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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wichita sisters share their abuse story with Oprah

BY ROY WENZL
The Wichita Eagle

Kellie and Kathie Henderson, sexual abuse victims and twins from Wichita, will talk with Oprah Winfrey about what happened to them on a show that airs in Wichita at 4 p.m. Tuesday on KWCH, Channel 12.

Winfrey's staff members shared some of their transcribed interview exchanges with The Wichita Eagle. The written excerpts indicate that the show will be tough to watch at times.

OPRAH: So your mother walked in and saw your brothers raping you.

KELLIE: Yes.

KATHIE: Yes.

OPRAH: And turned around and walked out.

KATHIE: Mm-hmm.

OPRAH: What did you make of that?

KATHIE: There would be times when it did happen and as I'm walking upstairs, you know, you'll see her in the hallway and you just walk by and you roll your eyes.

OPRAH: So what would you say to her at that time? What would you say?

KATHIE: I know I never really talked about it to her. To anyone, really.

KELLIE: Because it felt like every time we did go talk to her, she didn't believe us.

Unlike most of Oprah's shows, which tell several stories in one hour, the whole hour on Tuesday will focus on the Hendersons' story. The show was taped Thursday in Chicago.

The Henderson twins first revealed their names publicly in December in the three-part Wichita Eagle series "Promise Not To Tell."

They described how they were sexually abused by their father and two brothers for 10 years in Wichita. A neighbor couple, Jim and Shelly Vasey, rescued them in 2005 when the girls confided in Shelly and Shelly called police.

In the show, the Vaseys and some of the detectives who rescued them sat in the studio audience and answered questions from Oprah as she interviewed the twins, who sat with her on stage.

KELLIE: Families aren't supposed to have sex with each other.

OPRAH: Yeah. Did you know that before the 5th grade, though?

KELLIE: No. That was —

OPRAH: Was that the epiphanal moment for you when you went, whoa —

KELLIE: Yeah.

OPRAH: —that is happening to me.

KELLIE: Yeah.

OPRAH: Yeah.

KELLIE: I felt brainwashed until 5th grade. That's when I knew it was wrong.

Kellie said on Friday that she was so nervous on set that her legs went numb; at one point on a commercial break, she leaned over to Kathie. "Can you feel your legs? I can't feel my legs!"

Kathie said she felt no fear, mostly because of Winfrey's warmth and good nature.

"Just a split second before the show, we were told she wanted to talk to us in our green room," Kathie said. "They told us later, my God, Oprah never does that. But she said 'Hey, I want to talk to you in person!'

"She said 'I know this is going to make a difference in a lot of peoples' lives.' I said, 'Well, I hope so,' but she smiled and said, 'No, I KNOW so. A lot of women are going to be looking up to you today. You are doing this for a lot of women who don't have the strength to do this.' "

She told them sexual abuse happens a lot; she told them it had happened to her.

Winfrey hurried out to the set, still wearing flat shoes. "It is really something to watch her," Kathie said. "We could see her from the green room on the TV screen, and she was adjusting her dress and making it look funny, joking with the audience, and somebody brings her heels, and she kicks off her flats and is putting on the heels, still talking. On the set she acts like it's her living room and the audience is all her friends."

Then came the interview, and a few rude shocks.

Oprah's production crews had spent nearly a week in Wichita last month, filming hours of interviews with the twins, the Vaseys and police; they managed to get their two convict brothers, Andrew and Matt Henderson, on audio on the phone, talking from the Kansas prisons where they are serving sentences for their role in the abuse. With the sisters sitting with her, Oprah had her staff play the audiotapes. It was a shock.

OPRAH: When you hear him [Andrew] say that he's sorry and wants your forgiveness, that makes you feel what?

KATHIE: Confused.

OPRAH: Mm-hmm.

KATHIE: Very confused. Like I don't — I don't know what to think about it really.

She felt the old anger; so did Kellie.

"Andrew said he was sorry, but I think he was just saying what he thought Oprah wanted to hear," Kellie said on Friday. "I didn't hear any sorry in his voice."

Then came a commercial break, with Kathie in tears. Oprah reached over to touch her hand and give her a tissue. Oprah told them how honored they all were to see the twins' courage in publicly describing what happened.

"You're incredibly strong," she told them. "I can't believe you're doing this."

"On one commercial break, one of her staff was telling us really fast what they were going to do next, and what we were going to do next, and Oprah started teasing: 'Hey, who's running this show? I thought I was running this show!' "

She even let her guard down a little, in a commercial break, talking wistfully about the strain of being Oprah Winfrey. Sometimes, she told them, someone will come running up to her and ask, "Hey, do you remember me?" Oprah grinned; it is hard to remember so many people from so many interviews, but she wants to be nice, so sometimes, she told them, "I just go with it and say, 'Well, OF COURSE I remember you!' "

She talked with them more after the taping ended. She wondered aloud: How could their mother have let it happen all those years? She shook her head.

Her staff members had handed them DVDs of a show Oprah did several years ago about child molesters. Oprah told them she hoped that older show might help them cope with what had happened to them; and then she gave them her e-mail address, and said she wanted to hear what they thought of it.

The taping was so relaxed it felt like a gathering of friends, Kathie said. Oprah had brought her dog, Sadie, a golden cocker spaniel, to the set. Before the show was over, Shelly Vasey and Sadie had become fast friends.

Just before they parted, Winfrey wrote a little note and handed it to Kathie. She promised to send one to Kellie, too.

Kathie won't be able to see the show when it airs on Tuesday; she'll be working as an office assistant for a doctor in Wichita.

But she'll have the autographed note to look at for a long time to come. Kathie has it pretty well memorized now.

It's a thought that another person on the show gave to Oprah many years ago, and which Oprah passed along to Kathie on Thursday:

"Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could have been any different.

Oprah Winfrey, 2/3/11, Season 25, Show 53. "

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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