Sylvia Vasquez took the stand once again Tuesday, and once again she poured out an emotional-and shocking-description of her life with her foster children, saying that many of her methods were a “poor choice,” but were the only options she had left.
Flanked with pointed questions from prosecuting attorney Joyce Dudley, Vasquez launched into complex explanations of her behavior, trying to justify everything from allowing her seven-year-old daughter to stay in clothing soaked in feces and urine to why she never brought the children into continued professional or specialized therapy. Her testimony, to be followed by more witnesses today, will be used by Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa in determining whether the charges against her should be considered felonies or misdemeanors. Regardless, she will face no more than a year in county jail due to the specifications of her plea bargain.
Vasquez, who pled no contest to four felony counts of child abuse earlier this year, has become a polarized figure, drawing both disdain and sympathy for her dealings with her four foster children, three of whom suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD. A recognized affliction common to abused children who never forged bonds with a parent or caregiver, RAD is described as a condition in which the child shows “markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness in most contexts,” and individuals with RAD have been called “affectionless psychopaths” who tend to be highly manipulative and aggressive.
Formerly a popular daycare service provider, Vasquez ticked off a list of incidents involving her 14-year-old adopted son and her adopted daughters-aged 7, 10 and 13-that gave her reason to take drastic action to “protect” others: walking in on her 10-year-old urinating in the refrigerated milk container, catching her son allegedly trying to rape the youngest girl, hearing from the boy that he had allegedly raped and killed the family cat and poisoned the family dog, learning from one of her helpers that the youngest had supposedly hit her with a rock-filled sock, or how one of the girls had allegedly attempted to molest the other with a bottle.
Dudley pounced on these and other responses, which contradicted parts of testimony both from the children themselves and from the half-dozen or so other witnesses. Why, Dudley asked Vasquez, had she not followed the recommendations of several professionals and the various books she had read and taken her children to therapy? Vasquez responded that she didn’t think it would work.
Why had she not, as another tactic suggested, put the children on medication for the disorder? She said she was told there was no medicine. And as for their physical health, why had she decided to have the boy circumcised at age 10, against a pediatrician’s advice, or begin injecting one of the girls with anti-growth drugs provided by a Tijuana doctor when her local doctor had said there was no need? To these, she said she felt it was best for the well-being of the children.
During her cross-examination, Dudley also focused on the “treatments” Vasquez, 51, had used. Did any of the professionals she spoke with or did any of the literature she had read about RAD suggest locking children in enclosures with buckets for toilets? After some pause, Vasquez replied no.
At times nearly crying, Vasquez said she understood why her actions could be seen as detrimental to the children she loved, something she never intended. She claimed the help she sought wasn’t available, or that she only learned of certain programs after the children had been taken into custody.
The Vasquez sentencing trial continues this week, with no set date yet for the actual decision. An expert witness is expected today.