#MeToo: Heartland lawmaker shares family story to empower others

Rehder's essay recounts her own abuse and that of her mother and sister (courtesy:KFVS)
Rehder's essay recounts her own abuse and that of her mother and sister (courtesy:KFVS)

SCOTT COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - State Representative Holly Rehder hasn't shied away from sharing personal struggles, including her daughter's opioid abuse as she fought for a way to track dangerous narcotics.

Now, she's joining the growing chorus of men and women sharing personal stories of sexual abuse and harassment.

"How world-changing would that be for humanity if telling was more probable than not telling," Rehder asked. "If we could end the silence?"

Recently, she wrote a four-page essay about the toll sexual abuse has taken on her family, including an assault she suffered as a child.

"We carry so much guilt and shame, wondering if we would have done this or that, could the outcome have been different?"

Rehder said it took several sleepless nights to put words to the trauma she and her family have been through.

"There is no right or wrong response to sexual abuse. Survival comes in many forms."

Rehder detailed her own sexual abuse, and the abuse suffered by her mother and sister. She knew, even as a state officeholder, telling this very personal story would be baring herself to the public on a whole new level.

"But, God didn't give me a microphone to keep my mouth shut. And I know that if I could just cause one little girl to feel comfortable enough to speak to her mother, one young man to feel comfortable enough to tell on that person that's over him. That matters."

Rehder said the sexual abuse she suffered came at the hands of her grandfather. She was 11 years old. It happened once. But, knowing her own mother had also been abused as a child, Holly knew she didn't have to stay silent.

"I was living with my great-aunt at the time. When I got home, I told her. And she said Holly, he did the same thing to me when we were kids."

Holly said she wouldn't speak to her grandfather until he got treatment. In time, she found the ability to forgive him, and to still love him.

"It took me a little while, but we had a good relationship. And I knew that he was sorry. And I knew that he wanted to be different."

Knowing she was not to blame, that she did nothing wrong, Rehder felt sharing such personal family pain would help other survivors see, it's not their fault either.

"I showed my story, my essay, to my own children and to my husband, of course. And to my sister, who you know, it also talks about her in there and tells one of the things that happened to her when we were very young. And they all were very encouraging for me to do this because it helps others."

It's been less than a week since Rehder shared her essay. She said she's received countless emails and messages from people thanking her for giving them the courage to finally speak out.

"One young man wrote me and said I just read your statement, Miss Holly. Your bravery to come forward will undoubtedly empower men and women of Southeast Missouri to share their stories as well. As a survivor myself, I couldn't be more proud of you."

Rehder ends her essay this way.

"For every person out there, young or old, what you are going through, or what you think you have been through does not define you.  Find your voice.  Tell someone. Even if your abuser is someone you love. Their power lies in our silence."

You can click here to read the full essay or read it below.

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