The first question I asked was why she was so eager to go public, including naming herself and her father.
"Because at this point in time, I know of five people my father has molested and sexually abused in some fashion or another, and he's still walking the streets. My mother baby-sits children and brings them into their house. It's like bringing them in for slaughter, basically."
So began the conversation with the 31-year-old mother of two. We talked beside the pool at the Newport Beach residential complex where she lives, and over much of the next hour she detailed the sexual abuse she says her father committed against her two children and herself. She also believes her father molested two of her cousins. It was her children's allegations, she says, that 18 months ago triggered her own repressed memory of extended abuse of her as a child.
But although she was perfectly willing to identify herself and her father, I am less so. At my suggestion, she agreed to discuss her situation without naming names. I also wanted to get her opinion of the victory last week for the Northern California man who won his case against two therapists who, he claimed, implanted false memories of abuse in his daughter.
The "repressed memory" phenomenon of recent years has divided mental-health and academic professionals, some of whom accept as fact that people repress horrible events for years and others who are skeptical of belated claims of abuse.
I asked the woman, whom I'll call Sandy, her reaction to the verdict last week involving Holly Ramona and her father, Gary Ramona. Holly, now 23, claimed in 1990 that her father had molested her when she was 5 years old, continuing until she was 8. Jurors didn't totally discount that molestation occurred but supported Gary Ramona's claims of improper behavior by the therapists.
"I'm bothered by it," she said of the verdict. "Very much so, because now when someone comes forward and a therapist is called to testify, people will say, 'Yeah, he was leading her on.' What kind of credibility is there going to be for people who it really happened to and who want to make a change? I'm glad my daughter had the faith to come to me and thank God I was strong enough to finally look at my past and let it come out so I could help them."
Sandy says the story began unraveling 18 months ago when her daughter, then 5, returned from visiting Sandy's parents, who now live out of state. Sandy spotted bruises inside her daughter's thighs, but her daughter first said she fell off a bicycle. However, Sandy's son, now 12, told his mother that "I know where they came from. Papa (his name for his grandfather) did the same thing to me."
Her son then told her of an incident years before, when he was 5, when he was visiting the grandparents and his grandfather allegedly molested him in the middle of the night. Armed with that information, Sandy again asked her daughter, who said that her grandfather had touched her in her genital area.
Those disclosures opened the memory floodgates over the next few months, Sandy says. "I actually thought I was going crazy at first. I'd lay down at night and try to go to sleep, then my heart would start beating really, really fast and then it was like I couldn't breathe, like I was having a panic attack. It was like someone putting a tape into the VCR and turning that thing on. Then it replayed, but instead of just replaying the pictures, it replayed smells and feelings that came with it. It's like I was going through it all over again."
Sandy now believes she was molested between the ages of 5 and 13. She says her father engaged her in all forms of sex and that it ended only when she threatened to tell the police. I asked how she could not remember events that traumatic until 18 months ago.
"It blows me away, too," she says. "It's like my whole life has been a complete lie."
I asked if she understood why some people have trouble believing repressed-memory situations. "Why do I think I waited 31 years? I don't know. Maybe I'm at a point where I knew I'd never ever have to ask him for anything again. I didn't need nor want their financial support or their backing. . . . I didn't want to remember these things. All these things kept coming to me; Dad picking me up, putting me on the bed, him rolling over on top of me, feeling smothered. I remember him taking his white undershirt and wiping semen from between my legs."
And you had never seen those images before? "It was like watching a tape of it, a tape I'd never seen before."
She took her children's allegations to her parents' local police department and filed a complaint. Her father denies molesting anyone but attended a few therapy sessions after the local district attorney threatened him with jail, she says.
Sandy says that she's concerned about neighbors' children going to her father's home but that authorities said they can't intervene.
I asked if her mother believes the allegations. Sandy said she insisted that her mother hear Sandy's therapist detail the incidents. Her mother's response, according to Sandy, was: "If only I knew the truth. If only someone could take a magic wand and wave it in front of my face, then I would know."
Sandy says her children responded well to therapy. She also feels fine, emotionally and psychologically. "There's one good part to this, to anyone who may be reading this and has been molested. It does get better, as long as you can put it in the right frame of mind. It's something that happened, it's always going to be with you, but it doesn't have to be the major focus of your life. It's like if you've been in a bad car accident and got hurt really bad, and the pain is going to be there, but if you face the anger and the hurt, yeah, it does get better."
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.