The call that brought Elizabeth Tally so much relief – that meant she wouldn’t have to change her name, wouldn’t have to move, wouldn’t have to be afraid to answer the door – came one morning last month.
Tally was half-awake when a state victims services staffer called and told her: “Inmate Anderson was found dead in the cell.”
“Inmate Anderson” was Charles F. Anderson, 65, who had been in prison since 1995. He died Jan. 25 at Hutchinson Correctional Facility. Because of privacy rules, the Kansas Department of Corrections can’t provide details about his death, but it appeared to be from natural causes, agency spokesman Jeremy Barclay said.
Anderson had been convicted of 12 counts of sexual exploitation of a child, four counts of indecent liberties with a child and one count of attempted rape. Tally was the victim of all of those crimes, which occurred from 1992 to 1994, when she was around 11 to 13. But he had abused her for years before that, she said. She is 32 now, but the crimes remain with her.
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Anderson could have been released to parole supervision as early as July 7, 2015. Tally dreaded that date.
Anderson had married into her family, and she knew him as “Uncle Charles.” He sexually abused her and ended up documenting his crimes by photographing her in poses and writing a caption beneath each image, with the date he clicked the shutter. In 1994, investigators seized hundreds of pictures from Anderson’s Wichita home after Tally’s relatives found Polaroid photos of the girl.
His death brought liberation for him and freedom for her, Tally said.
“He’s not in prison anymore, and I’m not either.”
When she was a child, she said, Anderson sometimes bound her and put her in a cage. To her, it is fitting that he died essentially in a cage because the way she views it, he killed her childhood spirit in the cage.
‘I can move forward’
The Eagle first wrote about Tally’s experience four years ago. The newspaper has a policy of not identifying victims of sex crimes, but Tally said she wanted to use her name and share her story to put a face on the crimes, in the hope that it would promote awareness and prevention. At the time, she cited the statistic that about one in four children is sexually abused. She spoke out then as the Kansas Parole Board considered whether Anderson should be released to parole supervision.
Tally, who has three daughters, said although she felt immense relief from Anderson’s death, her childhood experience has left her with other feelings: anger, guilt, sorrow, frustration.
Still, relief is her strongest emotion right now.
“Now, I see the beautiful sky,” she said. It might sound cliche to others, but to her the image is real.
Tally had always felt that she had been a random victim, like someone who happens to get stuck in the path of a destructive tornado that could have taken any other route. It’s still hard for her to understand why the tornado hit her.
Now, she said, “I can move forward with my life.”
She doesn’t have to worry anymore about the questions she posed to herself: “Are my girls going to be OK? Is he going to hunt me down?”
Before Anderson died, she obsessed on the idea that he was getting out of prison on July 7, 2015. So obsessed that she began to mark the 7th of each month, because it meant she was one month closer to his release. She was going to change her name and move to Arizona. She feared that he would find her and see her 8-year-old daughter. Tally says her daughter looks just like she did when she was 8, her age when his abuse got worse. She believes he had been abusing her since she was a baby.
She celebrated Anderson’s death with her daughters. After Tally got the news, she brought her children home from school, had them sit down. “We’re free,” she told them, but they didn’t understand. She prompted them: “Remember the bad man? He died.” She saw relief on their faces. They hugged. It was like winning the lottery, she said.
No sign of remorse
The crimes have left her conflicted. It’s complicated. Part of her still loved him – as a child loves a parent even when the parent is cruel. He helped raised her, bought her shoes, treated her to state fairs and took her on vacations.
Karen Countryman-Roswurm, executive director of the Wichita State University Center for Combating Human Trafficking, said that victims of violence or exploitation, whether it’s rape, incest or human trafficking, are hurt by someone who abuses power. The victims often feel “a complex multitude of emotions,” she said, and it “makes the complex mental health trauma so much more difficult. There often is a love/hate relationship.”
Tally said Anderson never expressed any remorse to her. “No, he laughed about everything that ever happened to me.”
She feared that Anderson would try to contact her after his release. To him, she said, “I was still his wife,” even though she was a child when he hurt her. “I was still his property.”
Leaving it behind
For about two years before Anderson died, he and Tally had participated in a program through the Department of Corrections that helps victims, if they wish, to have a dialogue with the offenders. The dialogue can be direct or indirect. The dialogue must be initiated by the victim, and the agency wants to avoid any re-traumatization of the victim, Barclay said. Tally and Anderson didn’t meet in person. He met with victims services coordinators, and then they would meet with her and relay what he said. From the program, Tally said, she learned that Anderson had admitted to still having fantasies about small children and still viewed her as a child. She was advised that it wasn’t a good idea for them to meet because of concern that he would mock her and “set me off,” Tally said.
Countryman-Roswurm said that for victims, it can be “very difficult to simply deal with and move on.”
District Attorney Marc Bennett, who has prosecuted more than 1,000 sex-crimes cases, noted that in most instances, the victim knows the perpetrator. “There is an element of trust in those relationships … that is violated,” Bennett said. Because there is a relationship, the recovery becomes complicated.
How victims cope varies, Bennett said. For some, it takes years of counseling. For others, it can be finding the right mate, or taking antidepressants or having faith.
Tally wants to know where Anderson might be buried because she wants to leave a letter to him at his grave. As she sees it: “Kind of leave everything there. Does that make sense?” She’s been crafting the letter with the help of her counselor.
In the letter, she would tell him she was glad he stayed in prison, glad that he took photos of her because the photos helped convict him. “Basically, he convicted his own self.”
‘Hatred is not the cure’
It might seem strange to others, but she wouldn’t change anything that happened to her, she said, because it makes her appreciate things and lets her understand what other children might go through. It has given her empathy.
She would want Anderson to know that she is happy, that she can trust men and love men.
“I just wanted him to know that I wasn’t damaged. And I’m no different than anyone else. And I’m not a high school dropout.” She recently obtained her high school equivalency diploma. She keeps it in a frame, and she is proud of it.
She recently lost her job of seven years, working at a warehouse. Her goal: become a social worker.
The abuse she suffered as a child made it impossible for her to learn in school, she said. Because of the abuse, she blocked out what was happening in the classroom. She stopped attending school when she was in 10th grade.
Although survivors can be left with complex post-traumatic stress, Countryman-Roswurm said, they also can be “overwhelmingly resilient and malleable and successful beyond belief.”
Tally still gets counseling for what happened to her, partly, she said, “because I don’t want to mess up my daughters’ life.”
She had to learn how to be affectionate to her children.
She’s decided not to be consumed by anger. “Hatred is not the cure. It ruins your whole life.”