Sex Assault Victim Moves Past Stigma

By Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Janesville Gazette
April 20, 2009

ELKHORN — Laurie Asplund is not ashamed of her past.

She talks about being sexually assaulted as a teen in the 1970s by a former minister at a Youth For Christ Campus Life program in Lake Geneva.

"We as victims, we already feel tainted because something really, really wrong was done to us," Asplund said. "We already feel tainted and dirty, if you may.

"So when society asks questions like, 'Why didn't you tell? Why did you let it happen in the first place? Why did it happen more than once?' it makes you feel even worse about yourself, makes you wonder if they're right.

"Well, they're not."

Poorly advised in the 1980s, Asplund believed the statute of limitations had expired on her case. She thought she'd had only six years from the time of the offense to file charges against her assaulter.

The former pastor began his advances during a "trust" game, Asplund said, but then sexually assaulted her more than 40 times from the summer 1974 to spring 1976. She was 14 to 16 years old.

Russell J. Lesser, 63, of Bryson City, N.C., pleaded guilty April 14 to a felony charge of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16. Two others charges were dismissed but read in. He faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced June 25.

Asplund first realized she could pursue the case after hearing about the Rev. Donald McGuire, a Jesuit priest convicted in Walworth County in 2006 of molesting two boys in the 1960s.

The priest's conviction gave Asplund hope she still could pursue a case against Lesser. Because Lesser moved soon after the assault from Wisconsin to Indiana and then to North Carolina, the case fell under an exception to the statute limitations, Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said.

The turning point in the investigation was finding a second victim who pre-dated Asplund, Koss said. The victim agreed to testify against Lesser and corroborated Asplund's story.

Now, Asplund feels strong and victorious, a long way from the young girl who kept the assaults secret for a year before telling her family.

But for Asplund, Lesser's plea is not the end.

She wants other sexual assault victims to hear her story and know her name.

She wants them to look at her face.

And she wants them to feel empowered to report their cases and share their story. And like her, she wants other victims to help bring sexual predators to justice.

Asplund hopes to break the stigma associated with sexual assault and to tell other victims there might be a way out.

"Again, that whole atmosphere from society, like we did something wrong and it's got to be held secret," she said. "And that's even like in the court process. They use my initials, which I appreciate. But again, I'm not an initial. My name is Laurie and this happened. Why should I hide? I didn't do anything wrong."

Asplund has been a psychotherapist for the last 13 years and has compiled journals documenting the investigation and her court appearances. She hopes to publish a book to help other sexual assault victims know what to expect from the process.

"Child sexual abuse forever changes the trajectory of a normal development. Period. Cut and dry," she said.

"You're never the same. There is never closure.

"People say, 'Is this bringing you closure?'

"No. It's part of what I am. It will always be there."


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