Breaking the silence

Editor's Note: In the column below, Andrew Dys tells the powerful story of a woman who says she grew up being sexually abused by her father. The Herald usually does not identify the victims of sexual crimes. But Tabitha Efird gave us permission to identify her. She said she chose to talk to The Herald to encourage other victims to seek help.

"Nobody deserves to be a victim," she said.

To comment on this story, contact Editor Paul Osmundson at posmundson@heraldonline.com.

The little house in Fort Mill felt empty.

Tabitha Efird was alone -- except for the man in the other room. It was Christmas break in 2005, and Tabitha, 19, was home from college. Her mother was out somewhere.

That left Tabitha, and her father. Darrell Ray Efird. The man who was supposed to ward off the Boogey Man.

Instead, Tabitha said, Darrell Ray Efird tried to have sex with his daughter.

Again, as Tabitha would later tell a jury in court.

She fought back this time.

Later, Tabitha signed a contract, handwritten by her mother. It was two pages, signed by Tabitha, her mother, and her father.

It was a contract for silence.

During a July trial, where her father faced multiple allegations of sexually assaulting his daughter, Tabitha testified the abuse started when the family lived in Marlboro County, when she was 4 years old, according to prosecutors and her father's lawyer.

"My father came in the room and put his hands under the covers," Tabitha said in an interview with The Herald. "He told me it was a secret between us."

At an age when she should have been worried about what color ribbons she would wear in her hair to kindergarten, Tabitha "came to dread these times," she said.

By age 8, touching wasn't enough. That's when her father started having sex with Tabitha, she testified, according to a prosecutor.

The first time, she started crying and screaming. "This hurts! Stop!"

Darrell Ray Efird did not stop, Tabitha said. Not for another 11 years.

Tabitha's life became "horrible." Any time she was alone with her father she could be abused, she said. At home. In the car.

Tabitha kept her secret.

"He would tell me he would go to jail, and I would go to a worse place," Tabitha said.

She added: "I was too scared of what people would think of me."

Plus, she said, "He was my father, I was supposed to trust him."

New town, same abuse

Around the time Tabitha turned 15, the family moved. A new house on Lee Street in Fort Mill, a new town. Same abuse.

Except, Tabitha didn't know a soul in her new town, her new school.

"I had this horrible secret," she said.

At Fort Mill High School, Tabitha made a few friends. She was not popular.

She called her teen years "a matter of survival."

Her father gave her a choice: Keep doing certain things, and he'd give her a car.

He bought her a 1993 blue Honda Civic, taught her to drive it. On those rides, he would stop, often at a secluded road. More abuse, Tabitha said in the interview.

The family moved to Holbrook Road in Fort Mill. Tabitha had her first boyfriends.

Her father told her it was OK to have a boyfriend.

You can't do anything with them you don't do with me, she said he told her.

No more being a victim

The family moved to Wilson Street in Fort Mill. Tabitha graduated from high school in the class of 2004 and saw an escape: the College of Charleston.

"I didn't have to worry about being raped every time I turned around," she said in the interview.

Tabitha said she went home on breaks in 2004, and her father assaulted her.

The spring semester of 2005, her grades fell.

"The idea of coming home made me sick," she said.

She did come home, even took a summer job where her father worked. She wrecked her car, and the injury made her re-evaluate her life.

"There was no reason I had to be a victim anymore," Tabitha said. "I shouldn't let myself be put through this."

For the first time, she called a sex abuse hotline. She told a couple of people close to her at school.

She started seeing a counselor at school. The Friday before Thanksgiving 2005, dreading going home, she told the counselor of the abuse for the first time. She didn't go home.

But she did go home for Christmas, when she finally fought back.

On Dec. 28, 2005, Tabitha was playing video games in the living room and fell asleep. She awoke to find her father in the house with her, alone. Tabitha said her father grabbed her, and she thought he was going to abuse her. She resisted, then her mother came home.

Tabitha testified she confronted her father in front of her mother. She and her mother left. She said she told her mother everything.

Tabitha said her mother set up a meeting of the three of them that night at Denny's restaurant in Rock Hill.

From that meeting came the contract for silence.

Tabitha testified her mother wrote out the contract. She says the contract was her mother's idea, but her parents testified that it was Tabitha's, according to a prosecutor and Darrell Efird's attorney. All three signed the contract.

Christine Efird could not be reached for this story.

Tabitha said she was stunned, despondent, crying, but agreed to the contract because, "My life would have been a living hell" at home without it.

So on paper, signed by the three of them, came the contract that would eventually be the key to unlocking that awful secret.

Under the contract:

Darrell Efird would pay Tabitha $50 a week at school during the spring, pay her student loans, buy her a car within two years, and pay for her cell phone for two and a half years.

There would be "No unusual contact."

There would be "No threats of any kind or nature."

Tabitha and her father would "not be anywhere alone together."

She could discuss what happened only with a psychiatrist.

Tabitha would tell her mother if anything happens.

"All information pertaining to this matter stays between the three of us as long as these rules are followed," it said. "From this day forward this matter will not be discussed or argued about between the three of us." And, "If any of these rules are broken then there will be legal consequences against him for any/all actions."

The contract doesn't say what actions.

Another section of the contract focused on the father's relationship with the mother. It called for Darrell Efird to pay for the mother's residence, college, and van.

No unwanted physical contact or threats. Pay for cell phone and Internet for the mother.

No talking about it with anybody else.

Silence is common

Tabitha went back to college.

But by February, she decided to tell the police about her father and called the York County Sheriff's Office.

Detective Amanda Carter, a 20-year officer with more than seven years investigating sex crimes, got the case.

Carter took Tabitha's statement over the phone, and had Tabitha write down all she could remember and fax it. Tabitha sent a copy of the contract.

Throughout, Carter believed Tabitha's claims because Tabitha was consistent and detailed.

Carter wasn't thrown by the fact the secret was hidden for so long.

"It is normal for victims not to tell anybody, to isolate themselves," Carter said.

Carter secured a search warrant for the house. Police found the original contract, in a file cabinet.

Darrell Ray Efird, with no criminal record, was arrested, charged with 18 sexual allegations. He spent weeks in jail before making bond. He never gave police a statement.

Prosecutor Mindy Hervey eventually got the case.

"In all my years, I've never heard of such a thing like this written contact," Hervey said.

Hervey and prosecutor Betty Miller said Tabitha exhibited many of the signs that prosecutors use to determine if an accuser is believable. Tabitha was questioned at length.

"She was humiliated and scared," Hervey said.

Attempts to buy silence are not rare, Hervey said. A written contract was different.

"Rarely do you see it memorialized, bribes put down on paper," said Kevin Brackett, the 16th Circuit solicitor.

Prosecutors brought to trial six charges against Darrell Efird, to make it easier for jurors to follow the abuse pattern. There were four charges of criminal sexual conduct, second degree; one charge of attempted criminal sexual conduct, first degree; and one count of incest.

The trial started July 10. Tabitha told her story. The contract was entered into evidence.

Defense lawyer Jim Boyd, hired by Darrell Efird, said he argued Tabitha made up the story to extort money from her father. He said Darrell Efird and his wife had been arguing the day Tabitha made her claim, and that Darrell Efird was considering separating from his wife.

Efird testified the allegations were made because his daughter's grades had slipped, Boyd said, and Efird would not pay for college any more.

Tabitha and prosecutors denied that claim.

Hervey balked, telling the jury if this was blackmail, then, "Tabitha got an F in blackmail," Hervey said.

Efird testified he signed the contract because he would be stigmatized if he were charged with sexually abusing his daughter, Boyd said.

Stress during trial phase

During the trial, Tabitha Efird was a wreck. She had been accused by her father of being a blackmailer.

"The only thing I had to gain in this was freedom," Tabitha said.

She spent sleepless nights at the nearby Days Inn, with her fiancee, Doug, her strength.

The jury went out before noon on July 12, then came back at 5:18 p.m.

Tabitha was crying. She looked over at her father. She said a part of her still loved him because he is Dad.

Unanimous, 12 men and women, agreed that Darrell Ray Efird, 47, was guilty of three counts of criminal sexual conduct second degree, and incest. The jury also reduced the charge of attempted criminal sexual conduct to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

The judge dismissed the sixth charge.

Efird did finally look at his daughter and shake his head before being led out of the courtroom, Tabitha said. But Efird never apologized, even when Judge Lee Alford gave him 30 years in prison.

"I thought, somehow, that he would admit it," Tabitha said.

Efird has filed notice he will appeal, Boyd said.

Tabitha Efird lives near Charleston and is still in school. She has trouble sleeping.

She and Doug, who has stuck with her through this ordeal, plan to marry next year.

But first, she will become a mother.

Tabitha Efird, 21, and Doug are going to have son.

The boy will be called James.

She wants, more than anything, to be a good parent.