If you know me or have been a long-time reader or follower of mine, you know that I don't shy away from the hard things. I am open and honest about a lot of things including my depression and anxiety. Some of you may know that I'm also a sexual abuse survivor. And if you didn't - now you do. What a lot of people don't know though, is how many times I've been silenced about this part of my life. How many times I've been labeled a "liar," (see below confession from a family member) and an "attention-seeker," and a "whiny baby who didn't understand what actually happened." Listen, none of us are strangers to the way things are in our society. The way rape culture is rampant. The way abusers are protected instead of punished. The way a victim's voice is pushed aside. You've seen the media coverage, just as I have. And if you're anything like me, you've been enraged by it. But how do you deal with it when the situation has happened and is happening to you? How do you go about your day with a smile, knowing that the man (and his family) who hurt you is walking around without a care in the world because he knows that his punishment will be light? How do you learn to "deal" with the fact that so many people, including the criminal justice system have minimized (and often just plain squashed) your voice?
The answer: you don't.
You never learn to deal with it because it's not something you should ever have to deal with.
So why am I writing this post now? Because I've been silenced for the very last time. A year and a half ago, I received a call from my father who is not usually an emotional man. But the minute I answered the phone, I could tell something was wrong.
"He did it again," my father said.
"Leonard. He hurt your cousin," he responded, his voice catching.
That single moment will go down in history as one of the worst in my life. Because in that moment, I felt the things NO ONE should have to feel. Guilt. Shame. Disgust. I felt like what he was telling me was my fault. I'd failed to prevent another person from getting hurt. I was overcome with a sense of hatred toward myself. Why didn't I make a bigger deal out of what happened to me? Why did I work so hard to forgive him? Why didn't I grow up to be a sexual abuse case-worker? Why didn't I make sure to raise my voice louder instead of keeping quiet? Why did I have to be so well-adjusted -- no one pays attention to the well-adjusted kid. I should have made more poor decisions and MADE people pay attention to the things that had happened to me.
Logically, those are some of the most ridiculous thoughts to have crossed my mind. But in that moment - logic doesn't matter. What matters is how you feel. And that's exactly how he made me feel.
It's been a long year and a half. To be honest, this case has affected me more than my own case against him has. I'm older and unfortunately, not as resilient as I was at 10 years old. So when I was told that I was not going to be allowed to read the Victim's Statement that I worked weeks on... the statement that contained ALL the things I should have said years ago and hadn't... I was furious. Livid that they were once again silencing a victim. That the re-victimization this case has caused was not nearly as important as the actual crime he committed. The son of a bitch took a plea deal. His punishment was set (only 2 years in prison - second offense). And still... they would not allow those of us who have been destroyed by him to tell him that.
My only consolation is that there is a sort of justice within the prison system. And though I generally don't condone violence -- I am a believer in vigilanteism. Because if the people we trust to protect us are not doing so - who can we trust? I hope that the prison system enacts their own form of justice so that perhaps the man who has hurt so many people will understand what it's like to be held accountable for his actions. That he understands that even though the justice system has protected him, he cannot be protected from all. That there are others out there who care enough about his crimes to enact their own form of revenge. I know that this may seem unhealthy to a lot of people. And trust me... I've been in therapy long enough to know that even most therapists may think that there are some healing, processing and forgiveness steps that I missed along the way.
But the truth is that life is not a forgiving place. The world does not go 'round in a black and white way as we'd like. We hurt people and people hurt us. And contrary to the popular quote, "No one can make you inferior without your consent" - I call bullshit. People are cruel and the way I was abused, without my consent, did make me feel inferior. I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with all the emotions that are wrapped up in being a sexual abuse survivor. As much as people would like to tell you what and how you should feel - they can't know what it's really like to be your position. Even in talking to other sexual abuse survivors - you discover that there's a variety of ways people handle the situation.
All of this is to say that I'm writing this post because I can. Because I won't be silenced by the judge presiding over my uncle's case. I will not be silenced by his family who continue to lie about what happened. I will not be silenced by the criminal justice system that continues to fail me and plenty of other victims. And I will not be silenced by society -- a place where it's uncomfortable to talk about things like this. A place where people would rather see "good" than "evil" and acknowledge that it exists.
If the criminal justice system and his family will not hold him accountable for his actions, I hope his fellow community members will. I've never liked the idea of publicly shaming people for their actions, but that was before I realized that some criminals just don't care. They don't care about their victims. They don't care that they've been hurt. They don't care that they've been silenced. So today, I invite you to read my victim impact statement. To look at the documents that I've had in my possession for the last twenty years.
I will not stay silent. And I promise to always raise my voice against injustices like mine.
TO MY ABUSER,
I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a sexual abuse survivor. It's taken me many years to say those words aloud. And until now, I’ve never had the opportunity to address my abuser in this capacity and say the things I should have said years ago.
Leonard, I can still remember, vividly, the way it felt when you touched me where you weren’t supposed to. There are times, in the dead of night, when I can remember the fear of hearing your footsteps coming toward me, your body heat as you laid down next to me. These are unwanted memories I wish I could forget -- visceral reminders of the injustice and pain a loved one can cause. You can’t get rid of memories, though; it doesn’t work like that. What happens, instead, is that the memories impact every choice you make in your life. I am incredibly careful with who I trust. Who I show my true self to, because I don’t ever want to feel the loss of control I felt when I was a child in your care. I have learned to love on a case-by-case basis and to dole out that love little by little so as not to be betrayed. I have guarded my heart to protect myself – often to my own detriment – because of the residual effects of what you did to me.
I’ve lost a lot of things thanks to you, and I want to tell you what all of those things are so that you can understand that what you did impacted my life in every way.
The first losses are the obvious ones -- the guilt, shame, and disgust that I felt at ten years old knowing that you had put your hands in places they didn’t belong. I had to explain over and over to various family members and counselors what happened to me. It was hard. It was horrible.
I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I now realize that you also took something very important from me as a child: my ability to say no. You made me feel small and insignificant and scared. You took my voice when you betrayed your role as a caretaker… as a trusted family member … and when stuck your fingers inside of me, you robbed me of a moment that should have existed solely for my future self to enjoy with a trusted and consensual partner, someone who respected me and my body.
That loss of consent has impacted my decisions throughout the years and shaped me into someone who has a hard time recognizing that I have a choice. A choice to say no. A choice to stand up for what I disagree with.
Sexual abuse does not claim only one victim, and you should know that. When I came forward about what you’d done, the pain rippled throughout our entire family. Sisters and brothers that were once close were torn apart. Grandparents and grandchildren were separated. More importantly, a family I once trusted and believed loved me, became the family that treated me as if I were the one who committed the crime. I am the victim in this situation, but while my siblings and I were denied precious time with our grandparents, you were allowed the luxury of staying in contact with your loved ones. Your children and your wife got time we didn’t get.
You robbed us of that time and you robbed me of the chance to get to know my relatives. While your grandchildren grow up and learn who their family is – I am certain that I’m not in that history. My cousins will never get a chance to know the real me, because their knowledge of me will have been marred by your lies. The town that I should be proud to walk through because I have a rich family history there was taken from me, too. A town I grew up wandering the streets of, a town where people would smile at me because I was a Hankes. Now, I can’t stand to be in your town where the people believe you are a respected part of their community. That is not a community I can support.
My dad has always been a fierce defender of his family. He has expressed such a deep love and loyalty to his parents and siblings that when he was forced to miss Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners because you would be there has been one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to watch. It pains me deeply to know that my grandfather, one of the most inspirational and courageous men I’ve ever known thought of you as a son. That he respected you. I imagine that he is rolling over in his grave right now, disgusted with the kind of man you’ve proven yourself to be.
But the biggest thing you took from me was the narrative of my childhood. While I refuse to let you believe that you ruined my entire childhood, I can’t deny that when I look back at my youth, those painful years stand out the most. Those years of nightmares. Of therapy. I have loving parents and an amazing family, and for that I’m grateful, but my childhood memories often turn to this traumatic time in my life instead of the moments I’ve shared with them. And that’s your fault. You did this to me.
I want you to know that despite all the ways you have altered my life and the way I live it – you did not break me, no matter how many times I believed that you might have. I stand here today, strong and confident in who I am. And I know that I am one of the lucky few. My support system was bigger and more robust than anyone could have imagined. The people in that circle of support believed me. And loved me. And sent me to therapy. But the thing I remind myself of every day? I’ve been surrounded by the best male role models I could have asked for. Thanks to my father and stepfather, my uncles and my husband, I’ve learned that men do not have to hurt you to love you.
I know that you and some of the other people in this room might be asking, “Why is she still talking about this when it happened to her so long ago? Why can’t she just let it go?” The answer is that it’s still happening to me and to your other victims. It will always be happening to us. The day you decided to touch another little girl and that brave little girl told her mother was the day that I became a victim all over again. What I didn’t expect was to feel the weight of your actions fall upon me. Like the guilt of not being able to protect that little girl or any of the others you may have hurt after me. Because of the disappointment with myself that I didn’t stand up and raise my voice in a louder way. So no, I will never stop talking about it
I also became a victim again when I found out that you rewrote the truth, when the cousins and family that should have known what really happened were told lies about me and my family. The most disgusting part of this is that you painted an inaccurate picture of my mother, making her out to be a vindictive woman in order to gain custody of her child. My mother, who at the time not only trusted and loved you as her own sibling, but was an outstanding mother and gave me every ounce of love and support she had within herself – all so you could keep the truth about yourself hidden.
My mother did a great job of sheltering me from some of the more painful aspects of this situation. It actually wasn’t until recently that I was able to read the interview you had with the child protection worker assigned to my case and Officer Steve Holst. In that interview, you admit and I quote, “I knew I had a problem and I told my wife about it. We didn’t know what to do.” And yet you sit here today, claiming that you have done nothing wrong.
There is another part of the interview where the officer asks your wife, Roxy, if I had told her what happened. She acknowledged that I did tell her.
I remember the day that I told you, Roxy. And the day I told your son. And the way you both brushed it off. Looking back, is it any wonder I was so scared to tell anyone else? You made me out to be a liar, when you knew the entire time what your husband was doing. Why you continue to stand by his side, even now, baffles me. To know that you care more about a man who hurts children than you care about your own flesh and blood is appalling. Knowing that another adult was aware of what was happening and didn’t care enough to stand up for me has been a hard fact to accept. I beg you, Roxy, to reconsider the example you’re setting for the younger children in this family by staying with a man who purposely hurts children. What he’s done is not okay. And it’s not okay that you’ve supported him.
Leonard, a few years ago, you wrote me and my father a letter (see below for actual letter). And I’d like to quote that letter now. “I am communicating with you now because I have been seeing (with Roxy) a specialist in counseling trauma survivors. He has helped me to see that the possibility exists that you may feel that I have no remorse or guilt for what I have done to you since I have never communicated it to you. As such, I am taking this effort to say the following to you now. I want to deeply apologize to you for what I did to you. Both at the time of my abusing you as well as any resulting effects that have or may yet, linger. You did nothing wrong, you were just an innocent child and I was the adult who abused you. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but my selfish thinking blinded me to the true wrongness I was engaged in.”
I spent a lot of time with your letter. I read and reread it. I spent countless hours talking to my therapist about it and came to the conclusion that I had to open my heart to forgiveness. Your letter felt genuine, which is why I allowed myself to be in situations that made me uncomfortable for the rest of my family. To allow my father time with his parents. To enjoy pivotal moments in my life with the rest of the Hankes family.
But you did it again. You abused another child. You broke the promise you made in that letter. And worse than that – you deny that you did. To anyone reading that letter – you may sound like a man who regrets what he has done. Who has resolved to change. I bought that story hook line and sinker and worked to forgive you. But you didn’t change. To this day, you continue to put your sick needs ahead of your family and you continue to hurt innocent children. It is this letter that ignites the most rage in my soul. In writing it, you hurt me again. You betrayed me, again. I want you to know that I will never forgive you for what you’ve done.
I want everyone in this courtroom to know that just because a person does good things, it does not mean he is a good person. Sure, Leonard may usher at your church and take collection every Sunday. He may cut your lawn and help you when you’ve fallen. No one denies that he has worked hard and done good things in his life. But he is not a good person. He is not a good man. A good man would never hurt a child knowingly, would never allow himself to be put upon a pedestal when he knows the things he’s done to hurt others.
That’s why I’m disappointed that he is not being punished to the fullest extent. It is not right that a repeat offender is able to spend a brief amount of time being punished for his crimes while his victims will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the pain he inflicted. I am astonished that a man who has admitted his guilt and who has been proven to be a predator is granted such leniency and will undoubtedly have the ability to continue to hurt children.
You can tell that, despite the trauma you’ve caused me throughout my life, I am an extremely well-adjusted and productive member of society. I do work that allows people to raise their voice and tell their stories, and I am very good at it. I credit my success to my support system. But because of the luxury I have enjoyed, I owe it to the rest of the world to raise my voice for other little girls who have been traumatized and abused. It is not only my duty and responsibility to speak out and educate people on sexual abuse – it’s my deepest desire. I will not be an idle participant any longer, and I will not keep quiet, even when it makes some people uncomfortable, even when it means rocking the ship. I feel bad for your children because of the lies they’ve been fed. But I hope that they recognize the truth in my words and the words of all the victims’ statements that will be read today. I hope that they realize their legacy can be so much more than that of their father’s. They do not have to sit by idly and support him. They, too can have a voice that matters. And if they decide not to? That’s okay. My voice is loud and it will carry over them and be the light for other victims.
I do not detect any remorse from you, Leonard and Roxy, but if you care even the tiniest bit for me or the other people you’ve hurt, you will do the right things. You will recognize how deeply you’ve hurt us and impacted our lives. You will admit the truth to yourselves and to your family. Your children and siblings deserve that much. They deserve to know that they were lied to and manipulated by the people they love the most.
I came here today to make it known that I would not let this moment pass by without telling you the things I should have said years ago. I am a sexual abuse survivor – but that label does not define me. I am so much more than what you did to me.
If you've made it to the end of this - thank you for reading. I would like to take a moment to thank some people for their unwavering support during this difficult time. These people have made an impact on my life in positive ways which will always mean more than the traumatic history.
My incredible family and husband, first and foremost, who have stood by me through every single horrific moment of this.
Kim C - for being my first set of eyes on this and being a wonderful supporter.
Emerald - for being an advocate and supporter when I needed it the most.
Whitney - for her support, ear and comic relief during the darkest of days.
Jennie - for helping me craft the perfect way to say all the things I've been too afraid to say until now.
And any and all of you who read and share my story. <3