In eight years, 17-year-old Mia Belle Robles’ abuser will be freed.
“I think when anyone asks you what you want to happen, you don't say 10 years,” she said, about her abuser's prison sentence.
Her mother’s boyfriend abused her for half that time.
“I was sexually assaulted for five years by my mom's boyfriend,” she said. “That was age 10 to 15. And then, in July of 2021, I finally came forward about it all.”
Two months before, Arizona Department of Child Safety caseworkers were tipped off about the abuse when someone reported her writing about it.
“They literally took me around the corner,” she said. “Not like into a bedroom or anything. It was really open, and my mom was sitting outside, so she could have heard everything.”
Scared and intimidated by the impromptu meeting with DCS agents, she denied the claims. It wasn’t until she told her grandmother, Linda King, of the abuse did she feel comfortable and safe enough to speak truth.
“They just didn't give her any privacy to be able to feel comfortable,” King said. “Her mom and her mom's boyfriend were right there. So that was very uncomfortable for her and almost impossible, I would think, to be able to be honest and forthright.”
When Mia confirmed the abuse, she and her sister were taken into custody by the state. Her abuser was brought in for a four-hour interrogation, where he confessed, only to recant later.
Prosecutors later offered a 10-year plea deal leveraging text messages from her phone as evidence. However, the stress from the ordeal and the foster care program took a toll on Mia, who was once a straight-A student.
Like hundreds of children in foster care in Arizona, the turmoil of the program put Mia’s ability to graduate high school in jeopardy. However, through the support of her grandparents and new foster parents, Linda and John King, she righted the course and has now found a passion as an advocate for children and other survivors of abuse through bloom365.
According to the 2019 FosterEd Progress Update, children in foster care don’t have the support they need to graduate high school. Only 33% of those in foster care in Arizona graduate high school. Foster care is daunting as they face many life-changing challenges most children don’t face.
Mia spoke for the second time in August at the National Organization for Victim Advocacy in New Orleans. She talked to first responders, lawyers, and others about best practices and working with survivors there. She hopes to bring more attention to what happens when things aren’t handled properly by sharing her story. Mia’s story is one of many that go unnoticed, but she wants to change that.
Mia faced many anxieties and often hid in the bathroom to avoid other people in school.
“We just needed to get her there, we needed to get her in the seat and in her class,” Linda said. “Her anxiety in that controlled setting caused her problems. She felt at times she couldn’t breathe.”
Mia suggested moving to online school, and Linda listened, switching her to Primavera. Because of everything going on outside of the classroom, school wasn’t something she could give energy to.
John and Linda King went through A New Leaf’s foster program after Linda knew about the organization through her work against domestic violence. New Leaf has locations in the Southwest Valley and services families in Goodyear, Litchfield Park and the greater Phoenix area.
“These were people in the community who wanted to help in some way,” Linda said.
A New Leaf made it clear what Mia’s options would be after she graduated high school and helped Linda and John get a court-appointed special advocate to help them every step of the way.
“I think personally my guardians finally listened to me,” Mia said about her success. “It’s hard to really succeed when what you feel you need isn’t being heard. Parents say they understand but they really don’t, and things get worse when what we are saying is ignored. At the end of the day, we know what will help ourselves the best.”
After attending therapy and not finding success, she found bloom365 as a way to empower her. Since getting involved with bloom365 and speaking with other teens of similar backgrounds, her confidence in her truth has improved.
“I know my story, I know what happened, and I stand by what I went through,” she said.
Through bloom365, Mia has been able to make a difference and speak and advocate for other survivors. She hopes to continue her advocacy after speaking at the National Organization for Victim Advocacy conference. She hopes to get her story out there so other teens and parents can learn from her account.
Michael McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org. Benjamin Adelberg is a student studying journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.