“A 12-year-old girl who authorities say is a victim of repeated sexual assault is fighting for her life at Dell Children’s Medical Center after attempting suicide last week, according to her family and prosecutors.
Child abuse prosecutors and child advocates say the girl is among a handful of local cases they can recall from previous decades in which child sexual assault victims have tried to kill themselves. None could recall a successful attempt.
The prosecutors and advocates say the cases exemplify the delicate psychological state of children who have suffered sexual abuse and illustrate the importance of providing the children with child-appropriate therapy.”
“The girl whom Bobby Rodriguez is accused of sexually abusing had been receiving therapy from a private counselor, although neither prosecutors nor her uncle knew the nature of the therapy.
The girl’s uncle said that before she hanged herself in her family’s South Austin house, she had grown increasingly fearful of having to testify in a possible trial of Rodriguez, who has been indicted on charges that he sexually assaulted the girl four years ago.”
“In September 2010, the girl’s mother reported to Austin police that the girl had complained of being sexually assaulted years earlier, according to an affidavit. The girl identified her attacker as Rodriguez, who was close to the girl, the affidavit said. The American-Statesman is not identifying the exact nature of their relationship because that could identify the girl.
The girl later told a forensic interviewer that Rodriguez repeatedly sexually assaulted her at her family’s apartment when she was younger, the affidavit said.
“When asked to write the letters of the word for what Bobby did to her, the victim wrote ‘sex’ on a piece of paper,” the affidavit said.
Rodriguez, who is free on bail, denied the accusations during a December police interview, the affidavit said. He was arrested in January and faces multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child by contact and indecency with a child by exposure, and faces up to life in prison if convicted.”
“Carter said sometimes children become particularly distressed when their family members do not believe their outcry.
Carter said therapy is also essential, but prosecutors say they can’t force parents to take their abused children to therapy.
“We encourage it, we support it, we make it available,” said LaRu Woody, the director of the Family Justice Division at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
Assistant District Attorney Allison Benesch, who is handling Rodriguez’s prosecution, said that the case is not close to going to trial.
She said a witness counselor recently spoke to the girl’s mother and provided her with an overview of the process. During that conversation, the counselor told the mother that at some point a decision would have to be made about whether the girl would testify, Benesch said.
She said child abuse cases always feature a delicate balance based on how able and willing the child is to testify.
“It is common in these cases for parents to want the defendant to get the maximum sentence yet be extremely reluctant to put their child through the process of testifying,” Benesch said.
When prosecutors do begin to speak to a child about testifying, they are careful.
Martin said in one recent case, Sydney, the therapy dog, accompanied the child victim on the witness stand. The child successfully testified, and the defendant was convicted.
Before one trial last year, prosecutors took the deposition of one sexual abuse victim because they were worried that she would harm herself before trial, according to court documents.
The deposition would have been admissible because it featured cross-examination. The victim did not harm herself and successfully told a jury of her abuse. The defendant received a 50-year sentence.
Child advocates say that the children whose abuse is detected and who work through the process of therapy and, in select cases, of confronting their accuser, are healthier in the end than children who suppress their issues.
“They’ve been listened to,” Woody said. “They feel validated.”
The girl who recently attempted suicide has very little brain activity and her prognosis appears dim, her uncle said. But he also said that her family is encouraged by some recent signs, including her squeezing visitors’ fingers.
It is unclear how the case against Rodriguez would be affected if she can’t testify.
The case will not be doomed if the girl can’t testify, said Benesch, who will wait to see how well the child recovers before evaluating the evidence.
“Right now I think we should all be hoping that this child fully recovers,” she said.
The girl’s uncle said her family is rallying to keep pressure on prosecutors to push for a conviction.
Dozens of friends and family members were at his brief court appearance Friday wearing T-shirts with the girl’s picture and green ribbons.
“We want the prosecutor to keep pushing it,” her uncle said. “We don’t want this guy to be released.”