Impact Statement gives rape victims a chance to speak out

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BEN BENTLEY
  • Ben Bentley

From the time she was nine until she was 13, Sasha Hatfield's stepfather repeatedly raped her. Her case had a more satisfying conclusion than most: this past summer, after a long and drawn-out legal process, including a jury trial during which she testified and read an impact statement about how the rapes had affected her, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 to 40 years in prison.

"It was a surreal experience," Hatfield, who is now 29, says about the trial. "The scariest part was talking about the gory details while he was in speaking distance. There was a seed of doubt about whether it was worth doing. But I went up and said what I had to say."

After the verdict was read, Hatfield went downstairs to the room in the courthouse where her baby son was napping. She sat with him for a while and tried to think about what to do next. Hatfield is an actor by profession; currently she and her husband, Byron, own the Public House Theatre in Lakeview, where she's the managing director. But she was finding little meaning in her day-to-day work. She'd considered becoming a lawyer to prosecute other cases like hers, but her own lawyer warned her that trials, let alone convictions, are extremely rare, and that if she wanted to give back and offer advocacy and support to other victims, she should try to work with skills she already had.

"I thought about the impact statement," she says, "about getting to write and say it. I was sitting there and listening to the defense pick apart my testimony. It made me doubt myself. I had a clear memory, but when people say you made it up, you begin to doubt. And then having those doubts all wash away in court after the statement. . . I want everyone to have the same catharsis."

And so on Wednesday, January 11, the Public House will host Impact Statement, an event during which people who've been raped can read their own three-to-seven-minute impact statements to an audience—or have someone else read their statements for them. Proceeds from the event will benefit Planned Parenthood and Rape Victim Advocates.

"I wouldn't recommend a trial for most people," Hatfield says. "What I want [at Impact Statement] is to keep the legal stuff out, but to give people a chance to address what happened and speak out in a room where they will be believed. There's so much power in hearing yourself say what happened."

Hatfield is aware that reading an impact statement in public, even if it's not in court, can be a difficult experience. So far, five people have committed to sharing their stories, though she's not sure if everyone will show up. Several more people have volunteered to serve as readers, and a counselor from Rape Victim Advocates will be available as a safe person.

"If it takes 30 minutes to get through everybody, that's great," Hatfield says. "I hope it's powerful and healing. There's a way it could not be, but we have support if things become negative."

Hatfield says she's been humbled by the positive response the event has received online. Several people have approached her about reading impact statements about other forms of abuse, which has inspired her to consider making Impact Statement a regular monthly event.

"Having someone have your back," she says, "takes away the shame."

Impact Statement, Wed 1/11, 8 PM, Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark, 773-230-4770, thepubtheatre.com, $10 in advance, pay what you can at the door. If you'd like to participate, contact Hatfield at impactstatementpub@gmail.com.


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