A Park Rapids woman was among eight sisters, six of them victims of childhood sexual abuse by a family member, recently featured in "People" magazine.

Wanita Nosbush and her sisters were dubbed the "Amazing Eight" when they came forward in 2013 and acknowledged they had been molested as children by their father and/or their two brothers.

The Enterprise featured them in a May 3, 2017 story after they were awarded the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault's (MnCASA) AWARE award. The annual award recognizes recipients' courageous response to sexual abuse/assault and how they transform their personal adversity into prevention.

Nosbush said "People" reporter Rose Minutaglio ran across the Enterprise's story while searching for a human interest story.

"Rose called," said Nosbush. "We talked a number of times. I wanted to be sure it would highlight the positive that has come from us finding our voices and breaking the silence of childhood sexual assault."

Nosbush contacted her sisters. They discussed Minutaglio's proposal, then voted to agree to do the story. In July 2017, the Amazing Eight met with Minutaglio and a "People" photographer, makeup artist and videographer at the home of one of the sisters, near Morgan.

"The spotlight, or public speaking, is not really my thing," said Nosbush. "I did want the world to know what amazing, spiritual, giving, humble women my sisters are."

Specifically, she said, "My sisters did not need to believe the truths I told. They could have denied it happened; they could have shut me out, shamed me, fed me full of guilt. But no; they hugged me, comforted me, prayed for me. They believed me. That is where the healing began. I know I have finally put the blame, guilt and shame on the brother who victimized me 52 years ago. It is not my fault. It is not my shame. It is not my guilt."

Good from bad

Each of the sisters thought she was the only victim, until one of them spoke up at a family gathering in 2013. Only then did they realize that all but the oldest and youngest of the eight had been abused.

After their father's death, they used the short window of opportunity provided by the Child Victims Act to seek justice. Their lawsuit against their brothers ended in an undisclosed settlement. Afterward, the sisters, individually and as a group, began donating their share of the settlement to causes advocating for prevention of child sexual abuse.

In addition to thousands of dollars, the sisters have invested hundreds of hours of work organizing and sponsoring such organizations as these:

• The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in Minneapolis, devoted to ending child abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

• The New Horizons Crisis Center in Redwood Falls, a program to "advocate for, support, and empower victims of crime."

• Heartland Girls' Ranch in Benson, a trauma-informed therapeutic horse program.

• Action 169 in Fairmont, a Christian organization committed to ending sexual exploitation and substance use.

• The Redwood County Children's Advocacy Center in Redwood Falls.

• Support Within Reach, a Bemidji-based program for victims of sexual violence.

• The Hubbard County Women's Shelter in Park Rapids.

• The First Choice Pregnancy Center in New Ulm.

• 5-Stones of Appleton, Wis., a non-profit campaign targeting the sex trafficking problem.

Campaigns and events the sisters have supported include these:

• Creating/Building a Better World for Our Children events in 2016 and 2017 featuring Patty Wetterling, whose son Jacob, 11, was abducted and murdered in 1989 in St. Joseph.

• The prevention-themed programs "Safe Touch" (for grades 1-6) and "Keeping It Real (grades 7-12) performed in schools by the Illusion Theater of Minneapolis.

• A "Sparkle and Dine" fundraiser for the Heartland Girls' Ranch.

• Redwood Falls' "Start By Believing" campaign.

• The "Breaking Free" program at the Horizon Crisis Center, addressing internet sex trafficking.

• A 5-Stones billboard campaign about the link between pornography and sex trafficking.

• Whispers of Hope weighted blankets to reduce trauma victims' anxiety, sewn and donated by Nosbush's sister Clarice Platz.

• Letters, phone calls, and emails to state legislators to support the Minnesota Child Victims Act (passed in 2013), Erin's Law (a national campaign to provide age-appropriate sex education from kindergarten to 12th grade, passed in Minnesota in 2016 as "no money, no mandate"), and current House Bill 4247, which advocates say will remove the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual violence.

First time out loud

Nosbush said the sisters hoped to tell "People" about "the good that can come from the bad - that there is hope, help and healing from disclosing such deep, long-hidden secrets. We have found our voices and need to spread the word that in telling there is healing, and in healing there is hope, and help can be found in many places."

She said the sisters do not feel the "People" people kept their promises.

"'People' promised to focus on the healing and the good that came out of this," she said in a phone interview. "It didn't. It focused on the yuck." Meantime, "we're focused on moving forward and giving people hope."

The "People" story has brought the sisters a lot of feedback, including phone calls, emails and visits from people who have similar, corrosive secrets bottled up inside.

"Maybe it's a phone call from someone who just wants to talk and someone to listen, believe and encourage," Nosbush said. "I have learned from these calls, talks and emails that there are so many people, women and men, who have suffered for many years, carrying a burden that should never, ever be placed on a child."

Many of these exchanges start with words like "I never said this out loud before."

Nosbush described "one beautiful letter" she received from a woman who grew up in Park Rapids and who was abused by her brothers.

"Our stories are so similar," she marveled. "Based on the number of people who have reached out to me, this is an epidemic. I don't know how to make it stop except to talk about it, and to listen when little people come to us and say, 'Someone's hurting me.'"

With emphatic capital letters, Nosbush wrote, "I BELIEVE YOU are three very powerful words."

More words that children need to hear, she said, when they begin to open up about abuse include "You are not alone. It was not your fault."

Nosbush added, "Find your voice. Find some help. Write letters to the abuser. Burn them; shred them; mail them!"

Voice for change

This, she said, is why she supports Minnesota House Bill 4247.

"As a survivor of sexual abuse as a child," she said, "I support the end to the statute of limitations for sexual violence. I know there are many more survivors seeking healing and justice. Please give others the opportunity to heal when they are ready."

She compared this to the current situation, in which "survivors are forced to share their story in the time the criminal justice system tells them to."

The sisters are also optimistic about Erin's Law, which passed but is not required or funded. The law educates children about how to report things they do not learn to talk about at home.

"Schools teach fire drills, tornado drills, active shooter drills. Schools need to teach personal safety," Nosbush said. "What is the matter with lawmakers? One in nine children are sexually assaulted. Watch the school boards - which ones allow it to be taught? Which ones fund this important lesson? Demand it. The future depends on it."

"So many people have reached out to me," said Nosbush. "What do I do? I'm 65 years old. I can't hold this in anymore."

She and her sisters "will continue to speak out and speak up," she said. "Remaining silent sends the message to the abuser that they will not be found out. Tell, tell, tell until someone listens!"

The Amazing Eight don't want to be remembered for the yucky things that happened to them. What makes them amazing, Nosbush said, is "we broke our silence, found help, hope, healing, and now we find the joy. Each victim needs to start the journey to being a survivor."

[Sidebar] MnCASA banquet April 26

The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault is having its 12th annual sexual assault awareness, "friend-raising" and awards event at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge in St. Paul.

The event includes a banquet, a silent auction, a wine wall, and an opportunity to honor individuals and organizations statewide who are working to prevent, address, and end sexual violence.

Receiving the 2018 AWARE award will be Laurel Dean Edinburgh with Midwest Children's Resource Center, State Senator Warren Limmer, Jessica Melnik with Girls United, Irene Opsahl with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Shunu Shrestha with the Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault. Rana Alexander with Standpoint is to receive the 2018 Visionary Voice Award. Emceeing the program is Marianne Combs with Minnesota Public Radio.

For information, to donate, or to reserve tickets call 651-209-9993 or contact info@mncasa.org.