Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why I Told My Darkest Secret

Editor's Note: This article was written by Teri Hatcher, a famous television actress, and appears in a recent issue of Newsweek. It is a terribly gut-wrenching revelation of the sexual abuse she suffered at age 7 and still suffers from today. Ms. Hatcher is a role model, not because of her occupation, but because it took great courage for her to speak out about the abuse she suffered, to put the abuser - her uncle - away, and to regret not having done so 30 years earlier. Her delay unintentionally led to the death (by suicide) of a 14-year-old victim of her uncle more than two decades after Ms. Hatcher's own abuse. Emphasis has been added to key sentences by bolding them.]

Teri Hatcher: Why I Told My Darkest Secret

By revealing the painful story of her sexual abuse as a child, actress Teri Hatcher hopes to help other victims.

By Teri Hatcher / Newsweek [Oct. 8, 2007 issue]

I'm 7. "Do you want to go with me?" asks my uncle. I wanted to go. I remember that. I remember feeling excitement and shame simultaneously. In that moment, all I knew was that for some reason I wanted to be alone ... with him. We'd be driving to pick up my cousin. We'd pull over in some abandoned parking lot. He'd turn off the engine and suddenly that space in the car with the seats that go all the way across would become the scary and haunting locale of the most defining and damaging event in my life.

I tell you this story with trepidation. But my fear is far outweighed by what I know is my obligation to help other victims of sexual abuse to not feel alone. To inspire other victims to realize that their lives do not have to be paralyzed by guilt and shame; they do not have to be defined by victimhood. And to convey to each and every damaged girl or woman that it is not her fault. Unfortunately, many, many girls are victims of sexual abuse. So even as we fight evil abroad, the evil of this abuse lives on in our neighborhoods.

Rarely does an adult get to revisit and bring justice to a crime that happened more than 30 years ago. But that is exactly what I was able to do. It began when my parents were getting set to move from the Bay Area to southern California. Of course, in my middle-class family this involved a garage sale. I was sitting on the lawn trying to negotiate a quarter for all my dad's old T shirts when my mom handed me a local newspaper she'd been saving. It seems that in January 2002, a 14-year-old girl named Sarah had wrapped her head in a towel and shot herself. Her suicide note implicated one Richard Stone.

My uncle. What?!, I thought. And then so many things rushed through my mind. You mean he's been doing this all these years? It wasn't just me? Oh my God, that poor girl. I know everything she was feeling. I sat there in tears on my parents' lawn, numb. Then I got angry—that my mother didn't show the paper to me earlier; that I didn't put my uncle away when I was 7 years old. But, of course, no one did back then. "Back then." It makes me sound like an old person. But seriously, just 30 years ago, no one did. No one talked about any of that, and by the time I was conscious enough to know how wronged I'd been and how damaged I was as a result, well, the statute of limitations had flown by and my healing was only as close as $150 an hour for years of sessions that luckily I could afford.

I went back to Los Angeles and spent a few restless nights dreaming of Sarah. And then I decided to call the D.A. in Santa Clara County who was working on the case. His name was Chuck Gillingham. I wasn't sure I even wanted to come forward with my story. I wasn't sure it would help or matter. But I called. When Chuck and I finally spoke, I didn't tell him who I was at first. I knew I had a lot to lose if this hit the tabloids: Teri Hatcher, screaming out for attention. It's pretty much ingrained in any victim of abuse that no one will believe them, and even if they do, you feel you'll still somehow get blamed. And thus the cycle of pain.

The D.A. and a police officer flew to Los Angeles to take my statement. I began to reveal the details I could never forget. I could picture the car and recall the feelings I had. I remember the clothes I was wearing, because he had me take them off. He touched me and asked if it felt good. I said no and he said, "well, someday it will." Who would ever think four simple words could do so much harm: "Well, someday it will." Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Maybe that's where all my adult guilt came from. Maybe that's why when I ate caramel coated with chocolate or had pleasurable sex or won an award or got a great job, just moments after the elation, I'd be slammed with an overwhelming urge to punish myself. Because at the core, I felt I was bad. I felt that I caused it. That it was my fault. Ah, Sarah, I knew that pain.

So that was it. They took my statement and they flew away. I had no idea what to expect next, but what I got was a phone call. I wouldn't have to appear in court. No one would ever hear my story because the judge and my uncle's lawyer had read my statement, and the corroborating evidence was enough to make him plead guilty in October 2002 (not to me, but to Sarah's case). He got 14 years. He's old. I hope it's his final resting place.

For me, this opportunity, this turning point, gave me a chance to face a very old but still raging fear. I can't say that a victim of abuse is ever completely healed. But this experience allowed me the space to feel validated, vindicated and, frankly, not crazy. It was not my fault. If this has happened to you, you may want to contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network at rainn.org. I wish you strength and love, and a journey that leads to your own realization that you are lovable, worthy and deserve good things.

If it hasn't happened to you, count your blessings and do something in your community to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone you know.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21047603/site/newsweek/