‘It was the right thing to do.’ Sex assault charges dropped against ‘Girl in the Closet’

·3 min read

Three sexual assault charges against Lauren Kavanaugh, who became nationally known as “the Girl in the Closet,” were dismissed on Oct. 5.

From the ages of 2 to 8, Kavanaugh was tortured and abused at her family’s home in Hutchins, Texas. She was kept in a 4-by-8-foot closet in the family’s trailer, according to The Dallas Morning News. When authorities found her in 2001, she was starved and could not speak.

In December 2018, officers received a tip that a 14-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh, the Lewisville Police Department said in a news release.

The 14-year-old and Kavanaugh met through a page Kavanaugh ran called “The Lauren Kavanaugh Story,” police said

The two began talking off and on until Kavanaugh moved in with the girl’s family at a Budget Suites of America motel in Lewisville in October 2018, according to Kavanaugh’s arrest warrant affidavit.

On Dec. 14, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force told Lewisville police about a sexually explicit Facebook conversation between Kavanaugh and the 14-year-old girl. Facebook.com had tipped off ICAC.

The case has been permanently dismissed in Denton County, first assistant district attorney Jamie Beck said. Beck said she could not divulge all the reasons why the case was dismissed, but said part of the reason had to do with Kavanaugh undergoing treatment.

“Overall, it was the right thing to do,” Beck said. “We were able to secure a treatment facility; we worked with a lot of resources.”

At one point during the case, Kavanaugh was found incompetent to stand trial and was put into a facility to regain competency. She was deemed competent, but “they told us that could be fleeting,” Beck said.

The dismissal was “in the interest of justice,” Beck said.

In 2019, experts told the Star-Telegram that the intense abuse Kavanaugh suffered as a child had to be taken into account in the case. Greg Westfall, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, said the case against her should be dismissed and counseling for Kavanaugh was more appropriate than a prison sentence.

“Her emotional level is probably on par with that 14-year-old girl,” Westfall told the Star-Telegram in 2019. “She was not socialized from the time she was 2 to 8 — she was in a closet.”

Psychologist Barbara Rila saw the extent of Kavanaugh’s abuse firsthand when she spoke with the then 8-year-old in 2001, just days after the girl was rescued. In 2019, Rila told the Star-Telegram Kavanugh’s intense trauma likely impacted her development and mental state. She agreed the lack of socialization Kavanaugh received when she was young stunted her ability to understand age-appropriate relationships.

“Trauma affects the growing developing brain of the child, so the brain grows according to experiences,” Rila said. “When children have a steady diet of harm and danger, we’re going to anticipate a much more dire outcome.”