Over the weekend I briefly read through some Facebook comments regarding a story about a woman in a Burke for Governor ad who had been charged with a crime in her past. I didn’t read the full story due to time and the fact that it wouldn’t change any of my opinions.

This morning, I came across another post about this woman and recognizing that her story resembled mine, I felt it was time for me to actually read it. My heart dropped not only when I learned this was about a friend of mine but also when I read the comments on the article. It became one of those weird PTSD flashback moments. And I am not being hyperbolic, I was diagnosed with PTSD due to a very similar circumstance.

I will not get into her case and her personal story because that is not my place. If she would like me to write about it in the future, I will. But she has her children and her own sanity to consider. And laying everything out there may not be what is best for her right now. Also, she has been working incredibly hard to move forward and has no interest in defending herself by ridiculing or defaming her children’s father. She just isn’t that kind of person.

My friend, Erin, is a dedicated, loving mother to a couple of bright, lovely children. There is no doubt in my mind that those kids are her world and her love for them compares to no other. I also happen to know that Erin is a benevolent, generous, kind person who works incredibly hard on a daily basis to make this world a better place not only for her children, but the children of strangers.

When I was falsely accused of child abuse in 2005, I wanted to die. When I read the public comments made about it and me, I felt I couldn’t go on. If it hadn’t been for my daughter, I don’t know if I would still be here. The public commentary on my life and my motherhood – reading the horrible things people (who had no idea what they were talking about) were writing – someone may as well have been stabbing me in the gut. A couple of years later, I was diagnosed with PTSD.

Most days, I can live without it pressing on me very much. But then there are times when all of those feelings burst back into the forefront as though they happened only yesterday. And what has happened to Erin in these past days is a big example of that.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to run for local office. It was made pretty clear to me that after these charges (false or not) that would not be a good idea. At the time this happened, I was entering a social work program at Gateway. I was told after this that I would never be hired in that field. And now, I get turned down for jobs all of the time due to my background check. When I was writing for Patch, commenters loved to look me up and post things about that case simply because they disagreed with my politics. This affects me in different ways all of the time.

In 2012, I was asked to be in a couple of political ads. One was a commercial for a promising U.S. candidate. I was so excited. I was picking out some outfits for me and the kids when I realized that my past could cause a problem. I called the person in charge of the commercial and explained as much as I could. It was decided that I should not be involved in that way. Once again, that one incident brought up those heartbreaking emotions and disappointment all over again.

It never goes away. It may hide for a while. But it’s always there – lingering, somewhere.

When I read comments about Erin today, I wanted to scream and cry and hug her.

People need to know that ANYONE can accuse ANYONE of ANYTHING. People need to know that you are NOT considered innocent until proven guilty. People need to know that it is nearly impossible to prove you DIDN’T do something. People need to know that one questionable decision does not determine who you are – not for a day and certainly not for the rest of your life. People need to know that innocent people plead guilty ALL OF THE TIME and for many different reasons.

Our justice system is a meat grinder. And until you are a part of it – you have no clue what you would really do or how you would really react. It is terrifying and intimidating. And some defense lawyers suck and some D.A.s are crooked with an ax to grind. Sometimes a person will do whatever they have to just to make it end.

But the sad truth is – it never really ends. And now I have to see my friend have this all smooshed into her face again in front of the world and all because she just wanted to make our state a better place to live for everyone.

You need to really take a step back before you assume, before you judge and before you believe what you read. Because you don’t know the whole story. And you better realize that all of this – all of this nightmarish bullshit – can happen to you or someone you love at any moment.


8 thoughts on “That Woman in the Burke Ad is My Friend and She is No Criminal

  1. These are old posts so I hope you’re still checking comments. I’d like to get in touch with you. We need to start a new system and that’s what I’m working on and have been for a couple of years. I started the Womens’ Council, based loosely on the Iroquois Nations’ Womens’ Council where the women were in charge of everything and the tribe lived peacefully and happily for centuries and was the basis of the US Constitution. (Notice not one woman helped draft the Constitution?) Yet we think our laws are legitimate even though women are barely represented. You have my email from this comment. Please get in touch with me, I’d love to talk with you. You’re very prolific. We can make the justice system into a people’s court through the internet. We can be done with politicians and replace them too with the internet. Don’t get mad – get even! Contact me if you’re interested in learning more.

  2. Please get in touch with me Heather, I really want to talk to you about some reform efforts I have going on and want some friendly advice, as well as talk about how things are going in Wisconsin. You are awesome!

  3. Heather,

    As I wrote on Facebook I applaud your courage for writing this post. I worked in the human service/criminal justice system during the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s and can confirm that you’re absolutely right on. The system is borderline crazy and oftentimes seriously destructive. There’s no way to know from one county to the next whether a social worker might actually try to help someone or ruin their life. The presumption of guilt in any sort of child abuse accusation is usually strong, DA’s are often looking for conviction of these kinds of alleged crimes to bolster careers, and the accused have few if any friends, including their overworked public defender who might actually encourage a guilty plea arguing that a conviction in court will result in a much worse sentence. It’s been a terrible situation for a long, long time, and few are willing to challenge it because no one wants to appear to be pro-abuser. Good on you for speaking up. Here’s a website that might be of some comfort, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.


  4. Thank you for reading and supporting. I don’t know that I could have ever come close to really understanding what someone goes through in a situation like this if I hadn’t gone through it myself. I think I used to be one of those people who relied on the justice system to do what is right. If someone was arrested and charged…well, they MUST be guilty, right?? Wrong. There are SO many components and egos and people falling through the cracks – it is very scary to say the least. One simply cannot judge unless they know the entire story AND have gone through these motions themselves.

    I think another thing we really have to work on is getting rid of CCAP in it’s current form. It ruins lives every single day. I have written extensively on that. I have also contacted every elected official more than once. And while now the focus for me is defending my friend – I will never stop fighting against that shitty website. Something MUST be done.

  5. Thank you for telling your story. You are NOT alone, and the act of sharing what I know is a truly difficult part of your life is a very supportive way to let your friend know that she, too, is not alone in this battle. I can think of no better way to win against such treachery than to use your experience and what you’ve learned to help another. Be well, always. ❤

  6. This post made me cry my heart goes out to you. You are a courageous woman and a good friend to put yourself out there like you did. I wish you the best.

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