“Several months ago, I read Kathryn Leehane’s article in the Washington Post. I wanted to stay silent as I made a promise to myself many years ago to close this chapter of my life and move on. Staying silent is no longer an option as I have read every comment online, including people questioning if I even exist. People have posted insensitive and callous remarks about myself and my family. I am actually surprised that people who know nothing about me and even question my existence feel as if they have the right to comment on such things. It’s no wonder we are fighting a culture of silence right now. I do exist. I am Jane Doe, and I was a victim of Mr. Fernandez. And yes, I did report the abuse to Presentation High School. I have chosen to stay anonymous as I am fiercely protective of my family and wish for our privacy.
I have decided to share only the information I wish to on my terms. Cheryl Hodgin Marshall’s account is accurate. After I returned from a school sponsored trip in the summer of 1990, I shared with Cheryl that Mr. Fernandez sexually abused me. I was only 16 years old, and I do not want to share the details with the public—and frankly it’s unnecessary. It is hard enough to have to relive it again when I did not choose to have this brought to light at this point in my life. I am only doing so because I am choosing to be a part of a movement that will hopefully help current and future girls from such abuse in the future as well as make sure any girl that seeks help for such abuse will be guaranteed that it will be reported to the police. The trauma I suffered when trying to report what happened my senior year at Presentation is honestly as difficult if not more difficult to reflect on than the abuse itself.
After telling Cheryl what happened, unbeknownst to me, Cheryl went to a trusted teacher whom she was very close to and told her what had happened to me. She asked the teacher to call me in and show concern for the changes in me. Cheryl was trying her best to keep her word not to tell anyone while at the same time getting me help. I trusted the teacher, and I told her why I had been more withdrawn and different. I shared with her what I had shared with Cheryl in detail, and I knew she was going to help me. She told me, ‘Jane, what happened to you was wrong. I am going to have you talk to the principal.’
When I met with the principal, I had to tell her what happened. The principal softly suggested that maybe it was a dream. She was inches from my face, and she talked about how dreams seem so real sometimes. After insisting it wasn’t a dream a number of times, I finally broke down and cried and agreed that maybe it could be a dream and I made it up. At that point, she said, ‘I need you to look me in the eyes and tell me you made it up.’ At first I wouldn’t say it or look up, but I wanted to do anything for it to all stop. So, I looked up and repeated it to her. Again, I was a child, I was humiliated, I was scared, and I wanted everything to stop. I left her office, found Cheryl and remember us crying together and feeling ashamed and confused.
After quite some time, I worked up the courage to report it again. Mr. Fernandez was still my teacher, so I had to face him every day. Cheryl agreed to go with me to talk to the vice principal and suggested we have it in writing this time to make it easier on me to tell what happened. We met with the vice principal, and I started to read my account of abuse. I couldn’t do it and started crying. Eventually, I handed the paper to the vice principal. She read it and looked up at me and in a scolding voice said, ‘Jane, you have already put us through this once. Unless you are prepared to go to court and sit in front of Mr. Fernandez and your family and say what happened you need to stop talking about this. You need to make a decision.’ I started crying harder, said I ‘couldn’t do this,’ and ran out of the room past Cheryl leaving her in the vice principal’s office.
I was lost. I was done. I promised myself I would never speak of it again. To be honest, I am angry that I feel compelled to speak about it again.
I am disappointed, but not surprised by the reaction of the school. As a Catholic institution, one would hope they would show remorse or acknowledge past mistakes instead of responding with words such as calling something an ‘outright lie.’
I believe there are defining moments in our lives that shape you into the person you are. Defining moments such as a birth of a child or the meeting of a soulmate. There are also defining moments that are painful. That is how I try to look at this situation. While I wholeheartedly wish this never happened to me, and while I wish I could rewrite how the school responded to me, I attribute both of these traumatic events to giving me the strength to be graceful in defeat, to be compassionate and empathetic to all, and to be able to pick myself up and work even harder in the face of adversity. I hope this will give any young victims reading my story hope that they too can overcome and create a wonderful life for themselves one day.
To clarify, I don’t want anything from Presentation other than for it to be a safe place for all girls. At this point, I don’t even want an apology. It would be meaningless. I choose to see the silver lining in all of this pain which has been connecting with old friends and the support from them as well as those I have never met. I want to thank those of you that have been supportive of myself, other victims, and those brave enough to come forward with their stories. You can’t imagine what that support means to me.
My hope is by speaking out, collectively our voices can effect positive change.”