Diane talks with Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert in race and electoral politics.
At the age of 18, Stacey Lannert shot her father twice while he slept. He had sexually abused her from the age of 8, but the final straw came when he also began raping her younger sister. Lannert confessed and was found guilty of first-degree murder. The judge later said the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole was severe for someone her age and somewhat surprising considering the sexual abuse by her father. At age 36, she was given a shot at redemption when the outgoing governor of Missouri commuted her sentence. Stacey Lannert tells the story of how she learned to be free while living behind bars.
- Stacey Lannert Founder of Healing Sisters, a resource for victims of sexual abuse.
Read an Excerpt
From Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival, and Finding Freedom Behind Bars. Copyright 2011 by Stacey Lannert and Kristen Kemp. Excerpted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. In 1990, Stacey Lannert shot and killed her sexually abusive father. She was convicted of murder of the first degree and sentenced to life in prison. In 2009, the outgoing governor of Missouri commuted her sentence and she was released. Today she trains dogs, teaches and runs a non-profit organization called Healing Sisters. It's a resource for victims of sexual abuse. Stacey Lannert has written a new memoir, It's titled, "Redemption," and she joins me in the studio. If you'd like to join us, call us, 1-800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Stacey, it's good to have you here.
MS. STACEY LANNERTGood morning and thank you for having me on International Women's Day. It's a very empowering day.
REHMWell, that's exactly what it is and a day for you to tell your story. You actually, in your book, begin by describing some happy days in your family.
LANNERTYes. I want people to understand that a family filled with sexual abuse is still a family, that there's still love and support and it's still the makeup of a human family. It's not just all terror and violence and people have a hard time understanding that aspect.
REHMYou say that though it was a happy family, your mother and father did not have a happy marriage.
LANNERTNo. In the beginning, they did and then it began to unravel. And maybe the unraveling was there before I was cognizant of it, before I was able to realize that there were problems. Because all I knew was this is my mother, this is my father and even as children, you don't know what struggles your parents go through.
REHMTrue. And the -- your parents got married after dating for only three months?
REHMThey didn't really know each other.
LANNERTNo, they didn't.
REHMWho was in such a rush?
LANNERTMy father. My father wanted my mother to marry him quickly and she eventually conceded and went ahead and married him.
REHMHow do you think -- you write about your mother's family situation. How do you think what happened to her affected you?
LANNERTI think it's extremely important for people to understand what my mother went through because they'll see throughout the book that there was an inability of her to have the strength to protect me from him, from my father. And a lot of times he used her past against her. He would say that it happened to her, she was crazy for thinking that it was happening to me, so while she would voice her suspicions, he would manipulate her into believing that it was just her paranoia.
REHMShe was the oldest of five children.
REHMTell me what happened to her.
LANNERTShe was abused by her father and she never received any support for it. To this day, she still doesn't. As a matter of fact, my mother's family won't even speak to me and they barely speak to her today.
REHMAnd why do you think that is?
LANNERTI think that sexual abuse is just extremely hard to talk about. It's hard to accept that it happens in our families. It's easier to live in denial and to put on this front that everyone's the perfect family instead of accepting it for what it is and vowing to make changes. It's extremely hard to say, this happened, I survived it, we know better now and let's move forward. As a whole, it's easier to point fingers and to destroy the person who's making the accusations and standing strong against it.
REHMWhen your mother found herself in an abusive situation, was anyone there to help her?
LANNERTNo. She struggled to get out of the relationship with my father and the people in her life who should have been supportive were telling her, oh, stay, you need to stay. You need to give those two children a father and calling her selfish. They downgraded my mother for trying to get out of the relationship and it took a lot of strength for her to leave my father, a lot. And I think that's why a lot of times she didn't have the strength left over to help me in the way that I needed help.
REHMWhen she was being abused by her father, did her mother help her?
LANNERTNo, she did not help her. And in the book, I placed one of -- my mother actually wrote that instance of her abuse because that's how it was handled back then and unfortunately, we continue to live what we learn. And so while I didn't get what I needed from my mother, it's what she was taught and so on my end, there's huge forgiveness and understanding and going forward in what we are today instead of what we were then.
REHMStacey Lannert, her new book is titled, "Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival and Finding Freedom Behind Bars." We'll take your calls in just a little bit, but first, I'd like to understand how and when the sexual abuse began for you.
LANNERTIt began when I was eight years old and it started as a game, as a special moment -- I viewed it as a special moment between him and I. I had absolutely no idea that what was occurring was wrong. I didn't like it, but it made him happy and all that I really wanted was to make my dad happy. And when I was nine and he raped me for the first time, I knew that something was wrong because he hurt me and he had never caused me pain like that and he was so mean and so vulgar and I couldn't really reconcile the fact that this was my dad that's hurting me so badly and I didn't have the words for what had happened.
REHMYou did not go to your mother?
LANNERTNo. I searched for her and she wasn't home and so my first instinct, I ran around the house, I went everywhere looking for her and then my father caught me and said, she's not here and she knows and he really made me believe that my mother knew.
LANNERTAnd approved and then, of course, he said, and if you tell her, then she'll think you're lying or she'll call you a liar. And so yes, he gave me conflicting statements, but all I thought was, mom knows and if I tell her, then I'm just going to be a liar.
REHMHow old was your sister at that point?
LANNERTShe was seven. My sister's two years younger than I.
REHMTwo years younger and his abuse of her began later?
LANNERTHe did not actually sexually abuse my sister until the night that I shot him. He was physically abusive to my sister all growing up and in some strange way, I felt like that was better than what I was going through and I kind of -- I feel like I took the abuse, the sexual abuse, because I was protecting her.
REHMThere is something very curious here. Why did your family move around so much?
LANNERTI do not know. I was just a kid following wherever they went and I really believe that it was because of my father's alcoholism because he had a hard time holding steady employment, so it was always presented to us like it was an opportunity for a new life and really I think he was just moving on to another job.
REHMHow many times did you move?
LANNERTOh, my -- high school alone -- I went to four different high schools and my parents divorced when I was 12, so there was a lot of bouncing back and forth in-between the two of them. You know, we'd be with one parent for six months and go with another parent for a year, be back here for another year. It was never a stable environment.
REHMAnd all the time, this sexual abuse continued?
LANNERTYes. You know, there would be moments of inactivity, like when he would try to stop drinking or he would promise that he'd do better, like when we had the choice to go and live with mother, he would tell me that life would be better if I stayed with him, that he was going to try. And so I would believe him. I'd want to give him that chance and I would choose him.
REHMAnd your sister did the same thing?
LANNERTThere were some times that my sister and I lived together and occasionally, we did not. During her eighth grade year, during her seventh grade year, she lived with my mother's parents. And then shortly before I went to live with my mother in Guam, she was living with an aunt of mine, so I thought it was free. I was safe to leave my dad and go live with my mom 'cause she was taken care of.
REHMDuring this whole period, was there anyone you could trust to talk with?
LANNERTNo. I absolutely had no one who was there.
REHMNo grandparents, no counselor, no friend, no one?
LANNERTI told a babysitter when I was 12 years old and she told my mother with me standing right beside her. But when she told my mother, she said, Tom hurts Stacey.
REHMStacey Lannert, the book is titled, "Redemption." Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Stacey Lannert is with me. She's written a new memoir titled, "Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival and Finding Freedom Behind Bars." And we are going to open the phones shortly. Join us on 800-433-8850. How was your younger sister managing throughout this time, Stacey? Did she have any idea of what was going on?
LANNERTNo, she did not. I did everything I could to protect her and to have her have as much of a normal childhood as she possibly could. I'd -- when he was drinking, I'd give her my car keys at night so that she could leave and escape the house so that she wouldn't fall victim.
REHMBut then you found out he had sexually abused her.
LANNERTWell, on the night -- on July 4, 1990, I was -- I had just turned 18 and I decided, I'm leaving this household and I'm going to take my sister. She'll be 16 on July 10. And I told him that day, we're leaving. And he told me that I could go, but that she couldn't, that she'd be my replacement. And he took her right in front of me and took her into his bedroom and locked the door where I couldn't get in and he just had me outside beating and screaming trying to get in. And, you know, to this day, I still don't know what happened to her. We -- even we don't talk about it. And when she came out, I handed her my car keys and she left 'cause we had had plans and she wound up leaving and I went downstairs and just cried for a good hour. And eventually got off the couch and Christy came back to get me and...
LANNERTYes. And, you know, I just pretended like everything was okay again -- again. So later that night, when we wound up coming back to the house to get my dog, which I had left, there was a gun downstairs in the basement that he had actually placed there, it was a 22 and I thought I heard something upstairs and so I picked it up and, you know, I didn't really want for him to die, I just wanted him to stop. I just wanted him to stop. And by the time I got upstairs, he was passed out, so I must've imagined the noise and he was incapacitated on the couch. And seeing him there, I was just so upset, you know, how could you do this? How could you do this to us and how could you do it to her? You know, I lived my whole life protecting her and I had failed so miserably.
LANNERTAnd I don't know the exact emotion, if it was fear, anger, they're all tangled together. And I set the gun on the ledge behind him and I just closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. And he -- I hit him in the collarbone and he sat up and he didn't realize he had been shot and he thought he had broken his collarbone. He was so drunk, he thought he had just rolled and broke it and he started just yelling my name. And so then, you know, I was filled with instant remorse of how could I have done this terrible thing to my dad.
LANNERTAnd I went and flipped on the front door and I -- went and flipped on the light by the front door and opened the front door for an ambulance. And Christy went in search of the phones and we couldn't find any because he had ripped them all out of the wall earlier that day when he had attacked her. And he got angry because an ambulance wasn't there already and was -- started yelling and screaming and telling me just to wait 'til he got up off that couch, I'd be sorry. And he just kept threatening me and I thought if he does, when he realizes what's happened, he's gonna kill us and I shot him a second time.
REHMAnd he was gone.
LANNERTI don't know. He didn't -- I -- once again, I set the gun on the ledge and I closed my eyes and I pulled the trigger. And I didn't really -- I -- after that moment, I couldn't function. Like it was just so overwhelming that I just shut down. And I have no real knowledge of what happened after that moment. Somehow, I wound up getting out of the house, took the gun with me, got out of the house and I don't even know what mode I was in to function. It was so surreal.
REHMYou and your sister got into the car.
LANNERTMy car, mm-hmm.
REHMWho was driving?
LANNERTMe. And I don't even know how I drove.
REHMWhere did you go?
LANNERTWe were at a hotel earlier because I had no intention of going back to that house again later that night.
REHMWhat about the dog?
LANNERTRight. So we were at a hotel and I was just going to decide from there where we were going to go, who we were going to turn to. And then, you know, it was like 1:00 in the morning and I thought, oh, gosh, that dog is still there. I have to go back and get it. And I didn't want to by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew he would kill the dog if I didn't. And, you know, I loved this dog (laugh), so I made a really terrible decision to return when I should've just kept driving.
REHMYou got the dog.
LANNERTI did get the dog, but then, of course, the next day, I was arrested and I never knew what happened to her anyway.
REHMThe trial. You pled guilty?
LANNERTNo, I did not plead guilty.
REHMYou did not.
LANNERTNo, which I had confessed, but I pled not guilty because I was hoping to be able to use the battered women's syndrome. My case is very similar to a battered woman who kills her abuser -- who's married and kills her abuser. Missouri doesn't have a battered child's law. They did have a battered women's syndrome law that had started, but I was unable to use that at trial for numerous reasons. One, because I wasn't married to him, two, because I did not interject self-defense because he was not physically coming at me at that moment, so I didn't really understand all that at the time.
LANNERTAnd third, I wasn't -- the abuse wasn't taken into account at all during my trial and I didn't really understand that it wouldn't be because to me, that's what all of this happened over. That's why I made the choices that I made. And it just wasn't allowed to be heard -- taken into account. It was allowed to be heard, but not taken into account. The jury was told to dismiss any abuse.
REHMHere is a message from Facebook from Nancy who says, "I'm a public defender and represented Stacey briefly shortly after her conviction. The state of law in Missouri was such that I could not do anything to help her. When people find out what I do for a living, they are horrified and ask me how I could represent those people. Those people are you, me, Stacey and everyone else. I'm grateful Missouri finally did the right thing by her and wish her peace." That's from Nancy on Facebook. Your book titled, "Redemption," talks about how you found peace behind bars. You were there for a long time.
LANNERTYes. I was incarcerated for 18 years. I was in prison as long as I had been free previously.
REHMHow did those years affect you?
LANNERTI think that they allowed me to discover who I truly am and the potential that I have deep inside of me. You know, when you're in four small closed-in white walls, you really have to make peace with yourself and with your past. And I had a very unique opportunity in searching for physical freedom. And it's detailed in the book, but it talks about my quest for freedom and how during my quest for clemency, I was told that you have to go public with your past. Well, of course, that was the last thing that I ever wanted to do, but we needed public support so that people could understand why I made this tragic decision that I had made.
LANNERTAnd so what first started as a quest for me to be free actually emotionally set me free because so many people responded in saying, me, too, and you're not alone. And it was overwhelming how many people just reached out and lifted me up and I didn't feel like I was alone anymore. And I knew that I was making a difference in the lives of others because I had found the power of my voice in telling people that this happened to me because sexual abuse doesn't make sense. People can't understand it because it's so horrific. How can you still love this person who terrorizes you, rapes you and hurts you so badly? But I’m also a child and this is my dad.
LANNERTAnd I think -- I think this book really shows that. And, you know, we don't make the right choices when we're dealing with something that's so terrible and there just has to be forgiveness involved.
REHMHow about your mother? What's your relationship?
LANNERTYou know, my mother and I are working on our relationship every single day and we could both spend the rest of our lives making each other wrong saying, you did this, you did that or we could choose to be strong and move forward and that's what we're trying to do. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have a second chance with her with all the cards out on the table, this is how I felt, this is what I went through and just to experience love from my mom.
REHMWhat about your sister?
LANNERTMy sister is pregnant again with another baby. I have a five-year-old niece through her and, you know, she's on her own healing path. And so far, she's just -- she's a great mom.
REHMHere is an e-mail from Vaneesha who says, "I am a victim, as well as my siblings, of sexual abuse from my father. We've not heard a word or seen him in over 28 years. I'm now 51 years old. I cannot have a social life and have very low self-esteem. I've been in therapy, I'm on medication. This is a tragedy to any family member who has to go through it, but what I feel victims suffer more from is that the abuser gets away with so much."
LANNERTHe does. In today's society, we continue to further victimize the victim by saying, well, why didn't you do this or why didn't you do that, when truly, we're just struggling to survive and the choices that we make are not what everybody else would make. You know, we're living in fear.
REHMStacey Lannert and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Julica in Lansing, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.
JULICAGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me. Stacey, I can't tell you how much I appreciate that you're willing to tell your story. I'm a survivor of assault myself and I just think it is so powerful for us to continue to say, this happens, this is not okay. We need to do something so that this doesn't happen anymore. So I wanted to appreciate you out loud. And I also wanted to ask you, how do you get the strength -- how do you continue to do this work in your non-profit now? For me, I found -- I did some work around this when I was in college and after college as a peer educator, but eventually, I found I got too angry. I couldn't continue that work and have a joyful life. I had to move away from that and I'm wondering if you could speak to where you find the strength or the calling to do this work for yourself?
LANNERTWell, thank you. That's an excellent question. And what people don't really realize is that when I was released, Governor Blunt wrote me a letter. And in it, he told me that this was my chance to have a positive impact on society. And he asked me to share my difficult past to hopefully make a difference in the lives of others. And this man gave me a second chance at life and at love and at freedom and I feel like if I was quiet, if I chose to just sit back in the background, then I would be doing a disservice to the courage that this man showed to release me and to give me another opportunity.
LANNERTAnd you're right, a lot of times, the anger and the bitterness can be extremely overwhelming and I work through therapy. I have a therapist just -- and -- but this -- like with Healing Sisters, it's such a community of survivors coming together to support one another that I am encouraged and I am empowered and I receive strength from the people who I try to serve.
REHMTell me about the organization.
LANNERTThe organization's called Healing Sisters. Right now, we're an online community and it gives women and men an opportunity to share their voice. They can do it anonymously if they so choose, but it gives them a chance to blog and to just say, this happened to me in my life and allows other survivors to comment. And I didn't -- I always thought that I was so alone, but realized there's 39 million survivors of sexual abuse out there, one in every four women, one in every six boys. And to realize that I am not alone, I am not unique really creates this kindred kinship. And if we can reach out to one another, we can strengthen one another.
REHMDo you think that sharing those stories online helps the people involved?
LANNERTAbsolutely because it helps get it out. You know, sexual abuse is so deeply rooted in shame and to release your story for the first time and to hear it is not your fault is so freeing. And it releases us of the shame that we carry around that maybe I was too pretty or maybe I sat too close or, you know, I kissed him on the cheek and I shouldn't have and this is my fault. No, it's not my fault, it's not my fault that that happened. The choices that I made afterwards, yes, are mine to own, but the sexual abuse itself is in no way my fault. And I had to find forgiveness for myself and for him. And I think that only by reaching out to others can we release that angriness, that bitterness, that sorrow.
LANNERTAnd another point is to empower ourselves. Like I do -- prevention through education is key and the more we learn, the more that we can change. Darkness to Light is an organization that has an online program that teaches you to recognize the signs and they're wonderful.
REHMStacey Lannert and her new memoir written with Kristen Kemp is titled, "Redemption."
REHMWe'll go right back to the phone to Megan in Brookline, Mass. Good morning to you.
MEGANGood morning. I just want to say to Stacey that you are so brave and I've been moved to tears this whole conversation and I -- a couple things. I myself am also a victim of abuse and really trying to come to terms with it now because it's sort of still happening and I just want to get your thoughts on the justice system and -- because it's -- there is no -- I mean, I've tried in courts to stop what happened to me and my boyfriend had locked my daughter and I in a closet and he got away with it because there was no intention.
MEGANThe judge found that he didn't intend that day to do it (laugh)...
MEGAN…he just ended up doing it, so he got off on that. Anyhow, lots of other things with that and it's...
LANNERTRight. And it's extremely frustrating. Our justice system truly is. And, you know, the wonderful thing about our justice system is that it does eventually catch up. We're starting to realize that there's a problem and it takes a long time for the powers to be to move. In my case, it took 18 years.
REHMBut tell me about, was there a trial? Were there witnesses?
LANNERTYes. Yes. There is a...
REHMHow did all that go?
LANNERTI had a week's worth of trial, there were witnesses and in the beginning of the trial, we really believed we could present the battered women syndrome and that was one of the -- well, I didn't have a choice. I could accept a plea bargain and say that I had shot my father for monetary gain or I could go to trial with no defense and hopefully be able to use the battered women syndrome. And well, I felt like I had made such wrong choices previously that I need to stand on the truth, no matter how hard, no matter how painful because up until this time, I had made wrong choices.
REHMDid your sister stand up for you?
LANNERTNo. My sister did not. She actually was charged also and she was in prison. She was sent to prison when she was 16 years old for two years and she was released the week that I went to trial and they told her that if she testified for me, she'd be sent back to prison.
REHMWhat about the babysitter?
LANNERTThe babysitter did testify for me. She came forward, but unfortunately -- and she testified that I had told her when I was 12 years old that I was molested and -- but unfortunately, it wasn't able to be taken into account and that's where people have such a hard time understanding, well, why couldn't it be? And it -- that's because the way are laws were written. The reason I received clemency is because today the laws have changed. Now they take into account that the person doesn't have to be physically coming at you at that moment, but during that time, they did. There was no, oh, well, eventually -- there was a difference between immediate and imminent danger and that's been rectified by the courts since then.
LANNERTBecause they take into account that a person who's been battered sees things differently, that we feel like we're always in danger. And truth be told, when you feel underpowered by the person, you're not going to strike out against them while they're coming at you.
REHMWhat was the time in prison for you like?
LANNERTWhen I first got to prison, I was actually happy (laugh). And I know that sounds so depraved, but I was -- you know, I could sleep at night and not be attacked and after spending 894 days in jail, I was looking forward to prison because they said you had a little bit more freedom there and you do. You could move around more, you weren't locked down 23 hours a day, only getting out for meals or church. There was recreation, there were activities to be involved with and that's one of the things I did.
LANNERTAs soon as I had the opportunity, I started working out, finding a quiet place for me. I made friends there who really were supportive, they weren't judgmental. They understood because they had been through the same thing and they lifted me up and they gave me courage. And they protected me. I never had a fight while I was incarcerated. They taught me how to speak up for myself and they supported me when I didn't have anybody else. And while I was in prison, I trained dogs and that changed my life because they taught me how to love.
REHMWhat kinds of dogs did you train?
LANNERTWe trained -- I worked with CHAMP, Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities out of Florissant, Mo. and they train service dogs for handicap assist. So we taught them to open and close doors, turn lights on and off, pick up dropped objects.
REHMI've seen some of those videos when dogs are trained.
LANNERTYes. And they are amazing.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Kathy in St. Louis. She says, "I'm having a very hard time understanding why, when her father locked himself in the bedroom with her sister, she didn't call the police."
LANNERTBecause he had ripped all the phones out of...
REHMThere were no phones.
LANNERTNo phones. And...
REHMDid that come up at trial?
LANNERTNo, it did not. And one of the arresting detectives had actually asked me, where are all the phones? And, you know, at that moment, I just didn't know. And I didn't know -- I wasn't in the presence of mind to establish a defense for myself, I was just reeling from all the horrors that had taken place. My life was so surreal. And, you know, she asked that, about calling the police, I could have gone to a neighbor's house, knocked on the door and called the police, but it never even dawned on me to do so. Never even...
LANNERTBecause I didn't think help was out there. I just really didn't. The few -- I had told a guidance counselor when I was 17 and, you know, no help ever came and...
REHMYou told a guidance counselor what?
LANNERTThat someone in -- a male figure in my household was molesting me, was raping me. I didn't come straight out and say that it was my father, I said that it was a man that lived with us and she just signed my termination of school paperwork and sent me home. And, you know, it was -- every time I told -- I told the babysitter when I was 12, I told the guidance counselor when I was 17, it was a major leap to tell those people. It was hard to tell them and no help was forthcoming and so, you know, telling just wasn't something that was in my mind.
REHMDid your mother testify at the trial?
LANNERTShe did. She did testify.
REHMWhat did she say?
LANNERTShe said that there were suspicions that she had that she wished she had followed through on and that -- you know, my mother has -- she has a hard time dealing with that there were other choices she could have made also.
REHMLet's go back to the phones and to Robert in Bethesda, Md. Good morning to you.
ROBERTGood morning. This show addresses one of the great nightmares I have as a father of a beautiful high school girl. I just can't even believe -- as I said, it's just a scary nightmare for me. I've been telling my daughter there are two unforgivable sins that she -- when she grows up and goes out in the world. One is if a man hits her and two, if a man abuses their children. That's -- you know, you try to arm your child without scaring them, but this for a dad, is scary as hell. We've been studying martial arts for the last nine years and quite frankly, at its basic level, besides all the other good things that she learns from it, it's simply this. That if someone tries to put his hands on her without her wanting it, that she can actually defend herself from that.
ROBERT'Cause this kind of scenario, just as I said, as a dad of a beautiful daughter, this just scares the hell out of me.
LANNERTAbsolutely. But you're extremely rare in preparing your daughter for these horrors that can happen. Most of the times, we as human beings, don't like to think that other human beings are even possible of inflicting this type of pain and terror on one another, so we don't give our children the words that they need to keep it from happening. And when we do talk about it, then it's such a horror, that if someone allows it to happen to them, they actually feel so much shame about it. But the good news is, is that we can change how we view sexual abuse and sexual assault and instead of making it something that victims feel ashamed of, empower them. Telling is powerful.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Stacy, who says, "My sister has for years indicated that our uncle sexually abused her, but she refused to actually say the words. How can I convince her to turn him in? She's in her 30s and so am I. What can we do?"
LANNERTWell, one of the things that you can do is find out what your state laws are. Like, I know Missouri has 20 year -- you have 20 years after you turn 18 to bring charges against the person. But it's extremely important that we just let other people know that we're there for them and open up those lines of communication. Too many times, we want to fix it and we want to make it better. And in this case, you just can't. You can just be supportive, say, I love you, I'm behind you.
LANNERTAnd somebody denying that the abuse happened is actually quite typical. Very rarely will a person come forward and say that it happened. And our first instinct is to deny, so she's just normal. I would be -- if I were her sister, and I am a sister to my own, I try to lead by example, by letting my voice come through and by telling her, you can do it, too.
REHMAll right. To Ann in Havelock, N.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
ANNGood morning. I wanted to thank Stacey very much for sharing her story. I went through a very similar situation. My father's best friend molested me from -- the earliest I can remember is 3-years-old, until I was 13. And the only reason it stopped is because my sister came to me and said that it was happening to her.
ANNAnd I knew that I could take it, I thought I was strong enough, but I couldn't let it happen to my sister.
LANNERTRight. So you understand me completely.
LANNERTAbsolutely. Well, I'm sure your sister is extremely grateful and I wish you well on your road to healing and I hope that you check out Healing Sisters and that you change the past by making a brighter future.
REHMAnn, have you gotten some help for yourself?
ANNMy family's from California and California has funds set aside for victims of child abuse.
ANNWere the state will pay for your counseling and we've taken advantage of that. We don't talk about it in our family anymore, but...
LANNERTAll right. That's one of the things that, to me, we need to change. We need to talk about it more. And, you know, I need to lead by example. Like I said earlier, my sister and I, we don't even talk about it and yet I'm so public about my past. It's because it's such a hard thing and you know what? Sometimes you don't have to talk about the past, but talk about the present and how you love and support one another.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Annandale, Va. Halah, you're on the air.
HALAHHello, hello and happy Women's Day to both of you.
HALAHAnd I'm just lost for words. Please excuse me because English is my second language, but I'm going to try to express myself. I have two questions for you, Stacey. One of them is -- oh, by the way, I'm a volunteer on a hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault...
HALAH...in Fairfax County in Virginia. My first question is, in your work, do you notice that the parent or the person who is the perpetrator in the family abuses all the family or just focuses on one victim? And if so, do you think that he usually chooses the more vulnerable member of the family? For example, a disabled member of the family or something like that? Also, does the abuse usually take the same form or, like, he might abuse one member in a different way than the other? My second question is, how emotionally exhausting is it for you to talk like this? You're so brave. You're amazing. I'm so proud of you.
LANNERTThank you very much. To answer the first question, I think that each instance of abuse is unique and so that's the problem with sexual abuse today, is that we can't point to it and say, this person has all the characteristics of an abuser. Each individual case is different and it's going to be different. I do find that abusers typically groom a child or, like you said, they go to a weaker member in the family. I was groomed and I didn't even know I was being groomed.
REHMHow were you groomed?
LANNERTBy being told I was the favorite daughter, by being told that I was special, I'm daddy's number one. He created this bond in-between us and maybe it was just a bond that was created because we were father/daughter. But he eventually used that bond against me to seal his silence and so I do think they pick the people who feel closest to them when they feel safe. And then like with me, my abuse started with just touching and fondling and then, eventually, moved up, so I look at abuse kind of like as a disease, as an epidemic.
LANNERTAnd I do think that it will spread to other people because the person who is doing it is diseased and -- but the good news is, is that we can stop this epidemic by finding our voices and thank you for your comments. And that's why I'm so passionate about this, is because I don't want any of this to happen to another person. I don't want any child to go through what I went through. I want us to open up the lines of communication and make a difference.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Thomas in Kalamazoo commenting on your trail. He says, "If jurors want to let someone off because they sympathize with the accused or because the law -- they think the law is stupid, they're perfectly free to do so."
LANNERTYes, they are perfectly free to do so, but you cannot tell them that they are free to do so. The jury can come to any decision that they want to, but the way that they -- my jury was read the instructions, they really believed that they had no choice but to find my guilty of first degree murder. And afterwards, jury members actually wrote affidavits stating that they wished they would have another option. That's another reason I was granted clemency.
REHMStacey Lannert, her new memoir is titled, "Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival and Finding Freedom Behind Bars." Congratulations to you.
LANNERTThank you. Thank you very much.
REHMI'm glad you were here.
LANNERTThank you, so am I.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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