Tag Archives: sexual assault

Reader: i just watched your ted talk Have you ever met a Monster. I am a survivor of sexual assault

Comment: I do not know if you would read this but i just watched your ted talk Have you ever meet a Monster. I am a survivor of sexual assault (a word I have just been able to say).I became a survivor of course while dorming at college 5 years ago and then person who assaulted me was not a bad person at all. If anything i always blamed myself and felt bad for him even though i shouldn’t.

This has and still causes me many problems due to a sense of guilt and pity. I wanted to message you because that ted talk was so important. It was important to me to hear and important to everyone to hear. Thank you so much for sharing not only Margot story but also Brent.

-Anna

October 23, 2018

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Have You Ever Met a Monster, Part IV: Our society cares more if a sexual assault victim is the right kind of victim

Brent BrentsBrents has often said that by the time he was 9, his brain was broken.

What if someone had intervened in his life early on? A teacher? A neighbor? How could no one have noticed that boy who went to school with bruises, smelling like urine because he had wet the bed the night before rather than creep down the hall to the bathroom and risk waking his father?

If you help an abused child, you might be preventing a lifetime of pain—for more than one person.

So many people live in what I call “garage houses”—where the garage is the dominant feature. They pull up to their garage at night, the door goes up, their car goes in, and the door comes down. They stay inside their house until they leave the next day. They can’t tell you the name of the family down the street. They won’t interact and they sure won’t intervene.

What if we dared to care—without hesitation, without condition?

It’s a harsh truth that our society cares more if a sexual assault victim is the right kind of victim. Remember how police told Margaret the DNA from her case would sit on a shelf for at least two months? When Brents attacked victims in a high-income neighborhood, the DNA was processed within hours.

Lady Justice might be blind, but she can sure have a champagne taste.

Margaret and I talked often while her case wound its way through the court system. During a hearing in July 2005, Brents pleaded guilty to Margaret’s attack.

Like many survivors who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Margaret was terrified of leaving her house. She had flashbacks, nightmares. She couldn’t hold down a job. Her marriage fell apart.

On the day before the hearing, Margaret asked me to deliver a message to Brents for her, and I agreed. And this was her message:

“Tell him…I forgive him.”

It’s stunning, isn’t it? How could she forgive this man who wounded her so, who nearly took everything from her?

She said, “I’m not feeling bad for the man who tried to kill me, but for the little boy who had the same thing happen to him.”

And she said, “Hating is not hard. But if I go on hating him, I will never get over it.”

Then she added, “If it was me, I would want people to try to help me or try to listen to me and not just look at me like I’m an animal or a monster.

She inspires me. If Margaret can forgive Brent Brents, we can forgive anybody.

This case had a profound effect on my life.

It taught me that we’re all connected, and turning our backs on others is really abandoning ourselves.

It made me realize that I didn’t like the journalist I had become. It was actually Brents who pointed out to me that he and I had something in common: We were both driven.

I quit that job shortly after his case ended. I will never again work in a newsroom because the desperate competition for ratings is unhealthy for me, in many ways.

And I no longer knock on a survivor’s door unless I’m invited.

I began interviewing Brents because as a journalist who has spent a lifetime reporting on sexual violence, I wanted an answer to the question, “Why?”

He began as a bug under a microscope–and that’s what I told him.

He became a lesson in humanity and compassion.

Even so-called “monsters” have things they’re afraid of.

Brents wrote me about his. He said,

“My biggest fear is that I will die (pause) without ever having done anything  good.”

That’s why I tell this story. Thank you for listening.

BRENT J. BRENTS -- At age 13

BRENT J. BRENTS — At age 13

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Have You Ever Met a Monster? Part II

Note from Amy: Here is the next excerpt of the transcript of  my TEDx talk:

Police caught him a few days after Valentine’s Day. At the start of that weekend a detective had gotten him on the phone and said Turn yourself in, you little punk. Brent Brents essentially replied, Come find me. That weekend he raped five victims, including two children, and nearly beat a young woman to death. The DNA from those cases was processed within hours and the manhunt that followed ended in a dramatic car chase into the mountains, where police captured him at gunpoint.

This kind of story causes a media feeding frenzy. Reporters swarmed the jail, but I didn’t —I didn’t think it would do any good.

Instead, I sent him a letter on plain stationary—handwritten, two sentences: Dear Brent, I went to Arkansas where I talked to your mom and sister. If you were to ask them, they would say I treated them with dignity and respect, and I will do the same for you.

I then gave him the number to the newsroom and told him to call collect anytime. And because I figured he’d be getting a lot of hate mail, I added a note to the back that said: Please don’t be afraid to open this.

At the end of that week police released a statement about another confirmed victim of Brents. Since they protect the identity of a victim of sexual assault they will only release the cross streets close to where it happened.

Get thee to those cross streets, you and a photographer, editors said. Find this anonymous victim, and get her to talk to you.

Right.

So off we went to those cross streets and we found…a sea of rental units, like giant Legos, for rows and rows in either direction.

We knocked on doors for hours—no luck. It was close to dark when we saw a woman walking her dog—dog walkers are always great for information—and she said the handyman had told her about a woman who’d been attacked and she gave us the handyman’s door number and he gave us the victim’s door number and I knocked and a man answered and I saw this tiny, dark-haired woman hiding behind the door and I identified myself and she came out and said, “You scared me.”

Her name was Margaret. And she told me her story. Her attack was nearly three weeks earlier and she still had yellow outlines of bruises on her neck. She was coming home after running errands when Brents had rushed her at her front door. She had seen him before-she figured he had stalked her for about three days. She fought him, and he beat and choked her before he raped her.

Margaret pointed to her couch, which had a big chunk cut out of the upholstery. The police had taken it for evidence because that was where the rape had happened. When you can’t afford a new couch, and you can’t afford to break your rental lease and move—and Margaret couldn’t—then you have to live with reminders of your worst nightmare.

She said the police had told her it would take about two months to process the DNA. They gave her no hope of solving her case. Then she saw a story about Brents being wanted on T.V. and recognized his mug shot as her attacker.

One of the last things she said to me that night really struck me. She said, “I hate him, yet I still feel sorry for him. An animal, poor creature.”

A week later Brents called me.

One of the first things he said to me was, “I’m not going to give you anything.”

I love it when people call me and say I’m not going to talk to you. “OK!”

Then he said he had one question for me, and anything further depended on my answer.

And he said, “Everybody says they hate me, that I’m a monster. Do you think so?”

And without thinking I said, No, I don’t. You’ve done monstrous things, but I don’t consider you a monster.

And that’s how we started a correspondence. I did so on one condition: that he tell me the truth. In one letter he wrote, “Don’t trip I’ve actually stood two feet away from you in an elevator” and rolling my eyes I pulled out a piece of paper to fire back that we had a deal, so don’t try to b.s. me—when I realized it had indeed been him on the elevator that day, the man who had stared at me and whose very presence had caused me to run to the newsroom like a frightened rabbit.

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Have You Ever Met a Monster?

Giving a TEDx talk was not on my bucket list.

But a friend sent me a link to submit a talk proposal and before I knew it, I faced the daunting task of trying to condense this story–of how covering the case of serial rapist Brent Brents changed my life–into 18 minutes.

Two days before the scheduled date of the talk, I threw out my back (I wish I could say I was bungee jumping, or ice climbing, but the truth is I was emptying a wheelbarrow full of horse manure into a compost bin), resulting in a) no sleep and b) shooting pain with every step.

So the finished product is not pretty. It’s not full of video or power point dazzle. But those 18 minutes contain some tough truths about rape, sexual assault, incest, child sexual abuse, and, most startling of all, forgiveness. I wanted to share it with you, so click on my TEDx talk here: “Have You Ever Met a Monster?”

And then let me know what you think.

–Amy

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the cost of testing those rape kits. No one holds 5K walks or car washes

Note from Amy:

This excerpt is from a letter sent by Brent Brents in August, shortly after news stories began focusing on the tens of thousands of untested rape kits that exist at police departments around the country.

OK get to the point Right. So lets take the most obvious killer in the world. Cancer. When someone gets cancer these days, they can often have a team of people assembled to help them.

The same could be said for the victim of sexual assault. But we come to the cost of testing those rape kits. No one holds 5K walks or car washes, or charity auctions to raise money for the testing of these kits past and present. Theres no Dave Thomas to leave a portion of his estate to victims of sexual assault.

So I’m asking people to step to the plate. First off go to your local city, county or state authorities and find out how many Rape test kits are stored untested. Find out the cost to test the kits. Hold 5K survivors walks, sexual assault survivors charity auctions, bake sales, car washes. Seek Donations….and whatever these Events generate in money give it to your city, county, and state authorities. Make it specificaly for the testing of those kits.

Sexual assault always carries a stigma of shame and there are neandrathal thinking people. This is 2015 the world is not stuck in endless cycle of ignorance. Rape is not a victims fault in any way. But the world is still only paying lip service.

Kill a Lion, a whale, fight Dogs and there are millions who fight their battle. Someone gets assaulted and there is only the judicial system, which, let’s be realistic is only going thru the motions. The police and prosecutors No matter how caring and sincere, are Limited by barbareck and outdated laws, Limited funds, and authorities who often are burned out.

Please People….please run with it.

-Brent Brents 8-18-15

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Jameis apologize. Your victim deserves that

Note from Amy: While I was the investigative producer on the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which features the Jameis Winston case, I had nothing to do with Brent Brents making the below statement, which he sent on March 31–before Erica Kinsman’s attorneys filed suit against Jameis Winston on her behalf. What is posted below is entirely the opinion of Brent Brents. As with all his writing, I did not censor or copy edit it:

Some of you will see Jameis Winston get drafted into the NFL soon. Most likely #1 overall for 100 million dollars Plus. With 50 to 55 million Garunteed.

This article (he enclosed a clipping of this column by Christine Brennan, USA Today) is a step in the right direction. But far short of the punishment he truly deserves. I can say with a whole heart, that you Jameis Winston are a Rapist. You got lucky that campus police and city police Royaly screwed the pooch on the investigation and victims allegations.

Your vulgarity at the campus directed towards the survivor of your criminal behavior, your track record of dumassed behaviors, don’t lend any credit to your reputation of Mr. Innocent.

I’ve watched your Interviews, and read plenty to judge you. God says we shouldn’t judge others. But hey let’s be real. And you and most any right thinking human beings know in your hearts the truth. Guilty!!! I have a closer Knowledge so i know more than most. But There are things that make 1 plus 1= 2.

99.99 % of sexual assault victims tell the truth in my opinion. I could be wrong. But i don’t buy that you are that .1 % of that not guilty.

So Winston as you embark on the next phase of your young life. Remember that many young people are going to Look up to you and follow your lead. Your going to be a role model for young people everywhere. Your an exceptional football player. So become an exceptional man. It may seem truly hypocritical, but i feel you should become the biggest advocate for anti Rape and domestic violence causes.

When you lose the lawsuit that is surely coming, pay it. Don’t be a punk ass Kid. And Jameis apologize. Your victim deserves that if nothing else. How you do that will be up to you. You’ll have a team of lawyers, an agent even a teams front office all saying don’t do it. Kid if you have a good heart do the right.

Who am i you ask, to judge you and write this letter? I am a serial rapist who’s 33 years in lockup have kept him around Rapists of all kinds. So I know you. Get your shit together Kid.

B. Brents 3-31-15

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A Lesson from Reporting on Rape

In case you missed it: Rolling Stone magazine published a story about campus sexual assault that featured a victim named Jackie whose account turned out to largely untrue, prompting the Columbia Journalism Review to issue their report that analyzed how and why seasoned journalists could be led astray.

Reporting on rape and sexual assault is extremely tough. There are few other crimes where the victim is left so deeply traumatized, and a journalist trying to interview a rape victim has to gingerly navigate the minefield of that raw, emotional injury while also getting the details of what they need for their story. In an effort to not cause them more harm, you may not press hard enough for the facts. Or you may inadvertently veer in the opposite direction;  not read them correctly and press too hard. It’s an enormous challenge to remain dispassionate in the face of someone’s palpable pain, and I’ve come to believe that empathy accomplishes much more because it motivates you to try to illuminate the injustice and tragedy of this crime. Finally, a  reporter’s own personal experiences can sometimes cloud their judgment if they become triggered themselves.

Any journalist who frequently tackles trauma reporting and tries to do so in a responsible way will at some time or another fail in their endeavor. It’s called being human. The failure might not be of the magnitude or in the public’s eye like the one in Rolling Stone–it may be known only to you and the subject–and might be of a different sort, but a failure nonetheless. The thing is to learn from it.

I had one such lesson burned into my memory (and rightly so) by a female military veteran whose case I was covering for the series Betrayal in the Ranks, an investigation into military sexual assault and domestic violence I co-authored with Miles Moffeit at the Denver Post.

Miles and I were in the midst of writing, and I needed a document from the victim in question. On deadline and in full efficiency mode, I left a brisk message on the answering machine of her home phone with the details of my request. The response I got hours later was blistering, and I will do my best to paraphrase it here:

“So I just got home, and it was a good day and I was in a great mood, and then I hit the button on my answering machine and out of the blue there’s your goddamn message asking for that fucking piece of paper for the story. And now standing here in my hallway you’ve yanked me back to that memory, and there’s nothing I can do to get rid of it now.”

I’ve never left a specific message for a victim since. If I need information, I will call or email and simply ask in a general way for them to call me when they can. If it’s urgent, I will indicate that it is, but I won’t dive into details of what I need on the message. I save that for an actual conversation, where I then do what I used to describe to my students as “wading in and out”: You wade into the murky water of their pain, slowly, holding their hand as you go. You then extract the detail you need, and together you carefully wade back out.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was tagged on a thoughtful post by Bruce Shapiro, the executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, about the challeges of reporting on rape. I’ve copied his full message below:

What is most important about the Rolling Stone controversy: It’s an outlier. Investigative reporting on institutional complicity in the coverup of sexual assault is one of the major innovations in American journalism in the last 15 years.

Think about reporting on clerical sex abuse by Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfiefer, Kevin Cullen and others on the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team; the pioneering investigations of sexual assault on college campuses by Kristen Lombardi and colleagues at the Center for Public Integrity; the Denver Post’s revelations of rape in the U.S. military by Miles Moffeit, Amy Herdy and others; Rachel Dissell’s recent work in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s recent exposes on untested rape kits.

Each of these far-reaching investigations involved very sensitive reporting on victims; careful corroboration and confirmation of highly emotional stories; and meticulous documentation of various institutions’ role in coverup. In all of these investigations, reporters had to negotiate very carefully with deeply traumatized rape survivors, and develop a thorough method and ethic for reporting on their claims.

These reporters all understood both the unique challenges in interviewing survivors of private, deeply stigmatized rapes; and the very high stakes, for all involved, in getting the story right.

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