By Linda Cicoira
The battle has spanned decades for Stacey Johnson, but the future is looking brighter.
The 44-year-old Exmore area resident just won an appeal that will allow her to collect benefits under the state Victims of Crime Compensation Act. She won the victory after researching the law and writing legal arguments four times.
“I had the help of a family member to work on the appeals,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I can’t take 100 percent credit.” But, “The fact that I was able to do this and research the codes” has given her strength. “When I got positive feedback, it gave me positive affirmation that this is what I want to do.”
Johnson plans to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Services Management in March. After that, the goal is to get a master’s in psychology and then a law degree so she can be totally equipped to lead the fight. She wants other victims to learn their rights and get the help they need.
Johnson has also been collecting documents and making notes for a book about her struggles.
Her studies stopped for years because there were so many hearings and continuances in her stepfather’s court case. “I couldn’t handle it mentally,” Johnson said. “I could not focus on my school work while everything was going on.”
In June, she completed the first course in certification as a peer support specialist. She initially thought she would learn more coping skills by attending. She soon learned the benefit of supporting people with psychological trauma and other related issues. To gain the specialist title, one must have significant life-altering experience, also referred to as “lived experience.”
Johnson’s compensation claim was previously denied despite that she suffered horrific sex crimes committed by her stepfather, Khalil Mohammed Muslimani, 71, formerly of the Onancock area. The crimes occurred from the time she was 4 years old until she was 17, she said. Her birth mother knew what was going on and didn’t intervene, testimony disclosed.
Time was the issue regarding compensation. Johnson didn’t file for the benefit within 180 days of when the crimes were committed.
An legal opinion was given by of Deputy Commissioner Terry Jenkins of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, which adminsters the fund. “Based on the sexual abuse suffered by the claimant during the majority of her childhood, and the necessity that the abuse and the true paternity of her children be made public for claimant to come forward and prosecute this claim, we find claimant has established for the delayed filing of her claim for benefits.”
The amount of benefits has yet to be determined, Johnson said. But she is optimistic.
It took her three decades of persistence to get justice in the courtroom. Johnson said there are many others who have also been turned away from the fund. Some of them have contacted her through Facebook after reading about Johnson in the newspaper. The Post doesn’t usually use the names of victims of sex offenses. She consented for her name to be used in those stories.
“I’m going to be notifying others that have been denied because of the timing,” she said.
Johnson plans to do this in other states too. “There needs to be more help and more allocations for working with victims. There needs to be more people available to be with the victims throughout the process.”
Muslimani will be in a state penitentiary for the rest of his life for the crimes he committed against Johnson and another female relative. He is currently in Red Onion State Prison, in Pound, Va., where some of the state’s worst offenders are housed. The profile of inmates described on the prison website stated “recent disruptive, assaultive, severe behavior problems, predatory-type behavior, escape risk; requiring segregation. Must complete (the) Progressive Housing Phase Program prior to transfer to (a) less secure facility.”
In March, he was sentenced to life plus five years in prison for raping and taking indecent liberties with Johnson in 1986. Muslimani was sentenced in 2017 to two life sentences plus 20 years for two counts of carnal knowledge and two counts of forcible sodomy involving his niece when she was a teenager about two decades ago.
The crimes involving his niece occurred after he had served six years in prison. In 1990, Muslimani was convicted of carnal knowledge of Johnson and of attempted object sexual penetration and forcible sodomy of third young relative. He was sentenced to 12 years but served half due to parole and good behavior regulations that are no longer in effect.
Johnson says she wanted him to be charged then with rape but because he had put an incorrect birthdate for her on a marriage license, it appeared they were married and the charge wasn’t prosecuted. Johnson bore four of his children by the time she was 16. Her mother and stepfather took her for an abortion the first time she became pregnant by him when she was 11 years old.
She was much younger than the marriage license showed. She said the date on her birth certificate should have been noticed back then by lawyers and Child Protective Services as the case was reviewed. When she stopped going to school in the eighth grade but her siblings continued, no one from the school system looked for her. Johnson said she wants justice for those errors too.
“If they had done their job the way that they were supposed to, a lot could have been spared,” Johnson said. “I know they say you can’t go by the ‘should’ve would’ve could’ve,’ but do you know how nice it would have been to have parents or to know I could have had a chance for that?”
There are times when Johnson is feeling sick and wishes she could go to her mom and get sympathy. “It’s not there,” she added.
“This man (Muslimani, who is 30 years older than Johnson) admitted in a trial in 1989 that he knew what he was doing was illegal but because I was like a little mother taking care of my younger siblings he became attracted to me and wanted me for his wife,” Johnson said. “My stepfather’s actions were deliberate; he knew exactly what he was doing. As long as he got what he wanted that was all that mattered.”
Johnson has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, and insomnia.
“All of the domino effects that has happened to this family,” she said. People wondered how she could return to the Shore after all that happened to her here.
“If that were the case,” she said, “I couldn’t live in Maryland, Virginia, (or) South Carolina. I couldn’t live in Florida. South Carolina, for me, holds one of the worst memories because it was where the abortion was. I couldn’t remember anything positive there,” Johnson said. She was in Florida on a family vacation when she was 11 and learned she was pregnant.
Someday, Johnson says she will open a law office that specializes in helping victims. She was thankful that Victim’s Advocate Laura Moore and Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan also helped her win the claim. She wants to reach out beyond the court case to help those who haven’t yet come forward.