I was super worried that I would find a ticket on my windshield. While hiking down from a morning exploring Lower Twin Lake on Mt. Hood, I had the realization that my parks pass was hanging in Derrick’s window and I hadn’t paid the 5 dollar day pass fee. Luckily, there was no ticket on my windshield. I was relived and happy that a morning spent decompressing from what I considered a “failed” interview didn’t end with a flapping yellow citation.
Once I turned on to Highway 26, I finally got a few bars of cellphone signal. My phone pinged with a voicemail from Jeremy Garcia asking me to call him back. I wasn’t expecting this, so I called once I had a full signal. The boys were entranced with a movie in the backseat, so I has some time to kill on the 45 minute drive back into town.
From the minute the call connected, I could tell this conversation would be more casual. There was no recording necessary and Jeremy was just calling to update me. He had interview my mom that morning which had gone well. Both her and I had mentioned how The Coach had been fired from his job in Artesia for inappropriate communication with a sophomore girl. However, my mom and I were convinced that Artesia Public School had done nothing other than let me go quietly. We didn’t think they had reported anything to the PED. Jeremy informed us that after some digging, he found that Artesia did in fact report him to the PED in 2001 and that “something had happened to his license”.
He also mentioned that my mom had given him the name of a man a few years older than me who was suspected of having suffered abuse from The Coach as well. I confirmed what I had heard of this man, but also let Jeremy know that a statement would be a long shot. This man was from a super conservative family with very strong religious beliefs. I mentioned all this to him and wished him luck. Jeremy told me that between the report to the PED in 2001 as well as the interviews with my mom and I he felt he had enough to send to his department’s prosecutor to make a determination on any actions on The Coach’s license. However, he did mention that the other man’s statement would be a great help to his investigation. I wanted to tell him not to hold his breathe.
The call ended and a smile spread across my face because Jeremy has left me with one other anecdote. He had interviewed The Coach the day before. Without giving any details to their conversation, he let me know that he was panicked. Good, I thought. It is his turn to live with anxiety. I hope he lost every bit of sleep that night knowing a storm was building on his horizon.
I came through the door flustered. The past 2 hours were spent criss-crossing our town catching on some necessary errands with two boys who would have preferred the dentist over tagging along with me. As I came through the front door, my phone began to buzz with an incoming call. I get so many spam calls nowadays that I usually just reject the call and move on with life. However, the number had the familiar 505 area code flashing Santa Fe, New Mexico on my screen. Hoping it was the investigator, I answered the call. The caller introduced himself as Jeremy Garcia and asked if I had time to give my interview about my abuse. Knowing that I needed a few moments to gather myself, I told Jeremey to call me back in 15 minutes so I could get my children settled.
Once I sent the boys out to play, I went to my office. I tried my best to breathe and collect myself, but I quickly realized that I was not at all prepared for this interview. I had meant to write down all the details I could remember coupled with a timeline of my abuse. Seeing as I had no idea when Jeremy would call me, I kept putting it off. With 5 minutes left before Jeremy was due to call me back, I started to frantically write down a timeline of my abuse. I hit all the major years and quickly built out my timeline from grooming to the conclusion of my abuse.
Jeremy called me back and told me that he would be recording the call. He got on his recording phone and the interview began. There were no pleasantries. There was no small talk. It was all business. There was no fluff. Jeremy is not a counselor or support professional. He is an investigator. His first questions was "Ok Mr. Lee, can you tell me why we are on this call right now?" I began my story, giving as much detail as I could remember. He asked very few follow up questions. In total he asked me about 5 questions. The final two gave me pause and made my heart sink. He asked if I could think of and distinguishing marks in any of The Coach's private areas. I couldn't remember any and stumbled through that question. I wasn't expecting that type of question. He then asked if I had kept any notes, gifts, or items that were given to me by The Coach during the time period of my abuse. I hadn't kept anything. Shame had me discard every picture, every note, and anything related to my so called "relationship". I wasn't expecting that question either.
The interview ended quickly. Jeremy gave me the obligatory timeline and assurance that they will be in touch in the future.
The quick interview left me in a haze for the rest of the day. The feeling that I hadn't given a believable or compelling interview had me feeling depleted. It was the first time I realized that The Coach could get away with his abuse. Ultimately, it was my word against his. Yet, it took so much emotional strength to get to this place and thinking that it wouldn't matter was a crushing blow.
I spoke with my family about my interviews. I shared me concerns about noting happening to The Coach. My mom attempted to build me up by stating "you did this for yourself." She told me that I could being to find peace knowing I did the right thing for myself above everything else.
It was a nice thought, but I was starting to realize that simply reporting was not enough. I have a story to tell. My story is not just for me. My story is for every boy who was abuse. My story is for every boy who had their innocence taken from them. My story is for the men who have grown up feeling worthless. My story is not over.
My mom grabbed my Dad’s arm and said, “This is too much we are going back downstairs”. That was the conclusion of an hour long, vicious fight with my Dad at our kitchen island. What began as a disagreement over our boys, developed into a full blown airing of grievances. While this fight was intense and angry, I was able to finally speak my truth to my Dad and by extension my Mom. The delivery was not great but the message was my truth.
In therapy, one of the main themes of my work is reframing my negative self-belief that I am invisible. The belief that no matter what, I will never matter. While I don’t blame my parents for my abuse, this feeling of getting abused right in front of my family and the small town I grew up in has always surfaced in my thinking. That belief fed the darkness and helped grow the ever expanding insecurity growing within me. Why didn’t anyone help me? How could people truly not know? It must be because I wasn’t important enough to matter to anyone. And when I truly felt that I didn’t matter to anyone else, it was an easy gateway into not mattering to or believing in myself.
It was actually after another epic fight in 2007, between my father and I, that my parents found out about my abuse.
The man from my turbulent relationship hated my parents. He could never truly control me with my parents in the picture. He picked apart every interaction I had with my parents, especially my mother. He hated my mother because 6 months into our relationship, on a hunch, she ran a background check on him. She was a social worker for 35 years, so she knew to trust her gut on this hunch. She found, and revealed to me, that he had a pretty sordid past. He had multiple DWI’s and a restraining order placed on him by a previous boyfriend which he violated resulting in an overnight stay in jail. The jail stay happened in the early months of our relationship, when we were still living apart, and he told me he was visiting a friend in the mountains where there was no reception. There was also a court date he had to attend once we did live together that he did not tell me about till much later. For the first year of our relationship, he had to attend anger management therapy as part of his plea deal.
He already had me in his clutches. Even after receiving all this concerning information, I was unable to break away. And from that point forward, he hated my mother and did what ever he could to drive a wedge between us.
He was truly the only person I ever disclosed to until recently. I started dating my first boyfriend just a few weeks after I broke things off with The Coach, so I didn’t have to disclose. We just treated that as my previous “relationship”. But the turbulent boyfriend knew it was abuse and held on to this information waiting for the perfect moment to punish my mother.
My dad and I just finished another epic fight and I had gone into his room to work it out once our tempers mellowed. My mom was concerned about the quick escalation of our argument and wondered aloud why I was so angry. In that moment, without any permission from me, he said, “Oh you didn’t know about his abuse in high school”. I made peace with my Dad and we left the next day. This man said nothing to me about disclosing my abuse to my mom. I had to find out a few days later when I called to hear her crying on the other end of the line. She told me what had happened.
The issue that I have with my parents is from 2007 onward. They knew of my abuse and we never truly spoke of it. It was like an elephant in the room. It would come up in passing from time to time but I would deny it had any affect on me and they wouldn’t push it any further. We were having parallel shame. I was suffering inside and hating myself. My parents were dealing with the shame of never knowing or stopping my abuse. Our parallel shames never crossed until this year.
This silence about my abuse only fueled the belief that I didn’t truly matter. If it was a big deal, wouldn’t these people in my life push for me to find help? Wouldn’t they sit me down and help me honestly accept myself as a survivor? That never happened so I kept living my life thinking it wasn’t a big deal and that I just had to keep pushing and gritting through life. The resentment and pain of this silence began to fester like an untreated wound.
This wound burst open as my Dad and I fought in our kitchen. Looking back on this particular fight, it felt like a forest fire scorching the Earth. However, the earth eventually cools and the forest grows back stronger. My relationship with my parents will continue to heal. My resentment will cool. We will grow back even stronger than before.
My parents asked me what I wanted to do. If I didn’t want to disclose, they would understand. If I did want to disclose, they would be there to support me. I explained to them that I feel a moral, ethical, and personal obligation to report my abuser. He still works with children in a position of authority. I also want him to answer for what he did. I want to create space for others who might have been abused by him to disclose. I wanted to hold accountable the people who have known about my abuse for years and did nothing. I want to hold accountable the head coach, a God in our town, who has known since 2007 and did nothing. It is time.
I worried that he would be able to slink away into retirement once we made the complaint. He could use his family or the Coronavirus as a shield to quietly retreat from public life. I worried he would wait a year or two and try to seek employment in another district or state. I wasn’t sure what to do.
My parents stepped into this moment to finally support me. My mom found where we should send our disclosure letters. This would cover the process of reporting him. My Dad contacted a close family friend who was once a journalist in my hometown. He thought she might be able to write my story. If she couldn’t write the story, she could probably point me in the right direction. He could run from a firing or resignation. He has in the past. He can’t run from my story. He can’t hide from my bravery. My story will always be there. For once, he will be the one with something lurking in the shadows.
I officially reported my abuse on July 7, 2020. I had my initial contact with the head of the Public Education Department investigative team. She outlined the process and painted a picture of the months to come. She explained the statute of limitations and how my case would be labeled either a 60 day or 2 year case. The statute of limitations being how long they have to investigate and make a recommendation to the Secretary of Education. She gave me the name of the lead investigator and said I should hear from him by the end of that week or the beginning of the next week. The Coach’s state teaching license is officially labeled “under investigation”. His school district will get a report of this development. He will know then. I hope he starts to sweat. I hope he can feel the world closing in around him.
I didn’t hear anything from the investigator for two and a half weeks. It made me nervous. I am still plagued with the feeling of insecurity and belief that nothing will happen because I simply don’t matter. I am still trying to push those feeling aside. I had trouble sleeping the first week after my disclosure. I would wake up and feel the magnitude of what I am doing. It took my breath away. Eventually, that feeling would give way determination. I know I am doing the right thing. This is the right thing to do.
I got up the nerve to call the investigative unit this week. A part of me just wanted to leave it alone and try to convince myself that I have met my ethical and moral obligation to report my abuser. The personal obligation is the one driving my forward. I need to show up for myself in this moment. I need to prove to myself that I can be strong a brave.
I sent out the following emails on Thursday, July 23, 2020
Camille called me immediately after my second email. She wanted to assure me that my case was not “low priority”. She said the only cases that filed as 60 day cases are ones where the employee was fired or resigned as a result of the disclosure or allegation. She explained that all other cases are filed as two year cases, but they usually don’t take two years. She explained that they are taking my complaint very seriously but at this time they could not share any more information about my case. It was good to get clarification. It was also good to show them that I will be that squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
I will let my family help me. I will accept the support. I will show up for myself and be brave
To whom it may concern:
My name is Jake Lee, maiden name Jacob Robbins, and I am writing to disclose my sexual abuse at the hands of a current employee of the New Mexico Public Education Department and a public school district. My abuser is a current Assistant Superintendent for a public school district in New Mexico. While he was employed as a teacher and coach in my hometown between the years of 1999-2001, he sexually abused me while I was both a student and football player.
Reporting sexual abuse is a difficult process. It has taken me nearly 20 years to build the strength and courage to report him. He was a skilled predator who used emotional manipulation and very effective grooming techniques to build a relationship with me. He truly made me feel like I was in a relationship with him during my years of abuse. He made me a part of his family. He took me on trips. He inserted himself as a supportive and nurturing adult in my life. However, that perceived connection came at the cost of the sexual abuse that occurred during those years. I was just 15 when the abuse started and it continued past my graduation from high school.
Artesia is a conservative town deeply passionate about God and football. It was not a safe place to disclose my abuse. The longer the abuse went on the more isolated I felt. This isolation only worked to free up more space for him to continue the abuse. Keeping this secret, living the lie, and protecting The Coach and myself from the repercussions of our sexual relationship was very detrimental to me. While he remained a coach on the highly revered football team, I was left to feel isolated, disgusted, and paranoid through a time I should have been thriving. While he continued to teach, I was left feeling so lost in a life I was supposed to be living. He was my first sexual experience. He robbed me of so much while pretending to be my protector.
There were many opportunities for him to be exposed and disciplined as a sexual abuser. My parents were concerned with how close we were becoming. They reported their concerns to my head football coach and athletic director. While both he and I denied any inappropriate behavior in our “friendship," I could feel the walls closing in on me. I began to distance myself. During this time, he began grooming a girl a few years younger than me. They were exchanging inappropriate emails. Her sister found the emails and reported him. He was quietly fired from his job. The head coach and athletic director kept his firing very quiet and even helped him secure a job at a football booster’s company while he looked for another job. That action, of keeping everything quiet while assisting a predator to leave town, modeled to me how my abuse would be handled. It should be silenced. It wasn’t something to disclose. In letting him leave quietly while also securing him a job, my hometown showed me exactly how they would handle my sexual abuse allegations. I went to college and began to build a life for myself while distancing myself from the town where I was born and raised and the abuser who robbed me of my adolescence.
There were other attempts to disclose him as a sexual predator. Upon learning about my abuse from a person in my life in 2007, my parents returned to the head coach and athletic director to disclose the abuse. While “he lost sleep” over their disclosure, he did nothing to expose his former coach as a sexual abuser. When my mom heard that he was applying for a job in a school district a few years later, she wrote the superintendent of the school district to disclose him as a sexual abuser. She never heard back, but found out later that he was not hired. Later he was teaching at a private school in another town . My mom lost track of him after that disclosure for many years.
I love New Mexico. I love my hometown. But it is devastating to know that nothing was done to my abuser. While I dealt with years of emotional turmoil, pain, and uncertainty, he was able to continue teaching. When I was having my abuse weaponized as a character flaw by the few people I disclosing to, he was able to keep teaching and advancing his career. I had to live with the stigma of the abuse. He was rewarded with a thriving career.
I have persisted. I have used grit and determination to overcome my abuse. I have been a teacher for 13 years impacting the lives of children across the country. I came out as a gay man and married my husband in 2013. We adopted our two sons out of foster care and have given them a loving, nurturing, and stable home. I am proud of my life, but the self-doubt, self-loathing, and deep insecurity that was born out of my abuse at the age of 15 doesn’t go away. It is always there lurking in the shadows. As much as I wanted to ignore it and pretend it had no effect on me, I realized this year that I needed help. I started in-depth and comprehensive therapy to deal with my abuse. I now have the strength to accept and recognize myself as a sexual abuse survivor. I am now ready to report my abuser.
It has taken me years to get to this point. It has been a very long road, but I am left with many questions as I write this letter. How will the state I call home respond? How will the statewide educational department I worked for as a student teacher and teacher respond? How will a school district with nearly 4,000 student respond? Will they all take action or will he be able to continue his thriving teaching career with no repercussions for his abuse?
I am laying the foundation to tell my story and this is one of the first steps. I will no longer remain quiet about my abuse and I hope that my disclosure will not lead to another attempt to quietly sweep his behavior under the rug. He shouldn’t be able to continue teaching and I will do everything I possibly can to prevent abuse from happening to any other students under his jurisdiction.
I have a moral, ethical, and personal obligation to report him as my abuser. Now you have a moral and ethical obligation to respond appropriately to the information I have shared with you. In a world where many people, especially men, feel they should stay quiet about their abuse, I will be very interested in seeing how both the New Mexico Public Education Department respond the my disclosure.
Abuse is always lurking in the shadows. It lies deep in the dark surfacing when drawn to my bright light and then retreating before I can identify its existence. My path to writing my letter was a long one, but my abuse is there every step of the way. It is there to reaffirm every painful, insecure, and loathing thought or emotion created by the rocky parts of my past. It whispers in my ear “You deserve every bad thing that is happening to you”. “You are a terrible person.” “You are worth nothing”. “You will never be good enough for yourself or others.” “You will never matter to people in the way you want to.”
It was also drawn to the light that occasionally brightens my path. It emerges from the shadows right as my smile is brightest whispering familiar phrases of self-loathing and self-doubt just to remind me that I don’t deserve happiness.
My abuse was always lurking and I was unable to expose it because I had no idea why it was there. I wouldn’t allow myself to identify its existence. If I just kept gritting and pushing through my pain, I could out run it. I could out maneuver it. Year after year, I tried to believe this. Year after year, I kept falling short. I kept pushing and I did create an amazing life for myself. I became a skilled and innovative educator with distinguishments from companies such as Apple. I traveled and spoke at national educational technology conferences. I know in my heart that I am an amazing educator.
I suffered through some pretty bad relationships. My first real relationship was when I was 20. He was 41. Even then, I couldn’t connect the dots. He wasn’t a bad guy, but I always knew there was something not right about the relationship. I kept trying to leave but kept getting pulled back in by the perceived comfort of this man’s life and love. He knew of my abuse or “relationship” as he called it, but he said nothing. He didn’t shake me and say: “you were abused Jake. This was not ok.” Instead, he let his anger and heartbreak guide him to use my abuse as a character attack against me a few years later. He said my “relationship” with The Coach showed that I had absolutely no character and that there is something wrong with me.
My next relationship was a turbulent one. It was a relationship that left me bankrupt both literally and emotionally. He used every one of my insecurities to control me. He was able to see into the shadows and form an alliance my abuse. I was 23. He was 42. He knew of my abuse but weaponized it against me. He would be sympathetic to draw me back into the relationship then use it viciously to break me down. He was a damaged individual. I was a damaged individual. The relationship was about creating wreckage and not about love. I use to blame this man for all the insecurities and rage brewing inside me, but those emotions were already there when I met him. He just knew how to use them to control me. The line of self-hate goes right through him to my abuse. It doesn’t stop at him.
My husband, Derrick, is the perfect example of the right person coming into my life at exactly the right time. He is caring, kind, compassionate, and solidly a good person. We have built a pretty amazing life for ourselves. We traveled the world. We became Dads. We have had so many wonderful experiences building a life together. However, I have always felt that the scales were never tipped in my favor. I came into this relationship and marriage as the damaged person. He was so responsible and stable and it created a dynamic of feeling like I was extremely lucky to have him. That I wouldn’t have assembled my life back together without his help. He never made me feel this way. I felt this way. My abuse was always attracted to any light shining upon me and there was so much light in my life. It was brutal to never be able to fully enjoy the experience. In my mind, I never deserved it. I couldn’t settle. I was always on the defensive. It became exhausting. I almost left our marriage last year for a myriad of reasons, many of which stemmed from my abuse. The insecurities, anger, and sheer exhaustion almost lead me away. But in the final moments, I knew that I needed to fix myself and not run away. My family was worth fighting for and I couldn’t let my abuse steal my light anymore.
One of my proudest accomplishments is being a Dad. Our journey to parenthood has been an amazing story. A story that could fill many pages. We adopted both our boys out of the foster care system which is a gut-wrenchingly frustrating journey, but one that ended with our amazing sons Dillon and Jerry. They are the light of my life. They are the purpose that drives me. Parenting has taught me so much more than I could have ever known. I am so grateful for my boys and our journey to each other as well the life we have created. I want to step into the light so I can cherish and be present in every moment with them. Time is precious. Life is precious. I want to slow time down so I can enjoy every beautiful moment. For this to happen, I need to find strength and peace with the abuse I endured.
Even though I have become more comfortable speaking of my abuse with my loved ones, I still struggle to accept my abuse and see myself as a survivor. Even when it comes to telling my friends, I always hesitate. I don’t want to burden them. I don’t want to create awkwardness. My healing is a central part of my life now, but I still want to hide it away. There has been a few times where I took the leap, but it took effort. I found myself in vulnerable and honest conversations with close friends and would think to myself “this is a powerful time to share your story”. It makes me think back to the high dive as a kid. It would take so much bravery and boldness to climb the ladder to the highest diving board on the platform. When I would get to the end of the diving board and look down, my confidence would waiver. Many days I would turn around and climb down a platform to a more comfortable height. Eventually, I would hesitantly walk to the end of the highest diving board, take a deep breath, and jump.
While I have taken the metaphorical jump into disclosing my abuse a few times, writing my letter, actually putting it down in writing, was the last few steps to the end of the diving board. Now I am ready to jump. I want to jump into a new world where I don’t have to hate myself anymore. I want to live in a new world where I can be present and enjoy each passing moment in my crazy beautiful life.
So I wrote my letter and prepared to send it to the people who will help bring my abuse and my abuser out of the shadows and into the light that will expose them both. There will be no more lurking. Their time is up.