In the runup to the trial of Stephen Jaszek, who was accused of raping a fifth-grade girl more than a dozen years ago at the Auburn school where he worked as a music teacher, there was some question as to whether his victim would be able to testify.
The now 23-year-old woman had regularly gone mute over the years because of the trauma she suffered at Jaszek’s hands, and her lawyer, Wendy Murphy, requested that the woman be allowed to submit written testimony.
Jaszek’s lawyer, Kenneth Anderson, objected, and eventually the woman took the stand in Worcester Superior Court, finding her voice.
Anderson insisted there was no evidence to corroborate the woman’s claims, and made a point of claiming that in Jaszek’s 35 years of teaching, only she had come forward to make allegations against him. Auburn Police Detective James Lyman Jr. disputed that, testifying that someone else had come forward to police.
Murphy, who represented the woman in a civil suit, told me there are several other accusers, who remain too traumatized to testify against Jaszek.
Superior Court Judge William Ritter presided over the jury-waived trial, and found the corroborative evidence offered by witnesses persuasive. Ritter found Jaszek guilty of rape.
An extraordinary thing happened in the days that passed between Jaszek’s conviction May 12 and his sentencing last week: Another accuser found her voice — or rather the courage to speak up. A 42-year-old woman who says Jaszek sexually assaulted her some 20 years before he raped the 23-year-old woman posted this on Facebook with a news article about Jaszek’s conviction: “32 years ... of hidden truths, of fear, the only memories coming in the dark of night, waking up drenched in sweat, and soaked in terror and shame ... maybe, just maybe tonight, I’ll sleep without those dreams.”
The 23-year-old woman’s family saw the post and reached out to the woman, asking her to join them at Jaszek’s sentencing. The Globe does not publish the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.
When the 42-year-old woman met them, the victim’s family hugged her.
“Her mother had me sit with them,” the 42-year-old woman told me.
With that woman at her side, the 23-year-old woman’s mother rose to give her victim impact statement.
“My daughter,” she said, “as a fifth-grade student, was subjected to unspeakable sexual abuse by her music teacher while she should have been enjoying recess with her fifth-grade classmates.”
Her daughter “struggles to connect with peers who cannot understand the episodes of dissociation. She struggles with a chronic eating disorder and is not able to be touched without extreme discomfort.”
“I am enormously proud of her for speaking out and testifying in court,” the mother continued. “Because of her, other abuse victims felt strong enough to come forward.”
Worcester County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Corey, who had given what Murphy, a longtime advocate of sexual assault victims, called “the best closing argument I’ve ever heard in a sexual assault case,” asked Ritter to sentence Jaszek to 25 to 35 years. Anderson asked for the minimum, 10 years.
Judge Ritter imposed 18 to 20 years, noting that Jaszek had used his position of public trust as a teacher to groom and target his victim.
The 42-year-old woman said her case is probably beyond the statute of limitations. She’s still exploring legal options. But she takes comfort that the 66-year-old Jaszek will be in prison for most of, if not all of, the rest of his life. She apologized to the 23-year-old woman for not coming forward earlier.
“I have a very brave young woman to thank for showing me that there is still justice in this world,” the 42-year-old woman said. “She truly is my hero.”
A woman who literally lost her voice due to the trauma of being raped when she was a child found that voice, obtaining a degree of justice not for her, but for all the little girls who lose more than their voices when they are cornered by predators like Stephen Jaszek.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.