An introduction and update
When we put Michelle’s story on PITT we hoped both to force the world to see that these horrors can and do occur—and we hoped to find advocates for Michelle at the same time. Since that time, many have stepped forward to amplify her story and to help.
One of these advocates is the author of the piece excerpted below. She has asked us to share her gratitude for connecting her with the family and the right sources to carefully document and tell this story for a national platform, and to help policymakers understand how Sage’s story tragically demonstrates the need for policy and legislative change.
In August 2021, by concealing a teen’s newly asserted transgender identity from her parents, Virginia’s Appomattox County High School participated in a chain of events that led to that girl falling into the hands of sexual predators not once, but twice.
When the FBI found Sage (last name of the family withheld for privacy) in Maryland, where she was victimized by a sexual predator, a judge refused to return her to her parents on the grounds they were abusing her in not affirming her as male. Housed in the boys’ quarters of a children’s home away from her parents, she told her mother, she was assaulted again. The girl soon fled, then was brutally sex-trafficked again until her rescue in Texas by law enforcement.
Sage’s Law, or the Child Protection Act, is being introduced this week in the Virginia House of Delegates by Delegate Dave LaRock in honor of this young teen from Appomattox County, Virginia. Sage hopes sharing her story will help protect others from the abuse she suffered at the hands of predators, precipitated in part by the very institutions that should have protected her.
School policies and state laws that encourage concealing information from parents purport to protect vulnerable minors. In practice, as tragically demonstrated by Sage’s case, such policies open the door to predators by removing children’s greatest protection from their lives.
Sage’s Law aims to shut that door in three ways. It would require schools to notify parents if their child asserts a gender different from his or her sex; it prevents school counselors from withholding or encouraging minors to withhold information about a child’s gender identity; and it clarifies that raising a child according to his or her biological sex, including decisions about a child’s mental and physical health, may not be construed as abuse.
Many children never escape the clutches of sex traffickers. Had it not been for her mother’s relentless love and determination, Sage might never have been found. Michele calls it a miracle. In the starkest of contrasts, the actions of ideologues played a part — twice — in her daughter falling into the traffickers’ hands.
Sage’s public school could have been transparent to Michele about her daughter’s struggles. The court could have returned her to Virginia without furthering a quest to make legal history. The children’s home could have protected her from assault and access to drugs. And doctors could have treated trauma, not pressed living as the opposite sex and mutilative surgery on a victim of sexual abuse. All along, it was her mother who truly had Sage’s best interest at heart.
Sage was failed by adults who thought they were helping but were blinded to their own cruelty by their ideology. Michele tells of countless parents who have reached out to her with their own stories of families and bodies destroyed by school counselors, courts, and doctors who may spend minutes with a child, but assert they have the expertise and authority to usurp decisions from parents who have poured a lifetime into their care.
Sage has shown great courage in sharing her story, and it is time for lawmakers to take a stand for her and many other children by passing Sage’s Law. There is only one acceptable response to her story: never again.