*based on transcript
"My stepfather by most people’s accounts was a pillar in the community. He was a firefighter - a local hero. I would fall asleep and would wake up because he would literally come into my room and carry me asleep put me into his bed. I was constantly told that it was a secret. Nobody's going to believe you. I never felt like I had anyone to turn to.“
I would have to start off by giving you some context as to the background for my story and how I grew up. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut - one of those towns where everybody knew each other. My parents had gone through a terrible divorce when I was really little. They both got remarried. I was probably about three years old. My stepfather by most people's accounts, was a pillar in the society.
He was a firefighter. He was a girl scout leader. He was part of the lion's club and all of these different groups, and he was seen as kind of a local hero, as most of the police and firefighters were in a small town and everybody knew him that way. Here he is with my mom, a single mom, two little girls, and wow, what a great guy. And I really, truly believe that that was all purposeful. Especially knowing what I know now. I found that my stepfather was very controlling.
He was very attached to me and my sister probably a little bit more to me since I was the youngest. Around nine or ten years old he started to sexually abuse me. It started with touching inappropriately. I didn't understand it. I was very young. I was very afraid. He was incredibly manipulative. He would make comments to me about me being special because of how much he loved me and this is why he was having these moments, these private moments with me, but that they were to be kept private.
Over the course of some time I started asking questions about that and pushing back a little bit more. That's when he made it clearer and made more threats. He would threaten that he would hurt my mom, that he would break up the family, he would hurt me. He was verbally and physically abusive as well. I was afraid and I also was told repeatedly that nobody would believe me. And that was so ingrained into me at a young age that I believed that it was true. The abuse went on for quite a number of years. He had made an advance at my sister, who is 3 ½ years older than me, and she actually reported it to her guidance counselor at school, which got botched in the reporting. They failed to report it right away, but they finally reported it. And child youth protective services came in and I still remember this clearly. I didn't really understand who they were, what their role was, but they came in and they interviewed my sister and me at our dining room table in front of my stepfather with my mother there. We just basically said, we're not going to say anything. It was more focused on my sister because she had reported it. They asked me a lot of questions as well and I said I didn't know anything about it. Nothing had ever happened with me. She said the same thing, that she made it up and we were terrified and we were afraid of him. I just remember thinking, Oh shit, you've gotta be kidding me. We're in front of him. He's going to kill us. It didn't go down really well after that either. The investigator said that they thought that my sister was lying. My stepfather informally had a couple of his cop friends come and talk to us and tell us that you can go to jail for reporting things that aren't true. Unfortunately, it didn't go anywhere. They walked away and left us alone in the situation with no hope. If I ever thought that that somebody was going to come in and save me or realize that something was wrong, that was absolutely just squashed in that time. It was devastating, but I just kept going.
Unfortunately, the abuse got worse after that. He took it to a different level and very frequently. I just expected that that was part of my life. I was constantly told that it was a secret or threatened. “Nobody's gonna believe you—look at who I am”.
He made opportunities left and right to have those times to abuse me without people knowing. My mom worked two jobs. She waitressed at night to make money, so she was frequently gone. We would come home from school and she would be gone. She'd be at one job, she'd go to another job. It created a lot of openings for him to be able to abuse me definitely without my mom seeing and being suspicious. But I remember incidents where I would fall asleep and I would wake up because he would literally come into my room and carry me asleep and put me into his bed. That’s something that I would dread and try to pretend I was sleeping.
I remember incidents where he would abuse me in the car, in different places in the house, in the garage, there was lots of situations like that and this went on for years. He was a firefighter so all of his friends were firefighters and police officers. I never felt like I had anyone to turn to. I felt like my mom wouldn't believe me after what had happened. Having that power taken away, was very, very difficult. So I just resigned myself to this is what it's going to be.
I also though at least it's just me—my sister is not being abused. My mom's not being hurt, it's just me. I just have to get through this. He became a girl scout leader probably around the time I was like 10 or 11 years old. The abuse was full-blown at that point.
I turned 13 in November 1983 and in January of 1984 I remember clear as day that there was the ABC after-school specials. I remember seeing an ad for a movie that was going to be on. It was called “something about Amelia”. I remember watching it and I asked my dad about it recently and he said, yeah, you were glued to the TV the entire time. It's coincidental because that happened and it was about a girl that was being abused, I think it was her stepfather, her real father, I don't remember. I noticed there were resources that were available to her and I think I filed that in my brain that, okay, maybe there is a chance that somebody would believe. Back then, remember nobody talked about this stuff. I had never heard of anything like that. I didn't know of anything like that. You'd hear about maybe somebody whose father had a temper and maybe hit the kid once in awhile or maybe somebody where the father drank too much. I'd never heard of anything like this until then. That was my first kind of moment, that aha moment of, wow, okay, maybe there is somebody that would believe that this is a real story.
I had a girlfriend that used to come over and, and occasionally would spend the night at my house. And one night, she said to me that I want to tell you that Russ, my stepfather,” made a move, like he was going to kiss me. He hugged me and then he was gonna kiss me and I kind of pushed him away” and she said, “has that ever happened to you?” And I said, okay. I said, yeah, actually it has. I said, can you go get my sister? My sister came in and I said, listen—Russ tried to kiss her and he's been doing this to me for years. He's been abusing me for years, and it's a lot more than that. My sister had suspected. And she said, “all right, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to go to my guidance counselor and report it”. I was in the junior high school in eighth grade and my school was across the street from her high school. She went to her guidance counselor the next day. She said you stay put until you hear something. All of a sudden I get pulled out of class and it's towards the end of the day. She'd gone to her guidance counselor. My guidance counselor pulled me out and said your sister has reported something and that’s why we want to talk to you about it.
I told her a little bit and I said yes, it's true. I do want to report this but I'm afraid. As a matter of fact, the buses are leaving the school right now and I'm afraid to not be on that bus and not get off that bus because he's going to know something's wrong and he's going to come after me. They told me “you're okay, you're safe”. I didn't know what was happening. Then it all progressed rapidly from there. Very quickly. They called the police. I don't know who called my mom, but either the police or the hospital called my mom at some point. And they basically told me, we're calling your parents, your mom, your dad, who were divorced.
They told me they were taking me to the hospital to have them examine you and make sure that you're okay. I’m terrified and I remember waiting there. I remember seeing my stepfather's truck drive down driveway in front of the school the and he walked in and he was very stern and intense. He said to school staff, “Renee didn't come off the bus today. Do you know where she is?” They said, “Oh no, we don't know.” He left and I was hiding in the guidance counselor office, I think I hit under the desk because I was terrified that he would see me. As he left, I kind of peeked out and as he's pulling out one way, I can see a cop car coming in the other way. I knew then that he was going to know. I still to this day think that he knew because of that. My dad came and got me in and he took my sister and I to the hospital. I think the police car followed us. I remember being in the hospital. I was scared to death because I didn't know who's going to believe me and who wasn't or what was going to happen next.
There were two police officers that talked to me. They explained to me that I was going to be examined and then a nurse and a doctor came in and they told me that they were going to do a rape kit. They asked me questions about how long this had been going on. How often, the last time that he abused me, did he have intercourse with me? Things like that. It was hugely embarrassing and scary to be in this situation at 13 years old. My mom wasn't there yet. They waited until my mom got there before they did the rape kit.
When they did the rape kit, I remember starting to cry and I said, “do you believe me that I'm telling you the truth? “And they said, “yes, yes, we do”. Then my mom came in. My mom looked at me and she said,” I just want to know is this true?” And I said,” it is”. And she said, “okay, we're never going back there. I believe you - we’re never going back there”. And I just said, “okay”.
My father took my sister and me home to his house. My mom had asked for a police escort to the house so she could get some things from the house. Years later I asked “mom, why did you ask for a police escort? Were you afraid of what he would do to you?” She said,” I don't know if I was afraid of what he would do to me or what I would do to him”. She said, “and I wanted there to be witnesses and I just wanted to get our stuff and get the hell out of there”.
My mom went to the house with the police escort and she said that when she got there, she knew that something was wrong because my stepfather was meticulous and very precise about things. He would park his car a certain way and the house was a certain way. When she got there, his truck was askew in the driveway and there were no lights on in the house. It was dark out. She knew that there was something wrong, but they let her go into the house anyway. They let her go in first, which I think was wrong. When she fully got into the house, she started screaming because my stepfather had killed himself. He had hung himself from the attic in between the bedrooms. Not a whole lot of time had passed since I didn’t go home and he came to the school looking for me. Looking back, I think, and my mom thinks that he had a pre-staged that if anything ever happened, he was going to take his life. That's exactly what he did. He was dead when they got there. My mom was hysterical and I didn't find out until the next day. I just remember being told that Russ was dead. My dad told me. I think he actually showed me a newspaper article that said he died of suicide, asphyxiation. I vaguely remember that. I didn't find out until afterwards that he had actually hung himself in our house.
It was a really difficult time because I had super mixed emotions. I was finally passed the abuse, but I was from a small town where people would talk about it. I felt like people knew that there was something wrong and it was embarrassing for me. I was humiliated. I was 13 years old and it didn't feel good. I went and I sat at the wake, I sat at the funeral with literally hundreds of firefighters and police and people from the community coming to pay their respects. I remember I was trying to just be sad, but inside I wanted to yell, you don't know what he did to me. I never felt that I could reveal that and it was that added to the stress and the horrible feelings that I had inside of myself. I also felt I just threw my family into complete upheaval. My mom is a mess and can barely deal with it. She's going to have a nervous breakdown. I felt like I had killed him because of revealing this, that his death was my fault. There was all of these just terrible, terrible emotions that I had. I had to go back to school, I had to face people and people would not know what to do or say. Sometimes people would ask you what happened? I don't know. He just committed suicide. I didn't feel the sense of relief I thought I was going to feel to have it over. I was happy that maybe I saved somebody else from having to go through that, or maybe even multiple people having to go through that but it didn't feel good because of the circumstances.
This impacted me in a very profound, and traumatic way. It destroyed me emotionally. I felt that this was my fault. I had so many feelings of just guilt and shame and humiliation and just everything that you could think of and I didn't know what to do with that. I felt that I still needed to protect my family and my mom. My mom was already grieving and, I think finding out that I had been abused was too much. I became incredibly self-destructive. I didn't want to live. I was absolutely suicidal. I started drinking. I started smoking pot and doing drugs. I tried to slit my wrists and see if that was an avenue to kill myself.
I overdosed a couple of times actually. The first time I overdosed, I was at school and I took a whole handful of pills. I was rushed to the hospital. It was the first time I had my stomach pumped. It wasn't very effective because, I mean, it was effective that they pumped my stomach. I lived, but I was so broken inside. I was just out of control. I attempted suicide again and was very nearly successful and had my stomach pumped again. And that time I wound up staying in the hospital for some time because my mother really didn't know what to do and to be honest, nobody knew what to do and I couldn't tell anyone what to do because I didn't know how to fix it.
I didn't know how to take those feelings of just being destroyed and make them go away. I felt that I was a horrible person. I was never going to be normal. I went through that for years. I had therapy and I had a lot of terrible therapists. I had some that were okay. Over the course of a couple of years I would have moments where I would start to be a little bit healthier emotionally and then moments when I just wasn't. I would relapse right back to it and look for those avenues to numb my thoughts. It wasn't even my pain, it was my thoughts. I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to see the reality of it. I didn't want the images. I didn't want the thoughts. So I drank and I did a lot of drugs so that I could just make those things go away. I remember having an incident where I took too many drugs and on top of it I couldn't fall asleep, so I took drugs to make me fall asleep. I remember sitting there and feeling like my heart was going to literally pound out of my chest and I thought, I'm going to die. I called poison control because I didn't know what else to do and I didn't want to tell anyone. I told them what I had taken. What are the effects of that? And they said, you really need to go to the hospital. I said, well, that's not going to happen. I just hung up the phone and I decided I was just going to make myself go to sleep and I was going to close my eyes really tight and I was going to sit there and I was going to go to sleep and if I woke up from this, I wasn't going to do this again. You know, that is what happened. I woke up the next day. I was alive and I slowly started to pull myself out of this complete despair and this really troubled place that I was in. I said I'm not going to let this happen. I'm not going to let what happened to me be what defines me for the rest of my life. I'm not going to let it take me down because it's taken enough people down and I just don't want that, and so I'm going to work to be healthier and to get past this and try to be normal.
I decided to participate in this project. I thought, here is something where it gives people a voice. We've had the whole MeToo movement that's happened and people have become very public about it. I thought that's great, but I want an opportunity to share a story from a different perspective. I think that being sexually abused and going through that as a child and having this really traumatic story that took place over a number of years where one would think that, Oh, that never is going to happen in my family. It happens. And I wanted to be able to share that in a way so the people understand what the face of it looks like. You know, this is me.
Most people who would know me now or who would look at me would never say, Oh, there's somebody who was sexually abused that went through this horrible childhood experience. I also wanted to tell my story in a way that people would know. It's not just me, it's not just them. There are many of us out there. More than I even want to think about that have gone through situations like mine, similar to mine, different than mine, but have been impacted in the same way. I want people to know that they're not alone. I want people to know that this is how it happens. Sometimes it's what looks like all shiny and new and perfect from the outside is not, and we have to pay attention to that.
I'm working on writing my memoir and I'm writing something with my mom. The reason that I wanted to do that is because we both wanted to share the story and give our perspectives again, to shed light on how does this happen. It does, it happens. It’s an important message and story to have out there so I really wanted to share that. The other thing is, is I've become very interested in the statute of limitations as it applies to sexual abuse and assault in general. There are a number of states that have removed statute of limitations or opened up windows for people to make claims. You see that with the Boy Scouts and with the Catholic churches, but you don't see it as much with families and individuals that have been harmed outside of those institutions. I think that that's really important for people to have recourse. My home state of Connecticut has been considering removing the statute of limitations or changing it for old cases. I'm prepared to go and testify in support of that in the next month or two, it’s going to be heard by the Senate judiciary committee.