OTTAWA — The under-aged victim in a sexual battery case just needed the courage to speak up.
She stepped forward to the microphone in the Putnam County Common Pleas courtroom once and could only get her name out before weeping. A few minutes later, she walked forward again, this time with a member of Bikers Against Child Abuse with “Jewel” on the name patch of her black leather biker jacket.
“I was taught from a very young age that the world is cruel,” said the girl, wearing a black leather jacket of her own. “… I can’t sleep. I have nightmares. I don’t eat. I’m scared just that he’ll come.”
Putnam County Common Pleas Judge Keith Schierloh made sure it won’t happen any time soon. Calling it one of the worst kinds of cases he hears, Schierloh sentenced Daniel Salazar, 38, of Ottawa, to eight years in prison.
“How much courage that took for her to come in here today tells me how strong she is,” Schierloh said. “It also tells me how weak you are.”
Salazar will serve five years for sexual battery and three years for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, both third-degree felonies. Those sentences will be served consecutively. He’s also labeled a Tier 3 Sexual Offender, and he’ll have to register with law enforcement any time he moves or changes jobs. He’ll also face five years of post-release control.
Salazar maintained eye contact with Schierloh throughout the sentencing phase of the hearing. He only answered “no, sir,” when asked if he wished to speak to the court.
The court did hear from the victim, her brother and her mother. The girl, who was between 13 and 16 years old when the crime happened, was burdened with the crime and tried to kill herself, her mother said.
“For three years she held this in. She was a broken shell; she was empty. I lost my baby, who lost her innocence,” the mother said.
A group of 16 bikers from Bikers Against Child Abuse surrounded the girl in the hallway of the courthouse before and after the hearing. Their jackets included inspirational messages, such as “no child deserves to live in fear,” “keepers of the children” and “we are the obstacle.” Twelve motorcycles parked across the way from the courthouse on North Hickory Street.
“The empowerment process starts with the introduction of the child and a ride we do with them,” said Guy, president of the Northwest Indiana chapter of the organization, who declined to share his last name. “We really connect them with two primaries from our chapter. From there, we do court escorts to help them not feel afraid and empower them to do what they need to do.”
It’s a group that feels called to help, he said.
“I think anytime there’s a child who’s been a victim of abuse, it should resonate with everybody,” he said.
As for the victim, she acknowledged she continues to live in fear of Salazar.
“I’m scared, and I’m sad. I cannot ever get back what was taken from me,” she said.
Schierloh said he was moved by her words.
“Sometimes very few words speak the loudest,” Schierloh said. “What you did and the actions you took… is horrendous. There’s no excuse.”