survivors manchester

DJ's Story


During the years 2006 and 2008 I was sexually abused as a minor at just the age of 11 years old. This came from a “family friend” at that point of time. Joel and I had met when my parents played co-ed volleyball approximately a year prior at a local YMCA and sports park in which he also played. Our then family friend over time became close with my parents and became good friends. Joel’s family all lived out of town and he had no one close. We soon began to welcome him to family dinners and to come along to our weekly racing trips. Joel opened up to the family and let us know that a friend of his had a child that recently passed away from cancer and that I had helped fill that void from the “lost friendship”. Over time, Joel and I had also built a friendship. We frequently played video games including a roleplaying game called World of Warcraft and went to movies.

After a few months or so, Joel had asked if I could go to a movie and then come over to help with some yard work that needed done. With the friendship built on trust, my family agreed. Of course, Joel had other things in mind. That day we were in his living room playing games when he turned the TV on. Not thinking anything of it, I continued to play the video game on the computer.  He was flipping though channels when he came across an ‘adult’ video that he made sure to play. He quickly made the comment “Have you watched anything like this before?” Feeling very uneasy, I wasn’t sure what to say. Then came the touch, during this time he made it very clear that this is normal all normal and to relax, that I would enjoy it. He also made it clear that this is our secret and not to say anything to anyone. Still uneasy about everything, I chose not to say anything. I kept this all to myself. Over time, the simple touch lead to more and more. Throughout the 2 years, there was frequent pictures and videos taken. Over time this just became normal to me. I was used to it. I mean after all Joel cared for me right? He was a friend.

The following years came and gone and Joel and the family started growing apart as Joel had moved to Iowa City for a new job. I still kept this a secret that no one knew but myself.

You never really know how big of an impact things have on you until after they are involved in something significant with your life. Movies like Eragon, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean as well as the game World of Warcraft are often frequent reminders of this horrific past. Time continued to pass and I had continued to build my friendships and relationships on lies. I had gotten married in 2016. This relationship also built on lies, didn’t last long. The divorce was just finalized in July 2019. While going through the divorce I had gone to see a marriage counselor in all efforts to save the marriage. I met with Pam at Center for Interpersonal Effectiveness. However, little did I know at the time, this is when everything was going to come out.

In April of 2018, I had a sit down conversation with dad about the past which followed with updating the family. Soon after that I met with Tina and the Police Dept. Tina is located in the Sex Abuse/Child Trauma Section. My father went to the meeting with me, however he was not allowed in the room with me at the time. When walking into the room I was first greeted by Sara from the Victims Advocate Program. The room consisted of a couple couches and a table. The room was rather small. Sara and I shared a couch while Tina was on the other side of the room. Tina informed me that everything was being monitored and recorded in the room including video.

When telling my story in detail, everything just seemed to flow. It was like it just happened yesterday. I met with Sara and Tina for roughly an hour. I was asked some very tough but to the point questions within this time. Everything I said had to be in great detail.

A couple weeks passed by with nothing. I hadn’t heard from anyone. I honestly started to feel discouraged. I felt like all this effort was for nothing. I didn’t think that it was going to go anywhere. Days began to feel like weeks and months.

On May 1, 2018 Tina called me with the Detective, Chris. They called to inform me that they had made an arrest and they were currently standing in Joel’s garage issuing the search warrant. She had asked me some pretty descriptive questions about items they were looking for. Laptops and cameras to be exact. They needed to know brands and what color to look for. She informed me that Joel had hundreds of cameras and computers at his house. Chris and the team were able to recover pictures and videos of the abuse that I described in great detail during the Police interview. I was told everything matched word for word, color to color. The living room carpet, the couch, wall color, all the way down to what I was wearing in some of the videos. Tina had told me that Joel would be brought back to the City where he would be charged and held. This was a little scary for me. Why was he being brought closer to me? He lived hours away…

Following this call was an email from Sara Hulen that had protection orders attached for my files. He was booked into Jail that night and a sense of relief that his bail was posted at over $500,000.00.

The next few months dragged on and felt like years. August of 2018 we were asked to meet with the State of Iowa prosecutor and the US Federal prosecutor. Tina, Sara and Chris were part of this meeting as well as Adam – the federal prosecutor, and Christina from the Federal Victims Advocate Program.

The question was “Are we going to take this to state court or federal court and what option do we have a better shot at”? They wanted MY honest opinion. There was going to be pros and cons to both sides for instance if I wanted to be cross examined or have to speak at trial. Ultimately it was up to both Iowa State prosecutors and Federal prosecutors.

I left there not knowing where this case was going but was told that I would be updated along the way. A few weeks later I was contacted by Christina letting us know that they had decided to go the federal route and that we would be seeing him “released” from the inmates list online and not to worry as this just meant he was being booked on the federal holding and that he was no longer a state inmate. During this time, I had received calls from Chris asking questions about some material that they came across and asked if I still had the items and article of clothing. We were quickly able to come up with a necklace that I had gotten for my birthday 11th or 12th birthday that I was wearing in the videos and also pictures of when I had gotten it.

On October 22nd 2018 the plea hearing was held. We sat at the back of the room behind the defense attorney and Adam. Joel made one glance back to see who was in the room but never turned around again.

He pled guilty of 2 counts of Production of Child Pornography and 1 count of Possession of Child Pornography. After the hearing we met with Adam and Chris who then went over everything that happened that day. At this time, we were in limbo mode. There wasn’t much going on and was told we would not hear much during this process but will be contacted about important changes to the case.

The rest of the year had passed and here we are January 2019. I received a call and email from Christina regarding the case and informed me of the Sentencing date. The date had set for Feb 19th, 2019. At this time, I was told to start working on a victim impact statement if I hadn’t already. This was extremely hard for me. I had to put into words exactly how I felt and what he had put me through. During this time music seemed to help me get through my day to day life. The band The Willis Clan had recently gone through their own trauma with the same type of case. The song “Paper Dolls” summarized exactly how I felt. Lyrics like “We’re nothing more to you than paper dolls you tear in two” and “My brokenness is nothing in your eyes.” This song also brought great strength with lyrics like “I promise this… It’s over and I’m done… It ends today”. Listening to this album based on sexual abuse on repeat over and over again somehow got me through this very trying month.

In preparing for the hearing we had a final meeting a couple weeks prior. We went over what we thought was going to happen and again making sure we were aware that there were absolutely no promises. In that same breath Chris Thomas made it pretty clear that we didn’t have anything to really worry about as we had him neck deep in evidence including videos recovered from his possession that had us both in it. I was informed at that point that they had located over 90,000 pictures and videos. Adam and Christina let me know that if I didn’t feel comfortable reading my victim impact statement during the trial that he could handle it. That also applied for family as well. We are now approximately a week out and I get an email stating that the court had rescheduled the hearing is now for Feb 20th. This was extremely disappointing as we were ready to put all of this behind us. I was mentally ready but now get to wait an extra day. However, what’s one more day… Its been about a year already. The morning of Feb 20th was record day of snow fall in the Des Moines area, so yet again the hearing was rescheduled for Feb 25th. Not only was it disappointing that we get so close to putting it all behind us, we now have to try and move schedules around with work and daycares.

The day of Feb 25th emotions were all over the place. There was joy that the day was finally here, there was nervousness that there were no guarantees on the outcome and the uncertainty that I have to actually lay eyes on him once again.  When we got to the court house, we had another quick meeting with Adam, Chris and Christina to go over expectations and possibilities. I let Adam know that I didn’t think that I would be able to make it through the victim impact statement and to plan on him to read it. We walked up together to the court room where I go to watch him walk in with shackles and correction officers. We all walked in together and sat together. The judge that day was Chief District Judge John Jarvey. It was made known by the defense attorney that this case was just your average “run to the mill” case. Judge Jarvey did not take kindly to this statement. Jarvey had made statements that it disgusted him that a crime of this manner had happened in the city that he was raising his family. That this was the largest child pornography case that has been handled in the State of Iowa. Judge Jarvey ordered 40 years in federal prison with no chance of parole. Following that term, he must serve 60 years of supervised release as well as file as a sex offender. After this final hearing we again met with Adam, Chris and Christina where we went over any questions we may have. We were told that they completely expected Joel to file an appeal and for us not to worry about it that Adam would handle it all. Christina said that it would take a couple weeks to hear where Joel would be placed. That came on April 19th 2019. We got the final information all within about a year of the initial report. Joel did file an appeal that we have not heard anything on at this time. That appeal was filed March 13th, 2019.

In this story, you may notice I hardly used “I” and instead used “we”. I could not have done this without my team. This deeply effected not only myself but my mom, dad, sister, grandparents, as well as other family and friends. I had a huge support system throughout this whole process that made this just that much easier. I can honestly call my team the “Dream Team” which would include all other officers, investigators, attorneys, judges, and counselors.

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