Tim Evans, The Indianapolis Star
ELWOOD, Ind. - The young girl has felt the stares and endured the rumors running through this small town.
That uninformed reaction to a pregnancy at 13 is no real surprise. People here see a child having a child and are appalled.
What they don't know is the back story: The pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault, a fact hidden behind the curtain of privacy that cloaks juvenile court proceedings in Indiana.
So the taunts, the gossip - and worse - continue.
Slurs scribbled on the garage doors at the girl's home have been painted over, but their faint outlines - and the sting - still linger. They are remnants of repeated vandalism at the girl's home after she told police that an older, neighborhood boy had raped her.
The shadowy words peaking out from under fresh coats of white paint, however, are reminders of much more:
- A 13-year-old child's innocence stolen as part of a disturbing trend in Indiana - the growing number of teens victimized by sexual assaults.
- A legal system - including a juvenile justice component focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment - that some advocates say lets down many victims of sex crimes.
- And, amidst it all, a small-town family's resilience in the face of life-changing adversity.
The young victim, now 14, is due to give birth to her baby son July 2. But an even more pressing deadline arrives Friday. That's when the 17-year-old boy found guilty of molesting the girl - as well as two other victims, including one who was 12 at the time - will be sentenced for his crimes.
Kristy Green, the girl's mother, is preparing for the worst. The Star typically does not name victims of sexual assaults, and is not using the girl's name in this story, but her mother volunteered to speak publicly about her daughter's case.
The prosecutor said he will recommend the perpetrator be sentenced to the Indiana Department of Corrections, but Green said she fears he might only get probation. Beyond that, she's upset that he's been free since he was charged in January - and even after being convicted on three child molesting charges in May.
"He's never been incarcerated. He's been out the whole time, going on with his life like nothing happened," Green said. "But my daughter's life will never be the same. She'll never get to be a teenager. And there are two other victims. It's just not right."
"I thought he was cute"
The petite, raven-haired victim's carefree life was turned upside down after she was sexually assaulted in September.
In an interview with The Star, the teen victim said she was at first excited when the high school boy who lived down the street began showing an interest in her. She was 13 and had just started the eighth grade.
The Star is not naming the youth convicted in the assault because he is being prosecuted and sentenced as a juvenile. A message left with his family was not returned and court officials, citing confidentiality rules governing juvenile cases, would not provide the name of the boy's attorney.
On Sept. 30, the boy sent her a text message. He said he liked her and thought she was cute. The message also asked her to come outside to talk to him.
They met in the alley behind the girl's home.
After some small talk, the boy suggested they get in his car because it was getting chilly. That's when the boy's actions turned criminal.
"He really started flirting and then kissing me," the girl said, "and it just escalated from there."
The victim said he pushed her to have sex. Hoping to dissuade him, she told the boy she was on her period. But that didn't work. He kept pushing her, physically overpowering the 95-pound girl.
"I was telling him 'no,' 'no,' " she said, "but he wouldn't stop."
The frightened girl kept quiet about the incident for more than a month. In hindsight, Green said, she had noticed some changes in her daughter's demeanor during that time. But she chalked it up to the mood swings of a teenage girl.
Then in November, the girl came to her mother. She had taken a home pregnancy test.
The result: positive.
"I just freaked," Green said, "and called the police."
Exceptions don't apply
Following an investigation that turned up two other victims, the 17-year-old suspect was charged in juvenile court in January with three counts of child molesting.
In addition to the case involving Green's daughter, the charges allege the teen molested the other two young girls.
Under Indiana law, the age of consent for sex is 16. There is a "Romeo and Juliet" provision for teens in a dating relationship. But even then, a child has to be at least 14 and there cannot be more than a four-year age difference between the partners.
This case didn't fall into either of those exceptions. Green's daughter was 13 and not in a dating relationship with the boy.
Legal experts say prosecutors and judges have significant leeway in dealing with juvenile offenders. That includes charging offenders as adults where their actions are especially egregious or they are close to 18.
Cummings said the girl's family has no reason to be upset - at least not yet. He added that sentencing is the sole responsibility of the judge.
"I don't know how they can be upset about something they don't know. They have no idea what the sentence is going to be," the prosecutor said.
But Cummings said his office will ask the judge to send the perpetrator to the Department of Correction based on the current conviction and two earlier cases involving a gun and a beating. The recommendation is based, in part, on a presentencing report prepared by the Probation Department. Unlike adult cases, the prosecutor said a request for jail time in juvenile court does not seek a specific term.
The judge, however, can sentence the teen to anything from probation to being held by DOC until he turns 21.
The unsettling prospect of a sexual predator escaping jail time or other serious consequences is nothing new to Anita Carpenter, CEO of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
"We've got some pretty good laws on the books to hold perpetrators accountable, but one of the flaws of our system is that we don't always use them to their fullest," she said.
Carpenter said the perceived lack of consequences may be one reason Indiana ranked second in the rate of high school females reporting they have been victims of sexual assault, according to a 2010 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statistics reveal one in six girls will become the victim of a sexual assault during their lifetime, she explained, and the risk is highest for teen girls.
The impact on teen victims and their families, Carpenter added, also can be the most dramatic.
"It is a hard circumstance for anyone to go through," she said. "There will be a lifelong impact on that young girl. Who knows what kind of mental health challenges this child is going to face bringing a baby into the world and knowing it is the product of a rape."
Keeping to herself
A former self-proclaimed "social bug" - she was a cheerleader and athlete - the young victim has become reclusive since learning she was pregnant.
"I can't walk out the door without someone calling me a whore or slut," the girl said. "I used to have a lot of friends, or people I thought were my friends, but as soon as this happened I just isolated myself."
The repeated vandalism incidents at the family's home - including the words "whore" and "slut" scrawled on the garage doors - were reported to police. But Green said no charges were filed because there were no witnesses to the acts.
Her daughter also has been the target of mean-spirited rumors and speculation that her pregnancy is the result of promiscuous behavior.
Green said she and her daughter were both opposed to abortion, but the topic came up after she learned her "baby girl" was pregnant.
"Under these circumstance," Green said, "it would have been easier."
But after a two-hour heart-to-heart conversation, her daughter held firm to her convictions.
"I just looked at my mom," the girl recalled, "and told her I wanted to keep the baby."
It is a decision, the girl acknowledged, that means she will never get to enjoy typical teenage activities and pursuits.
She already has scaled back her goal of attending the University of Michigan and studying to become a veterinarian.
Now, she's hoping to attend an alternative school to earn her high school diploma, then possibly study to work in child care or as a hair stylist.