Tiffany Horsely is a Kansas nurse, mom of three, and she has no shame about sharing that her ex husband molested and raped for more than four years their oldest daughter, Robyn. At age 17, depressed and despondent, Robyn found the courage to tell her friend, and eventually her mom, and the police the truth. Together they went through the horror that sexual assault trials are known to be, the loss of a father, and marriage, and pushed forward through grief and on to healing.
What’s more, soon after the ordeal, Robyn turned to social media to publicaly share her story, with her mom at her side. By owning her truth, she freed herself — and others — from the shame of secrets.
What is special about Robyn and Tiffany is that they are funny. Without diminishing the gravity of the trauma of their history, they have found ways to laugh at themselves and life — snapping a selfie from the back of the patrol car as they were escorted to the police station to file a rape report, Tiffany joking that she does pay alimony to her incarcerated ex — by way of taxes.
The Crimes Against Children Research Center reports:
- 1 in 5 girls, and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse
- 20% of adult women and 5 to 10% of adult men remeMber a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident
- During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth were sexually victimized
A National Institute of Justice report found that 3 out of 4 adolescents who had been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows 1.6 % of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were victims of rape/sexual assault.
What to do if you or someone you know is a rape, sexual assault or incest victim
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. This is a core service of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. 800.656.HOPE (4673)
If you’re not a member of Millionaire Single Moms, my Facebook group for ambitious mothers seeking independence and full lives (no income requirements), please join. Nearly 4,000 women chatting all day about career, money, parenting, dating, sex and living awesome lives. Click here to join.
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Transcript of interview with Tiffany and Robyn Horsley, “My husband was raping my daughter”:
Emma: In this episode, I interview Tiffany and Robyn Horsley. I met Tiffany over the last couple of years. She’s been a very active member of one of my online communities for single moms; this one is Millionaire Single Moms. She’s just this wonderful, lovely woman, and part of her story is that her ex-husband is in jail. She has three children and she’s very public about the fact that her husband raped her daughter. She is very public about this, in part, because her daughter who was 17 at the time that she came forward about years of rape and abuse, was very public from the very early days of their story on social media, and with people in their small community in Kansas.
I’m very honored that they chose to share their story with us here on the show and they chose me and this show to do that. It takes so much courage, and we know that sexual abuse is so common. Incest is sadly, so common. I think you’ll really appreciate the candor and the love between the two of them, and even their sense of humor. We get into this on the show, but I often think of this really funny thing that Tiffany said in this online community. We were talking about women who pay alimony or child support to their ex’s and she said, in light of her ex, being in jail, “Well, there was talk from the beginning that I might have to pay him alimony, but I pay my taxes, so that’s what I consider alimony.” Just to give you a little sneak preview of the spirit of this episode.
Robyn, why don’t you tell me what was happening in your life two years ago?
“I was trying desperately to be a senior in high school, and have fun with my friends, and just hang out, and chill.”
Robyn: I was a senior in high school, and I was trying desperately to be a senior in high school, and have fun with my friends, and just hang out, and chill. I was in marching band, so I had a lot of after school stuff that I was doing. I was just kind of living, but also not.
Emma: Because what? What else was happening in your life?
Robyn: Well, I’m just going to refer to him as my dad. I don’t really call him that a whole lot anymore, but it’s just easier. My dad at the time was molesting me at that point in my life.
Emma: Two years ago, you are a 17-year-old teenager. From what you described it sounds like you were living a “normal” teenage life. How did you feel? What was happening in your emotional and mental world?
Robyn: Honestly, I would try not to ask to go extra stuff unless it was specifically for school because I hated having to. He would force me to have sex with him for anything I wanted to do that wasn’t required for school. I would just sit in my room and be miserable because I didn’t want to go out and ask to go out, so I would have to put out for him.
Emma: Did you have a social life? Did you have any kind of social or emotional connection to anybody at this time?
Robyn: My best friend at that time was the only person I ever talked to. His name was Grayson, and we spent all of our time together, because he was in color guard with me, and he’s actually the reason that I ended up telling my mom about my dad. That was my social, emotional, everything at that time.
Emma: Because he was somebody that you could confide in?
Robyn: Yeah, definitely.
Emma: How long had the abuse been going on by then?
Robyn: At that point, five years. It started when I was about 11 or 12.
Emma: This is your adoptive father? Explain the relationship exactly.
Robyn: I never knew my biological dad, so he was pretty much my only dad, ever. He married my mom and then when I was in third grade he adopted me. Stepdad turned adoptive dad.
Emma: Then Tiffany, after you married you went on to have a couple biological children with him?
Tiffany: Right, we had two other children together.
Emma: Robyn, what was the breaking point? At what point, because this had been going on for five or six years, did you feel the need to go and tell your mom?
Robyn: I was going to youth group with Grayson and a couple other of my friends, and somehow the conversation got a little bit talking about heaven and hell, and I kind of was just really emotional about it for some reason. I told Grayson, “It really doesn’t matter, I’m going to hell anyway. It doesn’t matter what I do.” It took a lot of pulling from him and he kind of just got it out of me. I had wanted to tell people for so long, but I also was just afraid of what was going to happen. At that point, I was just done. I was so broken that I just needed to get it out.
When I told him, I made him swear on his life that he would not tell anybody, ever. He convinced me to let him tell his mom because his mom had had the same or similar situation. Not exactly, but similar. She sat down and talked to me, and we talked about that. She told me I needed to tell my mom. I said, “No, absolutely not. No way. I don’t want to tell my family about it.”
Emma: What was the fear? What were you afraid would happen if you told the truth?
“I thought if I told, everyone would hate me and I would lose everyone.”
Robyn: I didn’t want to lose my family. I didn’t want to lose my friends. I viewed myself as a prostitute. I thought everyone was literally just going to hate me. My mom is going to hate me, my siblings are going to hate me, it’s going to be awful. I’m going to lose everybody.
Emma: Because you worry that they would blame you?
Emma: Did you see that he was doing something wrong?
Robyn: It took me a really long time, but yeah, I knew what was going on was completely awful. I also didn’t blame him either. It took all of my friends telling me, “Dude, this has nothing to do with you. This is not your fault.”
Emma: Did he say things that made you think it was your fault because you were choosing that you wanted to go out with your friends and you had to have sex. He made it so it was a choice you were making, as part of the abuse?
Robyn: Yeah, that’s actually spot on.
Emma: It seems like you were very fortunate to have your friend Grayson and his mom to support you and tell your mom. Did they know your mom?
Robyn: Grayson did. Grayson was around a lot. His mom and my mom met eventually, maybe once or twice before, because my younger brother and his younger brothers were the same age and they played football and stuff together. They probably met in passing.
Emma: It wasn’t like a family friend situation?
Emma: Tiffany, maybe you can tell me, what happened when you heard this news? Explain the situation.
Tiffany: Sure. We were just having a normal Thursday night. We had gone to my daughter’s music program and went back home. Robyn had text me, she was working, and said, “Hey, when I get home can we go for a drive?” She came home and I went out to the car and I told him when we walked out the door, I said, “Okay, I’m gonna go for a drive with Robyn. I’m not sure what she wants to talk to me about. We’re probably going to be grandparents.” And I told him I loved him and I’d see him in a little bit. I walked out the door and got in the car with Robyn.
We drove up the street to a little park, and Robyn asked me, did I love her. I said, “Well, of course, I do.” And she said, “And you’ll love me no matter what?” I said, “Well, yeah.” Then she told me that her dad had been raping her since she was 12 years old.
Emma: How did you feel?
“I felt I’d had my feet knocked out from under me.”
Tiffany: Like I’d had my feet knocked out from under me. One of those, fall flat on your back, just takes your breath away. I just took a deep breath and I said, “Okay. You understand that this is an incredibly serious accusation?” Obviously, it was something I didn’t want to be true, but I didn’t have any reason to disbelieve it either.
Emma: Was your initial reaction to believe her or not to believe her?
Tiffany: I believed her, as much as I didn’t want to. Obviously, not like she never told me a lie, but I mean, she was not a kid that stirred up trouble like that. I didn’t have any reason not to believe her, so I did.
Emma: That’s like a giant, giant bomb. Robyn, what do you remember feeling when you’d finally told your mom after all of those years?
Robyn: Well, at first, because she had reassured me, “I’m always going to love you.” I was like, “Okay, yeah, whatever. Good luck, but we’ll see what happens.” I told her and I had to repeat it a couple of times because I was in hysterics the first time I told her. She was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. Repeat that again. What’s going on?”
After I told her the second time and she understood what I was saying, she kind of just held my hand and we were both crying. I just felt a lot of relief that I still had my mom and that she was going to help me through it. She kept telling me, “It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to get through this.” I just felt an immense amount of relief. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it in my life, that amazing amount of relief. The fear wasn’t completely gone, but that fear of telling her was blown away.
Emma: Walk me through what happens next. You’re in the car, at the park, down the street, and this man is at home with your other kids. Another Thursday night. What happens? What’s the next step that happened?
Tiffany: We had just, in the last six months, moved to this town and I was working and he was not. We had relocated for my job. He really kind of had control over paying all the bills and all the household running type of activities. Because it was all new, in this new town, I didn’t know passwords, I didn’t know what all accounts were what. So, I told Robyn, “We’re going to go home, and I’m going to take care of this, but I need to think about this for a minute because I don’t know exactly the best steps to take to go about it.” I said, “We’re gonna just go home and act like nothing. I need some time to figure this out and get this information.” I didn’t want to just walk in the door and be like, “Get the heck out of here.” I needed to think about it and figure out my next best steps.
Emma: How long was it before you took that next step, and what was that next step?
Tiffany: I think, truthfully, he knew the minute I walked out the door and said that Robyn wanted to talk to me, I think he probably knew the game was up.
Robyn: Oh no, he knew way before that. Honestly, because he was texting me at work after I texted my mom and said I needed to talk to her, he had texted me and was like, “Well, why can’t you talk to me about it?” I was like, “I just need to talk to my mom.” A few hours later he texted me again, “I made your favorite dinner. I made root beer floats. I know you love root beer floats.” I just wasn’t texting him back. I could tell that he knew because he was just, “What are you going to talk to her about? What is it? What is it?”
Emma: Yeah, he knew. How long though was it that you guys were kind of keeping your cool in the house and then what was that next step?
Tiffany: It wasn’t very long. Robyn went to her room and closed the door. He asked me, “What was that all about?” I was like, “Oh, just some boy trouble.” And I went back to our room. I have a bedroom with a bathroom inside of it. I went in my room and closed the door and I went in the bathroom and closed the door and I started trying to call a newer acquaintance who had become a friend in the town I lived in who was a social worker. That was my first thought was, I’m not exactly even sure, do I just call 9-1-1? I wasn’t sure what to do, legally.
“We need to call the police.”
I couldn’t get ahold of her and I ended up calling my best friend who lived about an hour away. We had been friends since we were about 12 years old and she works for an attorney. Ann, there was a history of sexual abuse in her family as well, so she was maybe just kind of familiar with what to do. I called her and said, “Hey, here’s what Robyn has told me.” And she said, “Do you have any reason to doubt it?” and I said, “No.” She said, “Okay, then we need to call the police.” I said, “Okay, but I need to get this financial information. I need to figure out the running of the house. The other thing is, I’ve got two other kids asleep in bed. How traumatic would that be for them to wake up in the middle of the night to the cops hauling their dad off?”
About that time, he came and knocked on the door and said, “We need to talk.” In hindsight, maybe this was dumb, but I went out with him into the garage, just because it was quiet and he didn’t want the kids to hear anything. He said, “I know what Robyn told you and she’s telling you the truth.”
Tiffany: He did admit to me that that had been happening. I was like, “So, you mean to tell me, you’ve been having sex with our daughter?” And he confirmed that.
Later down the road, he tried to say in court that I misunderstood what we were talking about. But no. I very specifically asked him, and he very specifically said yes. Of course, you know, he blamed her, he blamed me, he blamed moving, anything. From that moment, I remember when he said that, I’ve never felt this way before or since, I literally could not stand up. I leaned back against the wall in the garage and lowered myself to the floor and sat on the floor in the garage. I just couldn’t even hold myself up anymore.
Emma: Explain what your life looked like. What was this guy like? What did he do for work? What kind of person did he seem to be? Paint the picture that the outside world saw, and paint your version of what you saw, Tiffany, as someone living in the same house in this family.
Tiffany: I met this guy, and right away I met his whole family. This big Catholic family, nine kids, mom and dad, tons of grandkids and even eventually some great-grandkids. We were very involved with things in his family. He moved to live in the same hometown that I lived in and where my parents and grandparents were. He got a job at the John Deere manufacturing, which is the biggest employer in the area. He’s got this very stable, blue-collar job, and I’m a nurse and we’re having kids and living in this small town and we went to church every Sunday, I sang the music every Sunday morning. Robyn sang with me, too.
We ended up moving into a farmhouse that had been my grandparent’s house. It was on the same acreage with my parents. So, we saw my parents a lot and saw my grandparents a lot. If my dad had projects, he and Greg would work on them together. If my mom was out in the garden, he would go out and help her in the garden. I mean, we would have the priest over for dinner for pete sake.
Emma: When you met him, you were a single mom, and Robyn’s dad was not in the picture?
Emma: Looking back, what was the story? Had he been married before? What was his relationship history?
Robyn: He was common-law married.
Tiffany: No, he was married.
Robyn: They weren’t married in a church.
Tiffany: They weren’t married in church, but they were legally married. They got married in a park. So, in the Catholic church, that’s iffy if it’s a real marriage, but legally it was. He was married for 8 years, 9 years. They never had children. She loved animals and that was their thing, they had dogs. He liked to hunt and fish. He was still even friends with her dad. He had friends from throughout, that I really, really looked back and examined this a lot to see, did I miss some big, red, glaring flag? I can’t find any.
Robyn: No, there’s really nothing.
Emma: Tiffany, all those years though, your daughter is being raped, in your house, by your husband.
Emma: And this happened? When did this happen? Time of day? Or, how did this happen?
Robyn: I specifically can’t tell you the first time that the actual intercourse started happening, but I do remember that I’d come home from school when I was still in elementary school, we lived a couple blocks from my school and it was like, I got my period in sixth grade. I remember that because he would give me massages because the cramps would hurt. He would give me massages and it would be after school. As time went on, it was just all the time. My mom wasn’t home, he’d go in my room, go in my room, go in your room. I would refuse to let him do anything in my room because my room was my safe place. That was my one place that I had that I could just go in and be by myself and feel safe. He would always tell me, “Go in the barn. Go to my room.” It didn’t matter.
My mom moved to Topeka in January, and we moved in March. That whole two or three-month stretch, it was all the time. As soon as I got home from school. In the middle of the night. Or if I didn’t have school, all day. There wasn’t a certain time of day. It was whenever he wanted it, that’s when it happened.
Tiffany: Before I moved, because I moved two months before they did, but before that, there was a while I worked the night shift. I was kind of the parent that did the school volunteering. If there was a PTA meeting or band boosters. I was very active in things in the community. At the end of my workday, I would go be doing other things a lot of times.
Emma: It’s hard as a mother, and I know there’s other mothers listening to this saying, “There must have been a clue. Looking back, he must have been being weird? Your daughter must have been giving you clues? There must have been some signs that you missed or chose to ignore?” What do you say to those questions?
Robyn: I can answer that by saying I did not want my mom to know. The whole time, he kind of just drove it into my head that no one would believe that this was going on. “Don’t tell anybody, it could mess up a lot of things.” I did at one point, try to tell my two best friends in eighth grade. I tried to tell them and they didn’t really believe me, so I just brushed it off and played it off as a joke. I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.” And after that, I was dead set on never telling anybody and no one is ever going to believe me. I kept it hidden really, really well. At least, I thought I did. There was a few people in our church that were like, “Yeah, I knew that was going on.”
Emma: Tiffany, you know what I have to notice though is that I asked your mom, I asked Tiffany the question, didn’t you see it? And Robyn, you jumped in and protected your mom and you took responsibility.
Tiffany: I thought, there were some things that looking back now if Robyn would have a bad grade, I would take away her cell phone maybe for a week and two days later he’s giving it back to her. I’d get really mad about that, but I just thought, “Oh, he’s being soft on her.” It wasn’t anything that independently I was like, “Oh yeah, they’re hitting it.” None of the things in and of themselves pointed to that.
Emma: Now in hindsight, now that you know the truth, can you look back and see that there were little signs or little clues? Or was there really none at all?
Tiffany: I still don’t think that they were clues. You know, a dad gives his daughter back her phone a few days early, then mom’s bad. Or he would buy her some clothes and then he would fuss at me because I would buy myself clothes. I don’t know. None of that screamed, “I’m having sex with my daughter.”
Emma: No, of course not. People must ask you, how was your marriage? How was your sex life as a couple?
Tiffany: That was one of the very first things that I got commented to a lot and asked a lot was, how was our sex life. It was regular. I would say it was at least weekly. Honestly, it was not as often as I would have liked. He would say, “I’m tired.” Or his main thing was that he had psoriatic arthritis and so he would get psoriasis plaques and one of them was kind of at the base of his penis and he would be like, “Yeah, no, this is really hurting me. I can’t do it. The psoriasis is really flared up.”
Emma: Yeah, and I’m asking myself this question as I’m asking you. It’s almost like blaming the mother, right? Like, “Oh, well it’s your fault because the sex—” It’s a lot of, maybe, blame going on.
Tiffany: And I tell you the other thing that I got a lot was, “Had you let yourself go?”
Tiffany: “Had you gained a lot of weight?”, “Had you—” whatever it is we do as women when we get into the middle of those child-rearing, busy, busy years. The fact of the matter is, not so much.
Robyn: She got hot.
Tiffany: I feel like I’m better than I’ve ever been and I was three years ago when this all broke out.
Emma: Well, the fact that you feel like you even need to answer that question. It’s blaming you, for somebody that’s a pedophile.
Tiffany: And that’s exactly what I would respond was, “No, but even if I had, is it okay for him to have done what he did?” If you’re not happy in your marriage, you go find some consenting adult to have an affair with. That’s not okay either, but it’s much more okay.
Robyn: I also think that some of the people that would ask those questions weren’t necessarily trying to blame me or her. They wanted a reason why. There really wasn’t a reason why and it’s a lot easier to kind of comprehend my situation if you have a reason why. A lot of people just didn’t understand why would he do that? There isn’t a why. We don’t know why. I mean, he might know why, but no one else really does.
Emma: Do you feel the need to find out why, yourselves?
Robyn: Honestly, I don’t ever want to talk to him again. Other than if, maybe, I can go punch him in the face once or twice. I could be cool with that. But, I don’t really care what his reason or explanation is. He took away a lot of my life and I’m slowly, but surely, getting that back. I don’t need any type of explanation from him. I’m happy with things the way they are.
Emma: Maybe not an explanation from him, but within yourself, do you feel the need to understand he’s mentally ill or he was maybe abused himself. Not for an apology or not anything from him, I guess my question is, how are you healing. What is your goal with healing and how are you with healing?
Robyn: For the first six months, I was all a mess. I was having anxiety attacks every single day. He wasn’t arrested yet when I was going crazy. He was “hiding” I guess. I would a car that looked like his and freak out. And lose my mind. He got arrested and once he got arrested, everything kind of just went uphill. We had rough patches where my brother didn’t really understand what was going on and my dad was convincing my brother, via letters, that I was lying and my mom was lying. It took a while to get past all that. Once we got kind of through all the bump stuff, right now I am healthy, I am happy. Really the only thing that would make me happier is if I can be somebody, someone else’s reason to talk, or somebody’s reason to live. I just want to help. I want to help other victims. That’s probably the only thing that could help me in any type of way, is if I can help other victims. Other than that, I think I’m in a really good place.
Emma: Just briefly, he admitted it and then what happened? Did somebody call the police? What were the next legal steps, and what was that like to go through?
Tiffany: He was begging me, “Please, please, can we at least talk to a priest?” I guess because we were Catholic. We were in church every Sunday, and he said, “Please, can we just go talk to a priest about this?” Actually, my though was a priest is a mandatory reporter, so if we go into a priest and he admits this, the priest will have to report him and then I wouldn’t have to do it myself.
I said, “Okay, first thing in the morning. As soon as the two little kids get on the bus, you and I, and Robyn will go meet with the priest.”
Emma: Tiffany, why did you agree to that? Why not just go straight to the police yourself?
Tiffany: I think I was still probably still a lot, in shock.
Robyn: We wanted the kids to be able to say goodbye.
Tiffany: Well, I didn’t want to traumatize the little ones. I wanted their lives to feel very normal, this is their dad.
I’m still processing all this stuff. To me, it felt very much that night, I didn’t sleep at all, all night long. He was there and he just kept talking to me and there was a lot of reminiscing going on and I just remember telling him, “If you’d had told me that tonight was the last night I would spend, and never see you again, never would have believed this.” It was like sitting vigil with a dying person to me. The husband that I thought I was married to died and this other person was there. I was maybe grieving the loss of my husband.
I’ve sat with lots of people when they’ve died and I just keep coming back to that. It felt like that was the death of my husband that night.
Emma: You did agree to go to the church, which was a big part of your life, the next day?
Robyn: We actually didn’t end up doing that because it was a Friday morning and I don’t know if you know, but priests do masses and confessions and so much stuff on Friday morning. Friday’s are crazy busy. We called every Catholic priest in Topeka and they were all busy, they couldn’t get in until next week or until tomorrow.
Tiffany: Or later in the afternoon.
Robyn: I personally did not want that. I wanted him gone. He kept trying to talk to me and put his hand on my shoulders and I was like, “Stop. Stop.”
My mom and I actually went outside and we were on the phone with Melissa at that point, one of your other good friends, and I remember he came outside while she was on the phone and I was just sitting with her because I didn’t want to be in the house alone with him. He came outside and he cleared his throat and kind of got our attention and he said, “You guys, I’m scared.”
I remember just kind of like snorting. I couldn’t hold back my laughter at that phrase. You’re scared? Yeah? Are you? He said,
“I’ve been looking online and I’ve been going through stuff. I could go jail for like 14 to 30 some years. That’s like the rest of my life. That’s a big deal.”
I went, “Awe, man. You poor thing.”
Emma: It’s all about him. Tiffany, at what point did you take action?
Tiffany: My friend that I called that’s been my friend since I was 12, Andrea, she had been texting me all night long. “Are you okay? What’s going on?” She said, “Let me call the police. You need to call the police. This is bullshit. This has gone on too long. You need to call the police. If it’s not safe for you to call the police, you type in your address right now and I will have the police come to your house.” So I did that.
I think he kind of knew his time was up. He started taking stuff out to his vehicle and loading it up. He said, “This is just too stressful here for me, I gotta go. I’m gonna go stay with my brother for a few days until you calm down.”
Robyn: He said it was a hostile environment for him.
Emma: Whatever. So, the cops come and he left, and then did you file the report?
Robyn: Yes. They all talked to me. I remember I was holding my teddy bear, wearing my letter jacket, and they’re all talking to me and asking me all the same questions. I remember getting so frustrated, like, “I have told you this a hundred time.”
They kept asking me what it felt like. It felt like they didn’t believe what I was saying. They kept asking me all these questions, but it was the same question, only twisted to almost kind of try to get me off track or something. They were like, “Okay, well we’ve written this all down. We need to go take you to the hospital now.” They wanted to run a rape kit and question me further at the hospital. I was like, “Alright.”
They loaded me up. And, did you ride in the police car with me?
Tiffany: Yeah, so here’s the thing with that. This is nothing that any experience in my whole life has ever prepared me for. The police are at my house and they’re asking me these questions, they’re asking her these questions and I’m hearing more details than I’ve ever heard as she’s answering their questions. It was so surreal and I just, I don’t think I was really processing how am I actually going to get through this?
We went to the hospital and they took us in the back of the police car and this is when I knew that we would be okay. Robyn has her phone and she snaps a selfie of she and I sitting in the back of a police car, because we’ve never been in the back of a police car before, and she puts it out on the Twitter or something like, “First ride in the back of a cop car.” Or something.
It was like, you know what? If after the night that we have just had and the five years that she has just had, that we can laugh, we’re going to be okay.
Emma: That’s beautiful. Oh man, and Tiffany, you and I know each other because you’re part of some of my single mom communities, and you’re funny about it. You are funny. I am going to talk about being public about that in a moment, but first, these cases are notoriously horrible to prosecute because it sounds like you’re already experiencing it right in your own home and you have to tell this horrible story over and over and over again.
Robyn: I think it’s not telling the story that’s hard. The whole court process was absolutely ridiculous. His attorney was, excuse my language, she was the biggest bitch I have ever encountered. Oh, my goodness.
Tiffany: She was pretty awful.
Robyn: When I was on the stand she was trying so hard to make me out to be this liar. When my mom was on the stand, I could handle it when I was on the stand, but when my mom was on the stand and she was trying to make my mom sounds like the guilty one like my mom had done something wrong? I almost lost it. That was really the hardest part was having to listen to people argue that me and my mom are the ones that had done something wrong in this scenario.
Tiffany: She didn’t get one over on me. I can out-bitch her any day.
Emma: How old were the two younger boys at that time?
Robyn: Well, Rachel and Joseph, it’s a girl and a boy, Rachel was 11 when I told— No, 10. And Joseph would have been 12.
Emma: Robyn, were you worried that your dad was going to start abusing your sister?
Robyn: That’s actually the complete, entire reason that I told my mom. Because, I was talking to Grayson’s mom and she had brought up, “How old were you when this first started happening?” And I said, “Like 11 or 12.” I kept saying, “I just want to go off to college and never come back. Just never come back and it will be okay.” She said, “Okay, well when you go to college how old is your sister going to be?” I was like, “I don’t know, like 11 or 12.” And it clicked in my head like a lightbulb and I was like, oh no, absolutely fucking not. You are not laying a hand on my baby sister. The next day, I told my mom.
Emma: Wow. How did this go down to tell the younger kids about all of this? How did you explain it to them?
Tiffany: I kind of did it differently for each of them. We were watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes, the Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock Holmes, so Joseph thought that he was a detective anyway and I tried to be discreet about things but it’s a small house and sometimes I’m on the phone and sometimes he would hear Robyn talking about things or me talking about things and he’s kind of like, “Mom, I know what you guys are talking about and I wish you would just talk to me about it.”
He told the kids, “I have this problem. I have to go get help for it. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.” That’s how he left things with the two younger kids before they went to school, was that, “I’m going to be leaving, I don’t know when I’ll see you again. I’m sick, I have to get some help. I love you.” That was it.
The kids wanted to know what’s wrong with dad? Does he have cancer? What’s wrong with dad? I told Joseph and he was 12 and I was a little more open with him because he was a little more mature and knew more about sex. I also had to make sure and ask the kids, “Has this ever happened to you? Has there been any touching? Has there been any suggestions?” Or whatever. Rachel, she was 10 and much more innocent about things and so I kind of did it in two separate things. “Dad’s gone away, he hurt Robyn.” That was one conversation and the other conversation was, “You know about good touch and bad touch and has anyone touched you?” I kind of split it up into smaller bites for her.
Emma: At any point was there professional help? Like you said, there’s no playbook for this in life. When your daughter comes to you and tells you that her dad’s been raping her. Do you call the police? You had to figure that out. The standard issue advice is to go see a therapist. We think therapy is the answer for everything. It does help many people. What has been your protocol for moving through this?
Tiffany: My immediate concern was getting Robyn into some counseling. I did that right away and she started seeing someone just through my insurance. I live in a city, but it’s a small town really. She started seeing someone immediately and then I kind of worked out because my employer also has an employee assistance program, I also tried to figure out how I was going to be the sole supporter. Even though I was anyway, it was a little scary. I took advantage of my employee benefit and I got the younger two into counseling as well. I waited about another year at least before I went to counseling. I figured I needed to get myself straightened up a little bit before I talked to somebody about it.
Emma: There’s so many things going on and you’re dealing with this giant bomb of abuse in your family. There’s a divorce, there’s the financial pressures and going through all the legal hell. This was just two years ago, which is not long ago.
Tiffany: Right. He left almost exactly two years ago. My divorce was final—
Robyn: About a year and a half ago.
Tiffany: Yeah, it took about eight or nine months to get the divorce through. That was just because his attorney took a long time. I’m sure with him being incarcerated the paperwork was slow moving and whatever. There was no contest. The criminal trial—
Robyn: That was forever.
Tiffany: One year from the day that Robyn told me, was the day that we had his plea hearing. A year sounds like a really long time to live through something like that, but in hearing other stories, it was really fast. The symmetry of it, being exactly one year from the day I found out felt very appropriate.
Emma: Where is he in jail? How far away is it from where you live?
Tiffany: It’s about two to three hours.
Emma: Do you have any contact with him at all?
Robyn: Absolutely not.
Tiffany: As part of the divorce he had asked for visitation with the kids and the judge specifically said, “No, that’s not in the best interest of the children. You may communicate with them by letter and their mother will help them to write you back.” So that is what we did. He could write the kids letters and I read every single one of them before they got them and we took pictures of them. They were able to write him back. I didn’t force them. I said, “If you guys want to write your dad, I will make sure. If you need anything to do that, let me know. A stamp or an envelope or whatever.” I would always facilitate sending the letters back.
This past summer, probably about April, they changed the statute in our state that because his victim was under the age of 18, he is not allowed to have communication with anyone under the age of 18 until he’s completed the sex offender treatment program. There’s an 18-month waiting list for that in our state and he’s not in it yet.
Emma: How do you feel about that? Robyn, you’re an adult now. You can make your own decisions and you’ve said very clearly that you want nothing to do with him, which is, of course, totally understandable. Tiffany, because you’re the steward of any kind of relationship that he can have with the younger kids. How do you feel about that? It’s changed, right? Initially, he could have some written contact with them, now he can’t at all. What’s your feeling about all that
Tiffany: Part of me is relieved because the letters were a little twisty. He wrote Rachel that he couldn’t wait to be out of jail so he could cuddle under the covers with her. Also, lost of bible verses. To my son, he would write verses to my son about divorce and how divorce is wrong.
Robyn: He made himself out to be a saint. He literally wrote in one of his letters to Joseph, that because of his sufferings, he’s going to get all of our family into heaven.
Emma: That’s crazy. That’s insane. That’s an insane person speaking. The way you describe him, he wasn’t insane. He was a normal, functioning, insane person that was able to live a normal, adult, middle class, married life.
Emma: Now, Robyn, you’ve been so public. Both of you have been so public about this. Can you speak about that? About your local community, national? This is something that’s on the internet, it’s going to be out there for the rest of your life, we can be safe to presume.
Why? Why be public about the rape?
Tiffany: That time that Robyn described that was just really tough for her, she was a senior. I get up and we’re getting ready for school in the mornings, she’s got her own car and sometimes she would be like, “I have a late start.” And I notice she’s not going to school. They didn’t have power school that notified you of every class that your kid missed at that time, or I didn’t have it on my phone.
Robyn: I wasn’t not going to school. I wasn’t going to physics.
Tiffany: Finally one day I was like, “Look, I don’t hold any of this against you, but what I’m doing right now for our family to keep us all afloat and together, it’s hard. It’s really hard. I’m doing this for you, and for Joe and Rachel. I’m getting up every day and I’m going to work every day and I don’t feel like going to work. I don’t feel like getting up. But, I’m doing it because it’s what we have to do. You need to get up, put your big girl panties on, and go and do your stuff. That’s just what we do. We’re not victims and he doesn’t win and we’re going to win.”
Robyn: I think definitely the reason I didn’t go public with it immediately was because I was still in high school. I didn’t need all of that drama. I had enough high school band drama and teenage girl drama. I had enough of all of that. Trying to add in, “Hi, my name’s Robyn, I’ve been raped by my dad.” That’s a lot more drama than I ever wanted to have in high school. I wasn’t really ready and I wasn’t emotionally ready either for a lot of people to know. I had only told a few close friends in Coffeyville. Even the whole town of Coffeyville didn’t quite know yet until I was ready for them to know.
Once I hit that point where I was like, “Okay, look, alright, I’ve been playing the victim card. I’m over it. I’m so over it. I am gonna follow after my mom and I’m going to be strong about this.” Once I decided to do that, most of my anxiety attacks stopped, most of my feeling sad all the time stopped and I started feeling empowered.
Emma: That’s so interesting, because you were afraid, after having gone through all of this. Now you’re afraid that other people would know. They would judge you. You’d be ostracised. You put out a big Facebook post and explained it. I read it. It’s very eloquent. Then you owned it and it was yours and no one could ever hurt you with that ever again.
Robyn: Yeah. That was probably the first specific post I’ve made. I’ve made some pretty cryptic posts before, but that’s the first actual specific post I’ve ever made. I was like, “You know what, it has been two years and most of the people that I know, know what has happened. So, it’s not going to be a huge surprise.” I was kind of just like, “To the people that don’t know. I’m very sorry that this is how you’re finding out, but this is what happened. This is me. I love myself and I love my life. I have a good life. I have the best support system in the entire world. I believe now it’s time that I want to be public.” I want to write a book at some point and if I wait 20 years for people to find out, once I eventually, maybe, get this book published and they find out that way, it’s going to be a lot more difficult, I think, for me to explain.
Emma: One of the most poignant things I’ve heard you say in this interview is that moment when you told your mom. You told, not telling is bad, telling is good. If you continued not to tell, more bad things would have happened. Your sister, maybe other kids would have been abused. It’s just the power of telling frees you, it puts the bad people in jail. There’s so many good things that tell and so many bad things that happen when you don’t tell.
Robyn: Absolutely. I’m not saying that even if you tell it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows, I promise that’s not going to be the case. It’s going to be a whole lot better than if you don’t. If you don’t tell, then you’re just kind of living by yourself. You’re going to be around people or whatever, but you’re going to feel completely exiled from everybody because you have that giant secret that you can’t tell anybody, or you feel like you can’t tell anyone. You can. And you should. It’s just so much better if you do because just that feeling of relief and support. I have had so many people I don’t even know supporting me and cheering for me. I thought I wasn’t going to have anybody and I had everybody on my side.
Emma: That’s so interesting. Tiffany, now that you’re on the other side of it, you went through your trauma too, right? What do you take away from this experience and your daughter’s strength for telling and your own experiences?
Tiffany: I was always fairly confident. Since the last several years, growing in my profession and improving myself personally, I don’t think I was a mousy, shy person or anything. I also was pretty comfortable with my marriage and with my life the way it was, and without having to be the only one responsible for things. There’s that saying, “When strong is the only choice you have, then you know how strong you can be.” I had to step up my game, and it wasn’t easy, but it’s just been one step at a time that I’ve made it. Every single day I’ve made it. Some days I didn’t know how I was going to, and it didn’t matter. I just kept going.
Emma: In this Facebook group that we’re part of, you said recently, which is what inspired me to reach out to you and have this interview in the first place, you said, “Some days, as a mom, as a woman, as a professional, I’m having such a hard time. Then I think about how strong my daughter was, and I’m inspired.” That was really beautiful.
Tiffany: I don’t know how, as a mother, we do everything. We can do anything. I mean, good grief, we can give birth to our kids. There isn’t anything we can’t do for them and so I just have to remind myself some days of that.
Emma: And I love that you keep your sense of humor. I mean, you’re posting selfies from the back seat of the cop car. You posted this a long time ago, Tiffany, but in my Millionaire Single Moms groups, there’s a discussion about something completely different, it was about paying ex-husbands alimony, do you remember what you said? You said, “One moment, in my divorce, he suggested that maybe I should pay alimony, but I pay figured, I pay my taxes so that’s good enough.”
Robyn, I want you to speak to moms out there, listening, who are maybe facing this. Who hear from their children that they’ve been abused, or maybe they suspect it. What would you say to the mothers in that situation?
Robyn: I just think that if you suspect that something like that is happening, don’t necessarily just jump in and try to force an answer out of your kid, because that’s going to scare them a lot. Just make sure your children know that you’re there for them and that you’re going to love them unconditionally. Whether you say it or not, just make sure you show it. The only reason I’ve been able to deal with all this is because not only has my mom told me that she will love me unconditionally, she’s shown it and she has been there every step of the way. She’s been there for 2:00 AM phone calls when I’m freaking out and I need somebody to talk to. It’s all the little things that you can do for your kids. Just be there for them and listen to them. Let them tell their story and don’t try to fill in the pieces. Don’t. Because, it will feel like, “Okay, so they know more about this than I do.” I wanted to be the one who was like, “Okay, this is my story. I can tell this if I want.” Empower them. Empower them so much. If my mom hadn’t been the warrior she is and told me to strap on my big girl panties and go on and live my life, I definitely would not be here right now. I would be drugged somewhere in a ditch probably, drowning my sorrows. That’s not the way anyone wants to live. I’m just really glad that my mom has empowered me.
Emma: Tiffany, what advice would you give to mothers?
Tiffany: I think, as long as I’m aware of it, I had so many blessings that enabled me. I was financially and emotionally stable enough to stand on my own. I think that even if you think that you’re not strong enough, you are, you will, you will find that strength. There are resources. Just like you say, don’t hold yourself back to your child, I mean, never hold yourself back.
Emma: I love that you prioritize money, figuring out where the accounts were, making money because so many women stay in abusive relationships.
Whether they’re abused or their children are being abused by a male partner or a romantic partner because they can’t stand on their feet financially. That is so common. For you to prioritize earning and your career, is not because you like cute shoes, it’s because you needed to take care of your family on the most fundamental level.
Robyn: And she likes cute shoes.
Robyn: It’s okay to do both.
Emma: Right? But don’t underestimate that. I hear women say, “I don’t want to seem greedy. I don’t want to seem like the woman that only wants him for his money. Looking for sugar daddy.” No. Money is power and money keeps your kids safe, or can keep your kids safe.
Tiffany: Even when we tried to move to Topeka I said, “Look, yes, you have a good stable job, but it’s just a stable job and I’m in an upward moving career. I have done the things that I have done in my career for us so that our family can have a better lifestyle.” That was kind of my argument for even moving to the other town. I didn’t know that that lifestyle was going to be without him, but I’m glad that I did that.
Emma: Absolutely. Well, thank you both so much. I’m so proud to know you and I’m so grateful that you shared your story with the world, including on this show. Tiffany and Robyn, from Kansas, than you.
Tiffany and Robyn: Thank you.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.