PIERRE | As a TV reporter, Jolene Loetscher told other people's stories. Now, as an advocate for childhood sexual abuse, she's telling her story, if somewhat reluctantly.
Loetscher, who was assaulted as a teenager, has started a camp for abused kids and lobbied in support of legislation to remove the statute of limitations in some cases of child rape.
She's currently helping in an effort to create a panel that would study the issue and recommend policy changes to state lawmakers. It would be called Jolene's Law Task Force.
"It's not just 'Jolene' that's going through this," Loetscher said. "I wanted it to be for all these other voiceless victims."
An estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are victims of sexual abuse.
The South Dakota Senate approved the creation of the task force last week and sent it to the House for review. As Loetscher entered the Capitol building before testifying, she hesitated, saying it happens every time she plans to relive the worst experiences of her life. Then she steels herself.
"I need to do it," Loetscher said. "I need to be able to help those women and children and adults, those men out there that can't talk about it."
She said telling her story publically allows her to be authentic with the viewers who let her into their homes during her roughly five years on KELO-TV.
"I owed it to them to be open and honest about who I was," said Loetscher, who's 4 feet 11 inches tall. "It wasn't just the image of a little petite girl chasing a tornado. She has struggles too."
The 35-year-old said those struggles started at age 15 when a respected member of her community in Wayne, Neb., sexually abused her. The experience ended her childhood abruptly and shattered her spirit, she said.
Loetscher suppressed the memory for more than a decade. She focused on her professional experiences as a journalist and entrepreneur. She and her husband started a company called Doo Gooders that collects dog droppings and donates part of the income to charity. She calls herself the Chief Doo Officer.
Loetscher said that over the years, she presented a positive face but in her late 20s was forced to confront her experience. Overwhelmed by a flood of emotions, Loetscher swallowed a bottle of pills one snowy evening. She nestled up in a white comforter between her two dogs and waited to die. When she awoke the next morning to see the sunlight coming through her blinds, she felt a new sense of purpose.
"You've got a reason that you woke up," Loetscher told herself.
As she went through therapy, her resolve grew stronger. In 2012, Loetscher started Selfspiration, a day camp for girls who have been sexually abused. This year will be the third for that camp and the first year for a boy's camp and a retreat for adult women.
The gathering shows participants they are not alone, she said.
Loetscher said she had hoped to take legal action against the man who abused her, but by the time she felt empowered to do so, the statute of limitations had expired. She could take no criminal or civil recourse, and that frustrated her.
In 2012, she worked with a former legislator to remove South Dakota's criminal statute of limitations on some child rape cases.
"I'm so excited that what I can't have — the justice that isn't going to happen for me — somebody else is going to get," Loetscher said.
Confronting the perpetrator of her abuse also provided some resolution.
In 2011, she travelled to her hometown on a two-hour trek that felt like eternity. The drive, she remembered, was eerily quiet and the white sky blended seamlessly with the snow-covered earth.
She thought her legs would give out when she faced him. But Loetscher said she stood tall and told him, "I know what you did, and I will not be quiet."