“When Alaska Dispatch published an account of alleged sexual abuse that led to two sisters killing themselves, reaction from readers was swift. On Facebook alone, a preview of the story — along with a photo of the sisters when they were children — reached more than 80,000 people as of Friday afternoon. And the comments ran the gamut, from expressing anger at the alleged perpetrator — 69-year-old Bethel resident Peter Tony — to admiration for his stepdaughter, who shared her account with a reporter.
Kimberley Hahn Bruesch, 48, of Ketchikan, wanted her story told publicly, in part, to “inspire at least one other person to come forward.” She accuses Tony of sexually assaulting her and two sisters when they were kids in the 1970s.
Her sisters, scarred from the abuse, committed suicide in the 1990s. Bruesch began to speaking to Alaska Dispatch two days after Bethel Police said Tony had confessed and been charged with sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl.
(Bruesch’s older sister, Robin, took her own life in 1990. Teresa followed in 1998. Teresa died on April 14, 1998. In her suicide note, she wrote: “I just told (my daughter) about what my Dad did to me. She’ll know now why I did what I did.”
“Even as an adult my father has found a way to destroy me,” she said later in the note.
When she died, Teresa left behind three young children; Robin left two.
After the story was published Thursday evening, social media lit up and many readers reacted with an outpouring of thanks, sympathy and support for Bruesch.
Bruesch herself has been responding online to those who have left comments, and that’s emboldened other survivors of abuse to tell their own stories.
In a typical exchange between Bruesch and readers — this one appearing on Tundra Telegraph’s Facebook page — Linda Geren Jacquot wrote:
So sad. I hope that justice is reached and the abuser is locked away never to hurt another child again. Where were the authorities in 1982 when Bruesch first reported her stepfather? Why wasn’t anything done then?
To which Bruesch responded:
That is what I want to know. At the time I was in an abusive marriage and my husband was so angry with me for reporting the abuse that he punched a hole in the wall. This effectively silenced me about the matter for years, and I was happy at the time that nothing came of it. I was also left with the feeling that the abuse we suffered was of a trivial nature, not worthy of a police investigation since no penetration had occurred. In retrospect, I see clearly that a police report should have been filed.
A family photo posted to Alaska Dispatch’s Facebook page shocked Bristan N. Bekki Keller, who wrote:
So here I am scrolling through my newsfeed, when I see this picture…a very familiar pic that I have still with me…my mother and her 2 sisters. This is just blowing my mind. My mother had a hard time dealing with the aftermath of the abuse she endured, and sadly in the end, she took her own life. The last thing she told me, was that she was molested from age 7 to 14…I still can barely wrap my brain around this.
Massa Morsell shared her own experiences on Facebook:
Thank you for posting this. Child sexual abuse is rampant in the native community. We victims are supposed to be quiet. The failure in protecting the children is not just the system but a failure of adults that don’t believe children or do not value them as human beings. Getting these stories out is a start toward getting the truth out of how devastating and cruel child sex abuse is until it is finally viewed in our bush communities as WRONG and criminal. Keeping quiet both by the victim and the few people that become aware of the abuses is how child sex abuse continues. It is ugly and painful to expose it but worth it in the long run. Much respect and appreciation to you, Kimberly! God bless you abundantly and give you strength to continue to stand your ground.
Alyson Rowe wrote about her abuse, too, on Facebook:
My grandfather molested me also. What happened when we told the police, nothing! This state has a long disgusting history of allowing this to happen to children. I’m happy someone is finally being listened to.
Gina Michelle Peru-Friccero shared this story:
One of my foster kids was abused by her stepfather. She told us, the troopers and an advocate. The troopers believed him instead of her, until her mother caught him with her younger sister. Then he went to jail. Why don’t people listen to kids? They don’t make this up…its too humiliating. And to not listen or call them a liar is to do it to them all over again!
And Kellie Prather Robinson also experienced years of pain:
As someone who comes from a family with generations of abuse, and generations of hurt, I thank you for sharing your story. Kimberley is a survivor, and I am proud to say that finally, so am I.
Karen Eckman thanked Bruesch for her “bravery,” adding that:
I went through a similar situation, and all of my “allegations” were never brought to the public light. The system is broken, and they continue to do nothing to protect the children. It is tragic that it takes so many little voices before something is done.
Mary Nell Thomas expressed frustration over how the system allegedly broke down, allowing Tony to continue to be around children as a foster care parent:
Such tragedy in so many lives that could have been prevented. It is time that people in authority started listening to children, believing them and protecting them. Too many times children are victims. I so admire your strength and courage, Kimberly! Praying for you all!!
Other readers expressed anger at Tony and his late wife, Marilyn Tony, who Bruesch said always had struggled to believe she’d been abused.
“There’s a special place in hell reserved just for him,” Nicole SueAnn Beaver wrote on Facebook. “I got violently sick when I first heard and again when I read.”
“I am so enraged that nobody seems to hold her mother accountable!!” Debra Amos said. “She told her mom that her stepfather was molesting her, and then received NO help!! If any of the children that I love come to me with that allegation, there will be no need whatsoever for the authorities to assist. The end.”
Bruesch responded to Amos:
When I was 15, I told my mother that I had been molested by him when I was 8. It was no longer going on. Both the manner in which I told my mother and my motive for doing so made it difficult for her to believe me at the time. My unwillingness to speak further about it or to face Peter with my allegations served to confound her efforts to respond appropriately. Two years later when my younger sister made similar allegations, it was my mother who took us to child protective services to report it. Please don’t blame my poor mother. She didn’t do this, Peter did. He lied to her about it and was able to deceive many for a long time. When she was asked to become a foster parent, my mother was concerned about the allegations against her husband and was told by OCS, ‘Don’t worry about that, that never happened.’ I hold the state accountable for allowing this man to continue abusing children for so long.”…
The negative feedback from people about her mother is justified in some ways. It is also very understandable coming from survivors who had mothers that knew their child was being abused and did nothing to stop it.
I don’t think anyone is blaming her mother, but when a child tells their mother such disturbing news, even if the abuse has stopped, a mother needs to do something. Take action. Look into the matter. She ought to seek counseling or make phone calls to hotlines.
Mothers cannot just conveniently assume it isn’t true and go on with their life.
But I am happy to read that her mother took action two years later.
The most heart-breaking thing for me to read is that the two women took their own lives…especially that they left children behind when they did.
I wonder how many suicides are attributed to child sexual abuse every year?