Oprah recently ran the story of Kellie and Kathie Henderson, two twin girls, whose two brothers and father, molested and raped them. One of the reasons that I wanted to write this article is because this case could have involved repression/dissociation by the victims. However, there are factors that will prevent that. I think it’s important for people to understand why these girls will remember and some victims do not.
This will be discussed later in the article…
The molestations began with one brother, Andrew, when the girls were age three or four. Andrew was four years older than his sisters. Andrew began to rape them when they reached the fifth grade.The rapes, sodomy, oral sex, physical abuse, and mental torture of the twin girls took place in what was described as a ‘two-story house in a nice neighborhood.’ The abuse did not stop until the girls reached age thirteen.
Kellie and Kathie are now nineteen and are telling their story in order to help other victims. Every time a survivor of sexual abuse tells their story, it opens a door for other survivors and victims to speak.
The twins told how they were forced to have sex with Andrew. The girls were often dragged down stairs to the basement for the rapes. The violent sexual assaults often took place before school, and it happened almost every day –sometimes, three or four times a day.
Kathie says, “It was very disturbing to get raped before school because you feel just disgusting. … Andrew was just this big, strong, angry person.” “He wasn’t a brother at all. He was a monster.”
Following the morning rapes, the twins would go to school, enabling a brief escape, but the attacks always resumed when the girls returned home.
Andrew had initiated the rapes, but, one day, while Andrew was raping Kellie in the basement of the family home, Matthew walked in. Kellie said, “His first instinct was to get [Andrew] off of me, but soon after, he started doing the same thing.”
Matthew began to rape Kellie and Kathie, even in the middle of the night. Both brothers took turns raping their sisters. The rapes were so frequent that the sisters sometimes begged their brothers to rape the other sister instead. Sometimes one sister had to watch the door so the brother could rape the other sister without interruption. Sometimes, one of the girls would be raped in front of the other, with the sisters having to look into each other’s eyes.
The girls told their mother, and kept trying to tell her for years. Their mother, Lisa, says she didn’t believe them –even though she once walked in on her son raping one of the girls. What did mother Lisa do? She turned around and walked out of the room. She believed it, she just didn’t want to believe it.
Finally, after many attempts to get help from their mother, Lisa finally decided to “believe” her daughters and she called a family meeting, which included the girl’s 40 year-old father, Brad. Their father did nothing except tell the boys to stop doing it, and he hit them in their groin area. Immediately following the meeting, Brad separately asked the twin girls to his bedroom and told them to show him what their brothers had done to them. This was when their father began to rape them.
Eventually, the father walked out on the family, and after a suspicious relative created a series of events where the girls confided in their trusted neighbors, the girl’s father and brothers were arrested.
The girl’s mother, who still lives in the home where the abuse took place, said she was sick and horrified when her sons and husband were caught. She certainly did not feel sick and horrified when her daughters told her about the rapes, or when she walked in on them.
Andrew was convicted of rape and sodomy, and is eligible for parole in 2028. Matthew was convicted on “aggravated indecent liberties” and is serving a six year sentence. Matthew did not sodomize the girls, or beat them “as much” as Andrew did so he is eligible for parole in 2012. I guess rape “isn’t as bad” as sodomy and severe beatings.
The father was convicted on three counts of rape and one count of aggravated sodomy. He is eligible for parole in 2028.
The mother was convicted on three counts of endangering a child. She spent nine days in jail.
One of the first things that struck me was the producers of the Oprah Show ran home movies of the girls at an age in which the sexual abuse was taking place. The girls were smiling, playing, and looked very happy. The proponents of “False Memory Syndrome” often use the argument that the adult accuser could not have been sexually abused because family photos show a smiling and happy child. Family photos have been allowed as “evidence” for the accused abuser in repressed memory cases.
But what I really wanted to point out in this article is the reason why these girls will always remember most of their experiences –and why victims in repressed memory cases, who had the same type of experiences, do not.
The main factors that will stop the Henderson twins from repressing/dissociating from the rapes and trauma are as follows:
- They were rescued. The abuse stopped, but not because they grew too old and moved out of the house, but because someone stopped it and got them out. There are also court records, newspapers, family members, and the neighbors who rescued them to constantly validate the girl’s experiences. The girls have been able to talk about what happened and how it made them feel. They have been able to express their anger and confusion. They have been able to cry and mourn their loss of childhood, and feel their pain. People who repress/dissociate, are not able to do this until the day they remember the child sexual abuse. Until that day, people who repress their trauma often experience things like, unexplained negative emotions, problems with relationships, sexual confusion, panic or anxiety disorders, eating disorders, fears, physical symptoms, a severe reaction to small stresses, anger issues, frequent crying, etc. but will not connect it to abuse because they are still blocking the sexual abuse for “X” reasons.
- What normally happens in repression cases is that the mother (or other authority figures), ignore the abuse, tell the child that the sexual abuse is their imagination, or that they must keep the secret. These girls had a mother who ignored the abuse and pretended nothing was happening, but there were many other people who did not do that to these girls. The silence and the continued denial system among family members that a person lives with are what contribute greatly to repression and dissociation. These girls got out of there at age thirteen and were nurtured by loving people who validated that the rapes happened. They did not have to continue denying the abuse, or carry the secret into adulthood.
- These girls had each other to validate their experiences. Their mother was telling them in one way or another that the abuse wasn’t happening, but no one could convince the girls that the rapes weren’t taking place because each girl had the other sister to corroborate the rapes. The twins might not have been able to grieve with each other at the time of the rapes, but they were able to as soon as the rapes stopped. Most of those who have Dissociative Amnesia for having been sexually abused, had no one to share with and were never allowed to grieve, that is, until the day they remember the sexual abuse.
- The other major factor here is that these girls did not have to continue to maintain a bond with their rapists or the mother. They were not forced to retain a relationship with the abusers after the abuse stopped. Most of the victims in repressed memory cases had to continue to live with their abusers, torturers, and rapists (and those who protected their perpetrators), until they reached eighteen or older. They had to live in the same home and retain a self-survival bond with those who could offer them food, clothing, and a roof over their head. When the perpetrator and his wife are the very people who also offer the child some kind of affection and “love” (as pitiful as that love can be), the child accepts it, and is willing to force any unwanted and non-useful experiences deep into their unconscious in order to live with the abusers. This continues until the child is old enough to marry or move out on their own. By then, the repression/dissociation has embedded itself. Sometimes the abuser dies, but the same denial system can be retained in the home by the surviving family members. They continue to keep and demand the secret remain hidden, they continue to act as if nothing happened, or they might even spend a lot of time making the dead perpetrator out to be an upstanding citizen who ‘loved his family every much.’ The child says to her or himself, “No one talks about it, no one acknowledges the incest, everyone acts as though he was a good man and that nothing happened. “Maybe it didn’t happen at all.” The denial system of the victim is reinforced by the family members.
- Another important note here is that these girls also did not mention any enjoyment in the sexual acts with their brothers or their father. These girls seemed more brutalized, forced, and just plain tired of being raped every day. They said they hated it and Kathie sometimes felt that dying “would be a relief.” The twins seemed to be much more tortured than anything. Shame and guilt about having felt pleasure with one’s abuser is strongly associated with repression and dissociation, especially when combined with other aspects, like not being rescued, denial and terror.
These girls were broken as a children. You can see it in their eyes and in their words. They need time to mourn, to find their power, and to transform their trauma. Because, like an admitted child sexual abuser once said, “I killed who she could have been”…. “Basically I murdered a person.” He wisely stated that his victim getting her life on track, and going to school etc. did not take away from what he did to her. People think that it’s so easy to just go to school, get a good job, get married, have a family, play a musical instrument, ride a horse, go on a nice vacation and ‘you will be all better.’ Healing from trauma doesn’t work that way.
Oprah commented in the program that, “This is a horrific story,” when she should have said, “this is a common story.” Because it is rare that these cases are made so public, but they happen all the time, and are happening right now in America’s ‘nice neighborhoods.’ Some of the children will be rescued. Most will not be. Some will want to talk about it. Most will not want to talk about it, or their experience will be so overwhelming and unbearable, that they will deal with it by repressing/dissociating from the entire thing –or like me, from their entire childhood. They will push all their trauma, pain, and shame, into the deepest –most secluded part of their unconscious mind. Some will remember one day, many more will not.
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To view photos of the girls, as well as their brother Andrew in prison: Click Here
Letter written to a reporter by Andrew from prison: Click Here