but I flinched away before I could even think. Iliana stared down at me with eyes that held blatant understanding. She was striking, with a presence that quietly oozed compassion yet screamed unyielding strength. Her beautiful almond skin radiated warmth, but the set of her mouth kept others rightfully wary. She made me calm when no one else did, because we were the same. Only she had grown strong, and I...I wasn’t sure what was going to become of me.
“Please rise.” The voice of the Bailiff rang out clear and crisp. The Bailiff introduced the case.
The Judge: “Is the Prosecution ready?”
Iliana stood. “Yes your Honor.”
Judge Kordell turned. “Is the Defense ready?”
“Yes your Honor.”
“Ms. Karoline, are you up to this task before you today?”
My hands trembled uncontrollably in short bursts. I had to swallow numerous times to keep myself from throwing up, but I managed to nod.
“She can continue, your Honor.” Iliana spoke for me, taking my hand in hers. I smiled meekly, and bowed my head to hide the tears that were brimming. He can’t see me cry. He won’t see me cry.
The Baliff spewed more legalities. Judge Kordell motioned to Iliana, who rose and approached the Jury.
“Thank you your Honor. My client was sexually attacked by her 23 year old cousin, Mr. Branden. On June 14th of this year, Karoline’s parents left to celebrate their anniversary. Although their daughter, Karoline, is a capable fourteen year old who is wiser than her years, as good parents, they sought a babysitter to spend the afternoon with their only child. Branden, her cousin, was visiting his family on a college break and volunteered when his mother mentioned Karoline’s parents wanted to spend their anniversary out at a fancy dinner. The night started off normally, tv shows, pizza, half a game of monopoly. Your Honor, I call Ms. Karoline to the stand.”
My chest hurt, and I forgot how to breathe. Shakily, I rose to my feet, and with Pico guiding me, I methodically drove my feet towards the podium. Iliana stood before me and smiled gently, then she took a step back to include the Jury.
“Karoline, can you identify your attacker?”
I nodded. Iliana glanced at me.
“Can you identify your attacker by name, please.”
My heart felt like it was about to thunder out of my chest, and the whole room started to spin. I heard the slapping of the water against the pool’s side. Tears came to my eyes. I burned. I burned in the spot between my legs. I burned where his hands touched me. I sat up slightly, and leaned into the microphone. My lips trembled, and I could feel wetness on my cheeks. Much like I had then. “My cousin, Branden, who sits just over there sexually attacked me without consent in my family’s pool.” Iliana clenched her jaw in a way that I knew was approval.
“I understand the delicacy of the situation, but Karoline, can you please provide the Jury with as much detail as you can of that night?” Illiana said quietly, yet firmly.
My head felt like it had when I had been pushed underwater.
“M-mid way through our game of m-monopoly,” my voice grew stronger, “Branden said he had heard I had joined the swim team, and that I was good. He said he wanted to see me swim, and I said okay. I didn’t think anything was weird. I got changed and got into the pool, but after a couple of laps I heard him get in. He said he could coach me. That one of his college friends was a swimmer. He positioned me, holding me up, when he accidentally brushed…my breast.” I fought the urge to pass out. To collapse. It had been so hard convincing my family of the attack. What was I even doing here? The only one who believed me was Iliana. “He apologized and I laughed it off. It went on like that for a bit. Touching my butt to show a muscle I should use, bumping against my breasts when moving my arms. Then it got worse. He started holding me in places I didn’t want to be touched, but because I thought he knew better, I thought it would stop. But it never stopped. Then his lips were on mine and his hand was between my legs and I couldn’t do anything. He is bigger and older than me and for whatever reason I couldn’t scream no matter how hard I tried.” The last line came out in a rush that I could not stop. “I tried to tell him to stop, but I couldn't. I was so scared.”
Iliana looked down at her shoes, then wiped at her eyes and faced the Jury.
“I too am a victim of such an attack, it is why I became a lawyer. You think if it was you, you’d fight back and win. That if nothing worked, you’d call for help and they’d be stopped. The truth is, our brains aren’t wired to accept that the worst case scenario is happening, but for many Women that is exactly what we go through.” She nodded to the Judge and made her way back.
“Defense, you may have the stand.” Judge Kordell said, motioning. The defense attorney approached me. The way he walked over was like when one approaches a dead carcass. Unpleasant, vile. Used.
The Judge nodded at me, so I made my way back to my seat, Pico trailing alongside me, faithful as ever.
“Your Honor, I’d like to call Mr. Branden to the stand. Mr. Branden, I’d appreciate if you could answer a few questions for me, can you do that, son?”
Brandon nodded solemnly, as if he were at Church.
“What is your age?”
“What School do you attend?”
“How are you paying for Harvard?”
“Half ride scholarship for my grades. I am paying the rest with loans.”
“Do you drink, do drugs? Have you ever broken the law before?”
“No. I have never even had a parking ticket.”
The Defense attorney paraded around the room, his movements small but a confident smirk upon his face.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Before you is a smart, driven, conscientious young man. Free of proven unlawful action. Karoline on the other hand, is a fourteen year-old girl. In this time of her life her hormones are going crazy, and nothing makes sense. Her role in life, what her body is going through, the urges. Sexual assault, especially on kids is the most heinous of crimes. God forbid we ever allow such an act to go unpunished. But… I can’t help but doubt the validity of this case. My client is an honest and good man, a Harvard college student. He has so much left to live for. Do any of us want to ruin his life on the words of a fourteen year old? There is no proof. Just her word against his”
The Defense attorney turned and stared into me. Past the bruises under my shirt and sweatpants. Past the gash in my cheek, from where my teeth had bitten down. And he said:
“This is nothing more than attention seeking tendencies of a child, who doesn’t yet understand the consequences her claim might have on this excellent young man.”