Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. In an effort to shine a light on local organizations that provide assistance to victims and survivors, The Flash Today called on a survivor of sexual assault who is a client of Cross Timbers Family Services. While it is standard practice to withhold the name of victims of such crimes, Amanda McClain agreed to tell her story in hope that her own journey would help others remove the veil of secrecy and call for help.
By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (April 20, 2016) – She was raped.
And Amanda McClain knew her attacker. She thought she knew him well.
Since then, Amanda’s life has been anything but easy. In a matter of months – at just 12 years old – she went from surviving a serious accident to becoming the victim of a sexual assault.
Speaking about the harrowing events of her young life, Amanda, now 27 years old, admitted it wasn’t the first time she had been violated.
“I was molested my whole life, from a young age,” she said, adding that the 2001 incident was different. “He is the one I got to put away.”
“He” was her uncle, Rodney McClain. And he’s serving a 45-year prison term.
Obtaining that end result wasn’t easy. It took years for the case to land on the district attorney’s desk. The issue was essentially swept under the rug, like the assaults of many young girls who are victimized by someone they know.
Before the wheels of justice would begin to turn, Amanda would have to undergo a change – from being a young lady finding an escape in self harm and hell bent on revenge into being a survivor. Today, she encourages other victims to have the courage to seek help, speak up and stand tall.
Amanda said she didn’t begin walking the path to healing until she was in high school. Following the advice of a girlfriend, Amanda turned to a local victims’ service agency. Albeit a slow and painful evolution, Amanda said she owes her transformation from victim to survivor to Cross Timbers Family Services, ctfshelp.org.
Abuse: The beginning of the end
Rodney McClain had always been a presence in Amanda’s life. They spent a lot of time together.
“I was with him all of the time,” she said.
Theirs was a typical uncle-niece bond. Fun, games, meals, sleepovers… There was no inappropriate behavior.
“He never did anything to me,” she said. “If I was wearing a swimsuit, he would tell me to put a shirt over it – to cover myself.”
But, in a turn of events as swift as the kick of a horse, everything changed.
“I had a traumatic brain injury due to a horse accident,” Amanda said. “I spent a month or two at Cook Children’s Hospital. I had to relearn how to walk and talk.”
About a week after being released from the hospital, “it” happened.
Like many individuals who sustain traumatic brain injuries, Amanda was experiencing issues with her short-term memory.
“He was probably thinking I would forget,” she said. “But for some reason, Rodney – I can barely stand to say his name – wrote me a letter afterward, explaining what had happened, what he had done. He said he wanted me to always remember.”
There are some things she will never – can never – forget. Amanda had been staying the night with her grandparents, where her uncle lived, on the night of the attack.
“The following day, I stayed in the clubhouse all day,” she said. “It really messed with me. I finally decided I wanted to leave. It was too early for me to go home, but I wanted to go anyway. He and my grandmother – I don’t refer to them as family, that’s hard for me – took me home.”
In that short – yet seemingly endless – 24 hours, Rodney McClain realized he had done something wrong. He wanted the letter back.
“I refused to give it to him,” Amanda said. “I told him he wanted me to remember, so I was keeping it.”
Like a true predator, showing his stripes, Rodney McClain next turned to intimidation.
“He told me nobody would ever believe me if I said anything,” Amanda said. “He told me I would get in a lot of trouble. He said he would always know where I was.”
Amanda knew what happened was wrong. That she had – they had – done “some bad stuff” and admitted the indiscretion to her parents.
“I gave my mom the letter,” she recalled. “My dad said he was going to go take care of him. He got in his truck. I knew he was going to kill him – my uncle, his brother – for what had happened. But on the way there, the truck broke down.”
The failure wasn’t just a mechanical one. Rodney McClain would soon be sent to prison, but not for sexual assault. He was sentenced to an eight-year term for a burglary and arson that occurred in Hamilton County in 1988.
Amanda wasn’t sent to counseling. Law enforcement officials weren’t called.
“I barely knew who I was,” she said, referring her brain trauma. “I understood what had happened and that it was wrong, but I didn’t want to go to counseling. So we just dropped it.”
The letter disappeared. The memories and pain didn’t.
Amanda matured, and the issue “dropped” years before slammed into her like a freight train.
“I hated everyone,” she said. “I made a hit list. I would think about how to kill certain people and get away with it – especially him. I was angry. I realized my whole childhood consisted of somebody touching me.”
Amanda grew apart from loved ones.
“I wouldn’t even hug my own dad,” she said. “The older I got, the more it bothered me. It hurt. It was painful. I started cutting myself, harming myself.”
She was scarred inside and out. Hurting herself wasn’t doing a thing to Rodney McClain. Amanda finally decided enough was enough.
Hope and healing
At 17 years old, Amanda McClain sought intervention, calling on the help of Cross Timbers Family Services (CTFS).
The nonprofit organization provides services and resources to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and other violent crimes. The professional staff provides crisis intervention, counseling services, support groups, referrals to other agencies, legal advocacy and protective services like emergency shelters, safety planning and protective orders.
Enveloped in the safety net provided by CTFS, Amanda began talking about the incident, opening up to a counselor. Her suffering was undeniable. Advocates at CTFS were there to help. But the justice system needed evidence.
“It seemed like everything started happening quickly after I started going to counseling,” Amanda said. “I started talking to a lot of people, including an investigator named Jack Carr with the Erath County Sheriff’s Office.”
Law enforcement officials heard the outcry. There was no hard evidence. That, coupled with time – the passing of about seven years – was against them. They needed more.
The letter written by the perpetrator had been all but forgotten. Amanda hadn’t seen it – or her uncle – in years. Then came the news that Rodney McClain had been released from prison. Amanda had a plan.
“I started going out there – to my grandparents’ place – and being around them and my uncle,” Amanda said. “God, I hated going out there, but I wanted to see if he would talk about it – give me some sort of confirmation.”
Eventually, perpetrator and victim exchanged cellphone numbers. They started texting back and forth.
“One night, in the middle of the night, he said, ‘I am sorry for what I did, what we did,’” Amanda recalled. “He said, ‘I am still in love with you and will always be in love with you.’”
With the click of a button, the acknowledgement she had been waiting for was finally delivered. Like a true survivor, Amanda wasted no time. She turned her cell phone over to investigators.
Jack Carr arrested Rodney McClain at his parents’ house – the rape scene. His text message admission was by no means hard evidence, but he had made an impromptu confession to the crime.
“Jack (Carr) came to school that day and called me out of class,” she said. “He told me Rodney was in custody, but they were just holding him.”
Law enforcement officials needed more. Then came the letter.
“About a year and a half after I started going to counseling, my dad presented the letter,” Amanda said. “I thought it had been lost over the years, but he had put it away. That helped the case.”
During her senior year of high school, in April 2008, the case against Rodney McClain went to court. He plead guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child – a first-degree felony –in the 266th Judicial District Court.
A first-degree felony carries a potential sentence of 5-99 years, or life, in prison.
“I wanted him to get life,” Amanda said. “But he said he would only plead to 10 years. I said I would take it to a jury.”
Through a series of back-and-forth discussions, Rodney McClain and defense attorney Lisa Pence, who currently serves as Erath County Attorney, agreed to an offer from then District Attorney John Terrill.
“He agreed to 45 years,” Amanda said. “I really wanted life, but they explained it would only take one juror to find him innocent or he could get only 10 years.”
Known in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as inmate 01501910, Rodney McClain has a projected release date of December 5, 2047. His first parole review is expected to be held in 2027.
But Amanda – like all sexual assault victims – was given life sentence. The monster has been penned, but she still feels the need to run and hide.
“It still scares me,” she said. “Two years is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. For a long time, I wouldn’t live anywhere longer than three months. I know he’s in prison and will be there for a long time, but I’m afraid there’s somebody on the outside he’s talking to, someone who will tell him where I live.
When you’ve been through this, crazy stuff goes through your mind. It gets easier, but it never goes away.”
While the path of a victim is a seemingly lonely one, survivors never walk alone.
“Without Cross Timbers Family Services, I would probably be in prison or dead,” Amanda said. “They brought me a long way – I still go, and I still talk about it.”
The support and counseling at CTFS reinforce a constant reality – she was a victim (past tense), but she will always be a survivor.
“They’re always there to remind me none of it was my fault,” Amanda said. “When you’ve been through it, you start convincing yourself it was your fault – that you could have just gotten up, ran away.”
I wasn’t okay. Rape, incest, sexual assault, molestation – no matter what you call it, it’s never okay.
“They taught me this not a normal thing and none of it was my fault,” Amanda added. “I was a child.”
In a life of abuse and betrayal, Cross Timbers Family Services is only a call away.
“To other victims, I would say you’re never alone, there’s always someone there to help you,” Amanda said. “Even when you feel alone and like the whole world is crashing down, there is always someone who will listen, believe in you and trust you.”
When you’ve been hurt, Cross Timbers Family Services is available to provide hope, support and healing.
Call the 24-hour hotline at 254-965-4357 or toll-free 866-934-4357.