Women have earned the right to vote, to an education, to work outside the home and to earn fair wages. The last 100 years have been good to females, barring battles on legal, reproductive and maternity fronts. What bothers me most is the current state of sexual abuse in this country. One in four women have been victims–including my co-author and friend, Stacey Lannert.
Today on International Women’s Day, Stacey is celebrating her physical and emotional freedom with the release of her new book. She was a victim of severe child sexual abuse at the hands of her father. I was honored to co-write her memoir, called Redemption, that’s available at Watchung Booksellers this morning.
Stacey was a pretty, seemingly normal girl living in the suburbs of St. Louis. No one knew that her dad raped her from ages 8 to 18.
On July 4, 1990, he raped her younger sister for the first time. In the worst mistake of her life, Stacey shot him twice, killing him. She was charged with murder in the first degree. Laws for victims have changed since then, but at the time, she wasn’t eligible for a Battered Spouse defense because she was a daughter. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Even Charles Manson gets the chance for parole.
Stacey changed her life and found freedom from behind bars by telling her story. It wasn’t easy, but she reached out to at-risk teenage girls, sharing everything that happened to her. By training assistance dogs for the disabled, she opened her heart and learned about love and forgiveness for the first time. In 2009, after 20 years of incarceration, Stacey walked out of prison gates when the governor of Missouri granted her clemency. Now, at 38, she’s figuring out life–cell phones and automatic paper towel dispensers. She told her story on Oprah two years ago. Today at 11 a.m., she’ll speak on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR (catch it live online). Tonight, she’s scheduled to appear on Piers Morgan on CNN at 9 p.m.
Working on this project made me acutely aware of child sexual abuse: how to detect and prevent it. My preschoolers know the real names of their body parts, and they know how to tell me if anything inappropriate takes place. Thanks to Stacey Lannert, I’ll know exactly what to do–and, most importantly, what not to do–if sexual abuse happens to someone in my family or to anyone I know.
Together, we’ve created a non-profit organization and website called Healing Sisters to make this unspeakable topic more speakable. Healing Sisters gives survivors a chance to use their voices, tell their stories and know that they’re not alone. It’s also a resource for prevention.
My hope on this International Women’s Day is that laws continue to change to protect the victims of sexual abuse. I hope that fewer women have to suffer. I hope the next century bids us well in all areas of women’s rights.