This is an unpublished op-ed I wrote and submitted to The Oregonian on June 4, 2018. When they didn’t respond, I sent this to angrybeavs.com, a blog dedicated to Oregon State athletics. I will be forever grateful to ‘Angry Beaver’ for being the first to give a public voice to those of us who believe in Luke.
WHAT I SEE IN THE LUKE HEIMLICH STORY
by Kristine Erickson
Luke Heimlich’s parents have been dear friends of mine for 35 years. Since the Oregonian exposed Luke’s juvenile record last year, I have watched in dismay as countless thousands of people have commented on the case, with most of them heaping condemnation on Luke’s head. I am continually amazed that none of them see what I see in the Oregonian story.
I was sexually molested by two teenage neighbor boys when I was five years old, which profoundly impacted me in ways I didn’t fully realize until decades later. There was only one incident, I wasn’t physically injured, and I never told anyone until I was in my forties. Yet 60 years later, I still remember every devastating detail of the abuse.
In the Heimlich story, the girl’s mother said her daughter “doesn’t really remember everything that happened.” Wouldn’t the mother be relieved and grateful that her 11-year-old daughter doesn’t remember being molested at the age of five? Wouldn’t she do everything in her power to make sure her daughter is shielded from anything that might trigger bad memories? Apparently not. Instead, she cooperated with a journalist preparing to expose her daughter’s reported trauma to the world.
The girl lives in a small town where the family is well-known, and the Oregonian article made her last name obvious. Court documents from the mother’s divorce and subsequent loss of custody are public records that can be accessed online. Did she fail to comprehend this would reveal her daughter’s identity to hundreds of people in the community and to anyone in the world with access to a search engine?
Certainly the reporter had to know, and his story included intimate details from the prosecutor’s charging statement, which would retraumatize the girl if the allegations were true. Sure enough, immediately after the article was published, the girl was questioned about it by some kids in her school. When I was 11, if the sexual abuse I had suffered were publicized in a way that prompted my classmates to discuss it and question me, that would have damaged me more than the original offense.
Juveniles in Washington State are denied certain legal rights that adults have in equivalent cases. The supposed justification is that the court will look out for “the best interests of the child.” When the alleged victim and the accused are both juveniles, the best interests of the older child are sometimes sacrificed in an effort to protect the younger one. Luke sacrificed his future to spare his niece from having to undergo “further interviews … or her testimony at trial” (as the Oregonian quoted from the prosecutor’s statement). Now the girl is 12, and by all reports she is happy and thriving in her father’s care, with no sign of lingering effects.
I don’t believe Luke molested his niece, but the Oregonian has abused her in a manner that will have long-term consequences. How will she feel five years from now, when she realizes her uncle’s bright future was destroyed and her grandparents have suffered years of anguish because of something she said when she was six and doesn’t remember? I think she will eventually figure out who has acted in her best interests, but by then the damage will be done.