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Child abuse survivor tells her story to help other victims


Child abuse survivor tells her story to help other victims

Original Print Headline: Child abuse survivor tells story to help other victims

By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer

Published: 4/22/2012 2:12 AM

Last Modified: 5/24/2012 3:58 PM

Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376


Bethany Loerke was "the girl" through her childhood and teen years.

She was referred to as "the girl" in media reports about being a victim of a child sexual assault. She was the girl in middle school who got into fights and was repeatedly suspended. She was the girl in high school who challenged her mother by lying. She was the girl who couldn't hold a job, sassing male supervisors.

She is "the girl" now wanting abused and neglected kids to know they are not alone and things do get better. She also wants people to know the challenge in helping those children heal, trust and love again.

"This fight isn't for me anymore," said the 20-year-old. "I fought my battle, I played my role. Now, I'm fighting for all the victims who didn't get to come forward. It's for those people who were victimized and didn't have to be. It's for kids who died because no one came forward and no one was there to help."

Loerke's memories are marred by an early life in a trailer surrounded by filth, mattresses and barking dogs. Then, she went through 10 foster placements in about a year, remembering strict rules and quick tempers.

Finally, she was adopted into a well-to-do and well-respected Tulsa family - a doctor, his wife, who was a nurse, and their three biological children. They had a two-story house in midtown, went to private schools and spent weekends at their lake home.

Only, the nightmare continued as the only man Loerke calls her father betrayed her with sexual assaults that stopped only when she told her mother. It was just before her 11th birthday.

James Loerke pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual molestation and was sentenced to 20 years. In 2003, former District Judge Caroline Wall reduced his sentence to 15 years after a sentence modification review. He will be up for parole in three years.

"I always remembered that no matter how bad things got, it's better than what it would've been," Loerke said. "For parents or foster parents or anyone taking care of the kids, you have to stick by them no matter what they do. They will put you through hell sometimes. There will be times they'll put you through the ringer. It's not going to be easy."

'Do the right thing'

Loerke was 2 when the Oklahoma Department of Human Services removed her and her infant sister from a trailer of deplorable conditions. She was partially blinded because of pink eye and shingles, which were not improving because of neglect and a home full of filth.

She had two older brothers who had previously been removed and returned three times. Police once found them during a mistaken drug bust, unsupervised and living with dogs, no electricity and no running water.

The parents eventually lost their parental rights. The girls were kept together through most of Loerke's 10 foster placements in the following year.

"I was the kid who talked too much and they didn't know what to do with," she said. "My mom says I had beautiful pronunciation and just knew what I wanted to say. But I remember some of those last homes being abusive."

James and Beth Loerke adopted the girls when Bethany was 5 and life seemed better, at least on the surface.

But Loerke says the assaults began almost immediately. She stayed silent believing in the threats that no one would believe her and she would be cast out of a home again.

Just before her big 11th birthday slumber party, she hit her breaking point and told her mother.

"When she told me, I had no reason not to believe her," said Beth Loerke. "You have to do the right thing in the best interest of your child. That's the only thing that should be important."

That night, Beth Loerke threw her wedding ring at her husband, moved out with the children and contacted police. James Loerke has been locked up in jail or prison since September 2002.

By Christmas, she had moved her children into a 1,000-square-foot home and took on the role as sole breadwinner.

"I guarantee it was the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," she said. "When I couldn't pray anymore, people prayed for me. The community wrapped themselves around us. I didn't have to cook for four months. We were carried by people who loved us. It was a time in my life I have never felt so much love.

"Our needs were met. People will point out what we lost. But we didn't lose anything. We were taken care of. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing. I have no regrets."

But Bethany Loerke didn't feel the same way.

"I had this circle around me that I couldn't feel anything," she said. "I felt like an island - like an infectious leper."

As a nurse working in pediatrics, Beth Loerke understood how trauma could impact her daughter. She immersed herself in research and later earned a graduate degree in nursing education and worked in children's behavioral health.

"If kids receive protection and unconditional love, that's what they need," she said. "And they have to be believed. It means so much for a child to hear 'I believe you.' "

'I was a handful'

Through the investigations and court proceedings, Bethany Loerke lost most of her school year. But she managed to catch up to progress into middle school. She changed from a private to a public school.

That is when her outbursts began.

"Middle school seemed like this big scary monster, and I was constantly being introduced to new environments," she said. "But I had ballet. I found something that was mine and not spoiled. That was my constant and kept me from losing it. It is where I placed my anger."

Loerke instigated fights and overreacted in normal situations. Men in positions of authority - from principals to work supervisors - were regular targets for her attitude.

She was in therapy, but it was a roller coaster of typical teen angst twisted into problems with trusting people and sorting out her emotions.

"I was a handful, day in and day out," she said. "I was the hardest person to love. My mom had to love me harder than the others. She had to spend more time with me."

Beth Loerke lightly dismisses her daughter's claims, saying her love never wavered. Her goal was to give consistency and boundaries.

"I was so overprotective of Bethany," she said. "I didn't want anyone to think badly of her. I didn't let my children grieve. I told them we weren't going to use this as a crutch or excuse. I wouldn't let it destroy us."

After a failed attempt at homeschooling, Loerke entered a charter high school and flourished, graduating on time with her class.

"There is hope," Beth Loerke said. "I want to encourage people to report abuse. Don't worry about what others will think and the financial support you'll lose. Your priority is the best interest of a child and prevent other children from getting hurt."

Writing helped

As part of her therapy immediately after her father's conviction, Bethany started on a book.

The Justice Center distributed copies of "Justice Bear," which helps children of sexual abuse understand what is happening around them and make sense of their emotions.

"We couldn't find a kid's book to help with this, and writing helped me through it," Loerke said. "My life is more of an R-rated Lifetime movie than Hallmark."

Relationships outside her siblings, mother and grandmother are still a bit difficult to make or maintain. She doesn't give her trust or faith in people easily.

But time, reflection, a supportive family and therapy have provided ways to cope.

"Now, when I look at things and face those awkward, weird triggers, I get angry," she said. "But then I find my place. I say a prayer and know that good came from this. I have a lot to be thankful for and make a list of those.

"It's a tear-down process. But sometimes I still feel like I'm that 11-year-old girl, sitting there thinking about what to do next."

Since high school, Loerke pursued a dance career, which has been shelved because of injuries. She's turning her attention to college, with plans to work in the medical field. She has a steady boyfriend - a first for her - and is working in retail.

She doesn't dwell on the dark ashes of her childhood, instead choosing to forge ahead with a smile surrounded by people who love her.

But she worries about those who don't have her safety net.

She wants people to understand the link between childhood trauma and later juvenile delinquency.

"Those kids aren't bad seeds," she said. "All they need is someone to stick by them. It sounds so basic, but it's easier said than done. They need someone - like my mom was for me - to be constantly wrapped around them and who won't let go."

Original Print Headline: Child abuse survivor tells story to help other victims

Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376


By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer

2012 May 24