Leila Sommerfeld and Kathleen Terrill openly share about the pain and devastation they've experienced as rape survivors, and offer hope to women who've been sexually assaulted as they discuss the healing and restoration they've found through the power of God's love. (Part 1 of 2)
John Fuller: On today's "Focus on the Family," we're going to hear about a very serious and tragic reality in our world today and it's a very mature topic. I'm gonna recommend that you direct the attention of young children elsewhere for the next 30 minutes.
Mrs. Kathleen Terrill: And so, I went to sleep that night, and I told myself no one ever has to know. I'm never telling anyone. This was such a shattering experience. To be that sheltered little girl and to have something like "date rape," which that term in and of itself was foreign to me, it shattered everything I knew to be true about the world that I lived in
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Jim Daly: John, that comment is so heartbreaking and I do feel a sense of righteous anger over the fact that so many girls and women are victimized like that. The statistics are staggering. On average, a woman in America is raped every minutes of every day--1 in 6 women, perhaps more. It's hard to find solid and consistent research, but they're all in this range. But 1 in 6 women will experience sexual assault sometime in their lifetime. That's 16 percent of women, compared to 3 percent of men. These numbers are horrifying, but they don't reflect the devastation, the grief and shame that victims face afterwards. As we're gonna hear today, women often suffer years, even decades from anxiety, fear, low self-esteem and broken lives.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Christian community especially needs to be aware of this evil in our culture and what we can do to help the victims to hopefully, engage Christ to find that healing for their soul, for their emotions, for their bodies. Today we'll hear from two courageous women who were willing to share their stories with us. John, you met in the studio with them and you had an incredible conversation.
John: It really was. I met with Leila Sommerfeld and Kathleen Terrill. Kathleen is who we heard from in the clip there at the beginning of the program. Today Kathleen is the director of operations for Embrace Grace, which is a ministry that provides that kind of emotional and practical and spiritual help that you're talking about, Jim, for young women and their families who are facing an unplanned pregnancy.
Leila is an author, a life coach and a former lay counselor and for many years she's led a seminar for victims of rape and assault. And she's written a book called Beyond Our Control: Restructuring Your Life After Sexual Assault. And we should mention, Jim, that Leila's rape occurred more than 50 years ago and yet, the trauma she experienced is still fresh and she can still feel some of the emotions of that event. The good news though, is that both women share how God intervened miraculously in their lives, bringing peace and hope and restoration and healing.
Jim: And that's why we need to address this difficult topic, because no matter how awful your circumstances are and no matter how badly you've been hurt or violated by someone else, God cares for you in amazing ways and at times you may not feel that. He does grieve over your pain and He wants to gently restore your life. If you're suffering from tragedy, from brokenness or loss in your family or whatever your situation may be, please know that Focus on the Family is here to help you in any way we can. We have Christian counselors and resources that we want to make available to you.
John: And our number here is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or online find help at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: John, let's get to your conversation now with our guests on today's "Focus on the Family."
John: Leila, let's start with you. Many, many years ago, an awful thing happened to you, and it just changed your life forever.
Leila Sommerfeld: It did.
John: Take us back to that time and tell us when that was and what the circumstances were and what happened.
Leila: Okay. Well, it, the event happened the year that John F. Kennedy was killed. I remember that distinctly. And we lived way out in the country. We didn't have any neighbors. I could see some neighbors below us, there were canyons, but we couldn't talk, and so our house is pretty isolated.
And a neighbor, I didn't know him, he was way far away, had broke[n] into my home and raped me while my children were in the house just a few feet away in another bedroom. And both of the doors were open, and I was so fearful; I didn't resist because I was so fearful that they would be harmed or they would see what was happening. I knew what was going to happen.
It put so much fear into me, I didn't want to be alone at night and I always begged my husband to come home before it got dark. And I used to carry a gun with me when I'd go out to feed the horses. I mean it's just how much it paralyzed me.
John: So you were in an isolated location, the rapist broke in, in the middle of the night. Your husband wasn't home?
Leila: No, he ironically, had gone to Mexico with my father to pick up a car. My step-mother had died down there. And so, he wasn't expected to be back before midnight. And I don't know how this person knew that he wasn't coming back early; I have no idea.
John: But it was a nightmare.
Leila: He turned off the lights to the house, you know, up there.
John: So he cut the power?
Leila: Yes, he turned off the power and he went to the front door and back door and banged very loud, I mean very loud. I thought that was gonna wake the children up. And we had dogs, and they were barking and barking. And then he came up from behind me and grabbed me.
Leila: And pushed me into the bedroom, and so I just didn't want my children to see or hear anything.
John: Yeah, in fact I think in your book, Beyond Our Control, at one point you said you felt like [more] like a criminal than a victim.
Leila: Right. I felt like a criminal, and especially when I was asked for a polygraph. Of course, I understand they do that all the time. I didn't at the time, and I thought, guys, couldn't they tell by the way I looked and acted? And of course I passed it. And then it was just a really hard thing. And then when I first went to go before the judge, I was by myself, and I don't know why I didn't have my husband go with me.
John: Yeah, I was intrigued by that part of your story, that you grew up in a dysfunctional home, and you had kind of always taken care of yourself and manage things.
Leila: Always taken care of myself and managed. So, my mom had a lot of serious mental illness, you know, she couldn't help it, and so I didn't have any close relatives. I didn't have anybody to talk to. My older sister was out of town.
John: And all of that led to you being in a courtroom by yourself?
Leila: Yes, coping by myself. And you know, you didn't want to go to your pastor and you didn't want to tell everybody. For some reason, we just feel shamed or embarrassed.
John: Now in your book, Leila, you describe something that you call an alarm reaction state and you said that affected you quite deeply.
Leila: Well,, we go into Posttraumatic Stress, and Posttraumatic Stress. You're constantly looking over your shoulder. You're constantly jumping at things. And of course you're very suspicious.
John: And this became not just a little episode, but it became kind of an umbrella for how you operated in life.
Leila: It took over my life and for years I would sleep with my gun by my bed, my car keys; I was determined to make a quick getaway And of course, now I know Jesus is there. I know, but at the time I was so traumatized, I couldn't think about Jesus or God. I just wanted that gun. When my husband was out of town one time, I slept at the front door with those things, the gun and the keys.
John: And this kind of PTSD effect on you and your emotional well-being and your physical health really took a toll.
Leila: It really affected me.
John: It took a toll on your marriage as well, didn't it?
Leila: It took a toll on my marriage, and at the time I didn't realize and in my book I say I didn't realize my husband was going through this also in a different way, kind of a different way, and he didn't know how to [react].
John: What were his reactions?
Leila: He tried to be loving, but he didn't know what to do with me, and I really, if that had happened today, I would have been in counseling. I would have been in support groups. I would have had a Christian support group. And I think I went to a psychiatrist once, and I didn't talk about my rape; I talked about my father.
John: Oh really.So there you are in the aftermath. You've got years of stress and hyper vigilance and fear, panic attacks, and you're finding nobody is able to help you.
Leila: Panic attacks and there was nobody.
John: And your husband eventually left?
Leila: No, actually I divorced him, because I was so distraught and my mind was so [in turmoil]. I almost think I was crazy at the time, because I did end up checking myself into a mental hospital for three months. I just couldn't cope and I didn't know what to do. And of course, the enemy said, "Well, he's not helping you, so you know, maybe you would be better off without him."
John: So what did you do after you left him then? I mean did you try to find a place and settle down or [what]?
Leila: --I tried; I took the girls, got an apartment, tried to get a job and go to work, but was in such severe depression, I couldn't work. I cried and cried and cried. I couldn't stop.
Leila: Any woman that has had any kind of sexual assault, because for one thing, when you go through trauma, it changes the wiring in your brain, and your brain is not the same. It doesn't mean you can't heal and move forward, but you think differently and you're wired a little bit differently.
John: And you didn't find anybody you could trust. You didn't find anything that would alleviate that pain and that stress and anxiety.
Leila: Well, I did. My sisters were very comforting, but they both lived out of town, and my niece, who's only 13 years younger than me, was very comforting. But again, everybody lived out of town.
Leila: And my two closest friends, they were very kind. They were supportive of me, but they didn't know what to do with me.
John: Well, I appreciate so much your vulnerability, Leila, and that's Leila Sommerfeld. We're also talking with Kathleen Terrill on today's "Focus on the Family." You'll find resources, help, and counseling assistance at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio, or when you call 1-800 A FAMILY.
And Kathleen, your story is different, but you went through a traumatic rape experience, as well. Take us back to that time; what life was like before and during and after that event.
Kathleen: Absolutely. I was raised in a very loving Christian home. I had an amazing relationship with my parents and my sister and just kind of that all-American family environment. I was also attending a private Christian school, and the senior year of my high school, at the age of 17, two weeks before my 18th birthday, a group of friends of mine and I were planning to go out for the night and just hang out together.
For whatever reason that night, everyone decided to cancel except for this one other guy in the group. And this guy was new to our school. I knew of him. He kind of had that bad boy image that was very intriguing to the sheltered girl in me. (Laughs)
John: So you were a little attracted to that aspect of life.
Kathleen: Yes, it was intriguing. I wasn't necessarily attracted to him, but that persona was intriguing to me. So he invited me over. He said, "Well, why don't we just go to my parents' house and we can just watch a movie. Everybody else has canceled, so we're already out of the house, so let's go ahead and hang out." So I agreed. And we went over to his parents' house and I believed his parents were home. I later found out they weren't.
Kathleen: And as we began to watch the movie, we were sitting on the couch and he began to make advances towards me, trying to kiss me. And honestly I thought it was hysterical, like it was a joke, because it was the farthest thing that could be possible for my imagination for what he was trying to do.
John: He was probably not impressed by that response.
Kathleen: Not at all, I'm sure I'm sure. I'm sure that probably hurt his ego a little. And so I laughed and was, you know, "Come on, what are you doing? You know we're not like that. We're just friends."
And then we were going back to watching the movie, and he tries again. And so, a little more forcefully I'm like, "Come on. Knock it off. It's not like that; you know that." And then he tries a third time, and by this point I'm getting angry. And so, I shift in my seat and I began to stand up to leave, like I'm not gonna tolerate this. And as I stood up, he then grabs me by the shoulders and forces me to the ground. And he forces me to the ground and pins me to the ground and then begins to tear and rip at my clothing to remove them.
And I remember that moment so vividly, thinking, This cannot be happening. What is happening right now? Just my mind could not comprehend the events that were taking place.
I don't remember driving home. I don't remember walking into my parents' house. But I remember going into my bathroom that night and just the shock and the horror as I used the restroom and just found myself covered in all this blood.And so I went to sleep that night, and I told myself no one ever has to know.
I'm never telling anyone. This was such a shattering experience. To be that sheltered little girl and to have something like "date rape," which that term in and of itself was foreign to me, it shattered everything that I knew to be true about the world that I lived in.
John: Why was that? The stigma? The shame? The embarrassment?
Kathleen: The shame was immediate.The shame was immediate, and it was palpable. The fear and the shame was completely overwhelming. And in that moment, my entire world had been rocked. Everything I knew to be true felt foreign suddenly, and that shame and that guilt felt almost like the only thing that seemed real.That shame and that guilt were so profound that I clung to those.
John: And this seems to be a very common reaction for victims of sexual assault that a flood of emotions, guilt, et cetera, as you've just shared.
Kathleen: Yes, absolutely.
John: And did that cloud of secrecy, that desire to keep all of that part of your life hidden, did that work for very long?
Kathleen: Well, in the coming weeks from my rape, I began to get sick, and as I got sick, it never occurred to me to take a pregnancy test; however, it was obvious that I had become pregnant via my rape.
John: And that certainly will expose the secret, won't it?
John: Because everybody then is eventually going to find out.
Kathleen: Right and so that's where that fear came from, that if I was to share that I had been raped and that now I'm pregnant at my private Christian school that there would be disbelief and no one would believe me that I'm using perhaps rape as a cover-up story, and that would be the cover-up story for the pregnancy.
John: And Leila, this is, again, this is all very common to assault victims.
Leila: It is so common. I have been leading my recovery classes for at least 15 years, and they all, if they'll write down what they want to be healed of, they'll write down "shame."
And it's just, you know, I think part of that is because until now they are just coming out against sexual violence and we have a lot of organizations working to eliminate that. But the enemy says, first of all, the enemy says, "They won't believe you. They'll call you a bad girl. Well, why were you there? What were you wearing?"
John: Why didn't you fight back, those kinds of things.
Kathleen: Uh-huh, yeah.
Leila: Or why did you go there?
Leila: And so, we think maybe, part of us, we are to blame. Maybe, you know, maybe I should have been more careful or something like that.
John: Kathleen, did you experience those kinds of thoughts?
Kathleen: I knew that I was not to blame; however, there is this kind of twisting of thoughts the enemy most decidedly tries to do. However, I knew very clearly I had said "no" multiple occasions, that I had tried to leave, and I was physically restrained from being able to fight back. However, that's what rape is. It's not a sex crime; it is a violent crime, and it is all about power and control and that's exactly what took place in my rape.
John: And going back, then, to the moment that you discovered you were pregnant, I'm sure your mind was racing.
Kathleen: Yes! (Laughing)
John: Did you decide at that point to start sharing what had happened?
Kathleen: No, I did not.
Kathleen: So I continued to hide. I continued to withdraw. I pulled away from friends. I did what needed to be done in order to graduate and to finish out my senior year in high school, but I did not share the information with anyone. I literally lived with that secret throughout the continuation of that senior year in high school.
Kathleen: It came to my graduation day, and I'm walking across the stage on graduation day, and the headmaster hands me my diploma and shakes my hand, and it was almost as if a light bulb went off in that moment. I'm standing on the graduation platform with diploma in hand, and it's like a light bulb went off. Suddenly I became acutely aware of, Oh my gosh, I'm pregnant, and what am I going to do now?
John: I just got my diploma. I have a child I'm going to have. Oh my goodness.
Kathleen: So it was kind of like in that moment I had gotten to the point where, okay, they can't kick me out of school now, and now I've got to face this thing. And my greatest fear, you know, throughout this whole time, was that no one would believe me. And as I'm sharing with my mother, who I loved more than anyone; she and I were so very close; she began to question me in almost an interrogation style line of questioning, just question after question after question. And as she's questioning me, it occurs to me that she's trying to find a hole in my story and oh my gosh--
John: She doesn't believe you.
Kathleen: --she does not believe me.And that was crushing. That the one person I finally have confided in, the one person I love and respect and honor, does not believe me. And in that moment, my mother looked at me and she said, "You are not going to place this child for adoption. You are going to have an abortion." And again, this is my mother, who is a godly woman. We were in the church, just an amazing Christian family. And to hear those words come out of her mouth, like my world was shattered. And the darkness I had been living in just grew immensely in that moment.
John: And was that then what you had to do was have an abortion?
Kathleen: Yes, so I was shattered, and I did not say "no." And I remember that clinic so clearly, you know, showing, you know, you have a sonogram done, but yet at that point in time the screen's turned away, I'm not able to look at the screen. There's no sound of the heartbeat. There's no evidence shown to me of the life that was growing inside. And so, we go through with the procedure and I remember the sounds so clearly, and just feeling so absolutely alone.
Kathleen: An interesting part to the story is there was a chair in that room, and I remember just needing something to focus my attention on and feeling so alone. And so, I sat, and you know, as the procedure is going on, I'm staring at this chair in the room. Many years later, the Lord took me through an amazing ministry time of healing, and it's called Kairos in our church. It's an appointed time with God where you get to just come and experience His love wash over you.
And I remember in that time I said to the Lord, "You know, I know your Word is true, and your Word says that You never leave us and that You never forsake us. Will You show me, God, where were You when I had that abortion?" And He instantly gave me the most beautiful picture, and it was a picture of Him, Jesus, sitting in that chair in the abortion room, and He was holding my hand. And His one hand was on top of my hand and the other was underneath my hand, and He was stroking my hand, gazing into my eyes in the midst of this procedure taking place. And He spoke two words to me that forever wrecked me. He said, "I understand."
Now, was He saying the abortion was okay? Absolutely not. But He understood me and He didn't run away. He understood my pain. He understood what I was experiencing and showed me that He was there with me through it all.
John: Hm, well, you two both have tremendous stories of pain, of difficulty. That's a beautiful illustration of God being there, although you probably didn't feel like He was there at the moment, did [you]?
Kathleen: No, feeling very alone in the time.
John: How do you deal with the question? I mean there are women listening right now who have gone through abortions and they don't … they don't have that kind of closure that you had, Kathleen. Or Leila, women who years later are still wondering, "Why didn't God stop that?" How do you grapple with those questions?
Leila: Well, God doesn't stop everything. He doesn't stop everything. But, like Kathleen said, He is there, and when people said to me, "Well, where was Jesus?" I said, "I can tell you where He was. He was standing in the doorway of my children's bedroom so they would not hear or see anything."
John: Protecting them.
Leila: That's where He was. And my, I truly believe now, you couldn't have convinced me of it way back then, I believe now God does allow some things to happen in order for the healer to go on and become the healer. And people like Kathleen and I and hundreds of other women have gone on to have their ministry to reach out to women who are still in pain and have covered everything up and come to classes and seek healing and find Jesus at the heart of it.
John: And that concludes part one of our conversation with Leila Sommerfeld and Kathleen Terrill, both survivors of sexual assault. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: What an amazing conversation, John and how thankful I am that Leila and Kathleen were so transparent in describing the trauma they experienced. Man, that is hard to do, but it will help, I hope, thousands. Thankfully we won't end the story right here, because as we'll hear next time, God really did step into their lives in such powerful ways, in ways that will give us all hope.
And I'm sure there are many people listening to us right now who understand the pain, shame and grief that Leila and Kathleen experienced. Maybe you weren't assaulted or attacked by anyone, but you know the painful reality of spiritual warfare and brokenness and loss. As I said at the beginning, Focus on the Family is here to help you and I urge you to contact us for whatever resources you need--Christian counseling, prayer, encouragement. Whatever we can do, we will be here for you. Don't suffer in silence and isolation. Let us share God's love and hope for your healing in your life. Contact us today.
John: And our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or you'll find help at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: There are so many who contact us who cannot afford to pay for the counseling or resources that we can offer. But thanks to generosity of you and our friends, we're able to keep answering the phones and e-mails and requests for help like this each and every day. But we need to hear from you. If you support the ministry regularly, thank you. Thank you for standing with us and being a partner to help these families who are in crisis.
If you haven't supported the ministry or maybe haven't supported us in a while, can I ask you to stand with us and be there for these families? Without you we can't get it done and it is a beautiful thing when God puts that reminder on your heart to be there through Focus for these couples, for these broken families, for these broken people who have been injured in such a way. God cares for them, but if we don't do something, they won't know it. And I would ask you to step in the gap here with us. Do ministry through Focus. It's your ministry being done through us and I would want to encourage you today to make a gift.
John: Well, we'd love to hear from you and you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And for a gift of any amount, we'll send a complimentary copy of Leila's book, Beyond Our Control. It's our way of saying thank you for your financial support and it's a great resource for you or your church to have.
And be sure to get the CD or download of the entire conversation with Leila and Kathleen. There is a lot more that we just couldn't fit into today's program.
Now coming up, we'll continue and you'll hear the miracle of restoration for victims of sexual assault.
Mrs. Kathleen Terrill: One word from God can do what years of counseling can never do. And it was that one word from the Lord that really softened my heart and drew me back into His kindness to begin the healing.
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John: Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Leila SommerfeldView Bio
Leila Rae Sommerfeld's greatest passion is helping hurting women heal from the aftermath of rape and other harrowing experiences. As a rape survivor, she leads recovery classes using her award-winning book, Beyond Our Control: Restructuring Your Life After Sexual Assault. Leila has also authored a novel and had articles published in numerous magazines. She volunteers as a life coach at the Salvation Army Family Services in Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband reside. The couple has three children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. You can learn more about Leila at her website, www.leilarae.com.
Kathleen TerrillView Bio
Kathleen Terrill is Director of Operations at Embrace Grace, a non-profit that works with hundreds of churches across the nation and world, providing curriculum to help women with unintended pregnancies and single, young moms. Kathleen's heart beats for the broken, the outcast and the ones who feel unworthy. Her greatest joy is serving God and His people, sharing the power of His love to transform hearts and encouraging others to walk in the identity and freedom found only in Jesus Christ. Kathleen and her husband, Bobby, have three children.