Scrubbed of names and details to spare the victims more pain, the 2005 Eagle articles on the prosecution of one family’s multiple cases of incest, rape and abuse were hard enough to read and believe.
“It’s unspeakable,” prosecutor Marc Bennett told Sedgwick County Judge Gregory Waller at the time.
Yet five years later, remarkably, 19-year-old twin sisters Kellie and Kathie Henderson spoke to The Eagle’s Roy Wenzl about the horrors they endured, bravely sharing their story for a cautionary series of articles called “Promise Not to Tell.”
Now, because they found the extraordinary courage to talk about what happened to them, they almost certainly will save others from abuse. That’s because, as Bennett tells it, nearly every time the newspaper writes about a sexual-abuse case, more victims come forward.
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What the twins and their younger sister endured is unimaginable — years of being raped by two older brothers and, once their father found out, by him as well, and the betrayal of a mother who knew yet failed to protect them.
Even if there is no understanding how such horrific crimes against children could play out in a middle-class neighborhood in Wichita, there is a lesson for the community in what happened when they did:
A neighbor found the kindness and courage to get involved.
Indeed, because Shelly Vasey and her husband, Jim Vasey, did the right thing and broke a promise not to tell, the Henderson girls were freed from their secret hell and now are, if not living happily ever after just yet, living life and building their futures.
The Vaseys’ actions in reaching out to law enforcement, and then to the victims and also the relatives responsible, demonstrate the incalculable power of faith and love to change and even save lives.
If it was the hardest, the first step was the most important. Before anyone can help, someone has to tell — to dial 911 or the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ child-abuse hotline, 800-922-5330.
As Diana Schunn, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, told The Eagle: “Kids don’t make up abuse allegations, so please believe until you have no reason to believe.”
Another positive way the community can respond to the Hendersons’ story is by helping the Child Advocacy Center. The nonprofit organization just announced a $150,000 commitment from Cox Communications; it will need more donations before it can relocate to a suitably child-focused center staffed with a multidisciplinary team of service providers.
At one point in Wenzl’s series, Shelly Vasey, modeling forgiveness by helping the twins’ mother clean house, pulled back a drape in the girls’ room and saw three words carved in the windowsill:
“Pray for us.”
Tragically, the community couldn’t pray for those desperate girls then, because it didn’t yet know about the torture that constituted their daily life.
But it can pray for them now, as it acts to help other children who — instead of growing up feeling safe, protected and loved — are suffering from incest and other physical abuse and neglect.