Author’s story of assault helps younger victim cope
Asplund is a 50-year-old therapist who lives in Walworth County. Megan is a 19-year-old college student in northern Minnesota.
They’re separated geographically, ideologically and religiously. And there is a whole generation between them.
But they share a deeply tragic bond that has united the women over the last few months.
As teenagers, they both were sexually assaulted by priests.
Asplund was assaulted by a minister at a Youth For Christ Campus Life program in Lake Geneva in the 1970s, when she was about 15 years old. Her assaulter, Russell J. Lesser, now 64, was sentenced in late June to 10 years in prison on a felony charge of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16.
Megan, who asked that her last name not be used due to ongoing court proceedings, was assaulted at age 15 by a 50-year-old Catholic priest at her hometown church. She is waiting for her assaulter to be extradited back to the United States after he fled to his native India. She has filed civil charges against the man, and the district attorney at her hometown has filed criminal charges.
The women met this summer at a Washington, D.C., conference for sexual assault victims. Asplund shared the news about her case and told Megan about her upcoming book. The Walworth County woman followed up by sending Megan a copy of the book, which the 19-year-old keeps at her beside.
“Reading the book makes you feel not as crazy,” Megan said. “Reading her words and just totally relating to that, and hoping that you know, the legal stuff will go through and there is going to be some kind of justice.”
The book that brought them together is “Justice Before Mercy: A Memoir about the Journey to Bring a Sexual Predator to Justice Thirty-five Years after the Fact.”
Asplund published “Justice Before Mercy” after her assaulter was convicted, about 35 years after the crime was committed.
She talks about the fear of rejection and the reasons why it was so hard for her to talk about her traumatic experiences.
“I didn’t know if people would believe me,” Asplund writes. “He was this gregarious, fun-loving and well-like adult who many parents liked very much.”
Hiding was Asplund’s best option.
“When I was being victimized, I had to personally become a master actor,” she said. “Because if anybody found out what was happening, all the house of cards would fall down.”
That’s a story all-too-familiar to Megan. It took her a year to come up with the courage to share her story.
“I just wanted to hide it all,” Megan said. “It comes with self doubt and blaming yourself.”
Now that Asplund confronted her fears, she wants other women to feel empowered to confront theirs.
“I’ve really laid myself very vulnerable right now,” Asplund said about sharing her memoirs. “But, again, I feel like I’m speaking for the victims of Wisconsin.
“I’m just saying what nobody wants to say, which is all our personal business. But I feel that’s affective and that it helps.”
And it’s already working for Megan.
“Part of that is listening to her story and her determination and listening to her on the phone,” she said. “It just gives you strength, feels like you’re doing it for the right reasons.”