It is, unquestionably, the most powerful letter to the editor I have read during my time at The Columbian:
It was 58 years ago. I was 4 years old when I first remember my father raping me. It was upstairs, in my pink bedroom. He said if I was quiet I could have some pie. He told me not to tell my mom because she would be mad and sad. I was scared and the attack hurt very much. That’s a hurt and a fear that has never really gone away. Even after 58 years.
In the news today, regarding Roy Moore, people are speculating why women might wait 40 years to tell their story. If this really happened, why didn’t those girls speak up right away?
Consider how you would feel if you shared such information and no one believed you.
Consider how you would feel if they believed you but it was more important to protect the abuser.
Consider how you would feel if everyone in your family ends up mad at you for telling this “secret”.
Consider how you would feel if your mom said “how could we survive if your dad is in prison”?
Consider how you would feel to be from “that kind of family”.
Consider how you would feel if people suggested it was kind of your fault.
Do these thoughts help you understand why someone didn’t go public? I agonized over sharing this story. I don’t want you to know my embarrassing family secret. What will you think and what might you say? I ask myself, “Why not just let it be?”
But I can’t let it be. Other brave women have come forward and spoken up. I want to be part of this wave of acknowledgement that might just actually make things different. I want it to be safe to be female in the United States of America.
• • •
That was sent to us by Cindy Haverkate, a 62-year-old Vancouver woman of uncommon courage. And while there is little to add, I called Haverkate to confirm that she is willing to share a most personal and painful story.
“I agonized about doing that and saying this,” she said. “But I am at peace with myself and my family.”
As we spoke, Haverkate revealed details that are all too common in cases of sexual abuse. She is unable to remember how long the abuse continued, adding a gut-wrenching, “My younger sister, I think she became the focus of his attention.”
Her father was a pillar of the community, and people of all races would visit their house. “He was self-taught, he was very personable. We listened to classical music and watched public television because of him. He was on the city council in our small town. He was well-liked. My counselor says that makes it more difficult to come forward.”
She kept her secret until her teenage years before getting in trouble once and blurting out, ” ‘What I did isn’t as bad as what you did to me.’ He got upset and locked himself in the room for like a day. My mom said, ‘What did you do to your father?’ That’s when I told her.” By Haverkate’s recollection, her mother believed the story of abuse, but the family doctor said “essentially, ‘what kind of horrible girl are you to hurt your mother like this?’ ”
Haverkate said her father died of colon cancer at the age of 47, when she was in her early 20s. Her mother also is gone, which she says makes it easier to come forward. “My mom, God bless her, many years later I now realize that she did what she could, what she thought was best. It wasn’t good for me.”
As this nation undergoes a self-examination regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault, it is essential to listen to stories like Haverkate’s. Because for every high-profile case, there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of others suffering far from the spotlight of media attention. There are dozens or hundreds or thousands of victims seeking only validation and a chance to be heard.
“As the years have gone by, I really feel like it is more common than any of us realize,” Haverkate said. “It’s a small piece of me. I feel it’s so important because I’m one of many.”