Submitted by Kurt Thigpen
On Sept. 21, 2021, Tiffany Thiele posted to her Facebook account a heartbreaking story of her struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after she was raped in 2018 and nothing happened to the person she says assaulted her (as in, he’s still out there). I’m not naming names here for legal reasons, but the post is still up on her page as I write this if you want to read her full story, and how law enforcement and others failed her when she reported what happened.
This is devastating, but not uncommon with women and men who come forward to report sexual assault or abuse. More times than not, they are shoved aside and not believed while the perpetrators get to roam free and likely commit the same acts again and again. Many cases go cold quickly, and justice is never received.
After Tiffany posted her story, she reportedly lost her life shortly after to suicide.
I didn’t know Tiffany, but she reached out to me a few days before her passing. We have mutual friends, and she was also a teacher at one of the schools I used to represent. She mentioned that she had read about my struggles with mental health, and my experiences with battling suicidal thoughts this year following harassment, threats and abuse I experienced while serving on the Washoe County School Board. She had some questions for me about that.
To respect her privacy, I won’t go into full detail about the whole conversation, but I did get the sense that she was in distress and shared with her some resources that might help. It wasn’t so much what she said specifically during the conversation, but the feeling I got.
To put my mind at ease, I reached out to some of our mutual friends, who probably knew her better, to ask that she be checked on. The conversation ended well and I felt like I had helped a little (or at least hoped I did).
I was deeply shocked, and still am, to learn of her passing and to learn more about the trauma she lived with for years after she was raped.
While I didn’t know her well, I wish that when we spoke that I could have done more to help her. I’ve lost loved ones to suicide before, have received emails when I was a Trustee about students dying from this, and continue to fight the battle in my own mind with suicidal ideations. I keep telling myself that I could have empathized with her more, and maybe made a difference.
I know that’s a lot to put on myself, and we can never really know if anything we could have done would help. But when this kind of thing happens, no matter who it is, you always wish you could have done anything to help someone in crisis.
Most of all, I wish I had known her whole story, so that I could share mine with her in the hope that she would feel less alone with the burden she was carrying. I’ve only ever shared what happened to me with my parents, my husband, and a few other survivors when they would share their stories with me.
In looking for a way to help Tiffany’s family, I was told about the Justice for Tiff Thiele Facebook group and was instantly moved by all of the folks posting their own stories of pain, survival and support for each other. I finally feel like I have the courage, and also a duty, to share my own story.
Since I have access to many platforms to reach many people, I felt strongly I needed to do this to help lift Tiffany’s and others’ stories up and to say that what happened to her and countless others is not okay and that the justice system is broken and needs an overhaul when it comes to investigating and litigating cases of sexual assault.
I also hope that in doing this, I can reach other survivors out there, men and women, who suffer in silence to let them know they aren’t alone. It happened to me too.
When I was 5 years old, I was molested by my babysitter’s son one night. I think my parents were either working late or had to go out of town for me to be there that late at night. I can’t recall clearly. He told me this was what friends did, and that if I wanted to remain his friend I had to go along with the things he asked me to do, and that if I ever told anyone, we could no longer be friends and I would get in trouble.
This was obviously manipulation, and to my 5-year-old mind, certainly it was very serious as at that age you want everyone to be your friend and do as you’re told. I believed what he was telling me.
The abuse continued off and on for four more years, and eventually led to repeated rapes. Again and again he would tell me I couldn’t tell anyone “or else” and I was afraid of what that outcome would be, or what my parents would think. Somehow, I thought I would be in trouble for not saying something sooner.
The most I would do was cry and scream and beg my parents not to keep sending me to this babysitter’s house. They likely thought it was just me throwing tantrums, or that I hated the babysitter or something like that and brushed it off.
I don’t blame my parents for what happened to me, as they couldn’t have known. When you drop your kid off at the babysitter you trust that your kids are safe, right? I was just too young to know how to explain what was happening, and lived in fear of the unknown if I ever shared this with anyone.
The abuse stopped when my grandmother passed away when I was 9 and we moved into her house, which put us further away from the babysitter’s house and made it inconvenient for my parents.
For the rest of my life I’ve buried it in my mind and tried my best to forget it ever happened. At times I blamed myself or made excuses for what happened. It wasn’t until this year in a therapy session that I could even admit to myself that what he did to me was rape.
I also have never wanted to share this story since I am openly gay. There are some old schools of thought that this type of abuse affects one’s sexual orientation, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I was born this way, and I have always known it in my bones.
I worried that talking about the abuse would somehow make it forever attributed to who I am inherently as a person. There are way too many homophobes out there and I never want to give them ammunition if I can avoid it. Through therapy and introspection, I know that the abuse I experienced doesn’t define me.
Now I wonder how many men, LGBTQ+ people and other folks like me have felt the same way and said nothing. Men especially don’t admit to sexual abuse because of the culture around being seen as “tough.” You “man up” and bury it.
I’m 31 now, and have been in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist consistently to work through current issues, and past traumas, including this. I know that I haven’t gotten it all figured out and have barely touched the surface, but I hope that by sharing my experience it helps someone out there who is suffering in silence.
In the past I’ve considered pursuing legal action, but it’s too late due to the statute of limitations, not to mention the complications of me living in another state, and, I’m sure, a lack of evidence other than my word and memories. I’m not even sure where my attacker is anymore since it’s been so long (nor am I hoping to find out). I also don’t want to put myself through reliving it all again. But, I should at least have the option to pursue justice for my past self.
The justice system itself desperately needs a hard look taken at how reports on these types of cases are handled. For those of us that have suffered, we carry it with us for the rest of our lives. It slowly kills our spirit, especially when we feel folks wouldn’t believe us, or the process of filing a complaint is both complicated and sometimes expensive. There are too many stories of attackers remaining free in the world because of shoddy investigations, legal technicalities, and other reasons. This needs to change now.
I’m not a lawyer, police officer, lawmaker or judge, but I am a survivor with a story that needs to be heard.
I hope that those in power reading this will take Tiffany’s and my story to heart and work to implement some changes to both protect people and help seek justice when sexual assault happens with the same level of prejudice that crimes like murder are pursued.
If I’m being completely honest, my rapist murdered who I was, stole my innocence, my childhood, and forever changed me in unimaginable ways.
The same likely happened to Tiffany Thiele and to countless others in the world. It’s well past time that we address this issue before we lose any more lives. I’m sad that it took learning what happened to her for me to finally have the courage to speak out.
Let’s work together and demand justice for Tiffany, and all the other survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
If you’d like to do something to honor Tiffany’s memory, her mother shared that the family would like for folks to donate to the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation in her name.
The foundation helps rape victims in many ways, including paying for medical exams after the act. Victims are forever changed and will need therapy for life. Struggling to pay co-pays and needing time off from work is another area they try to help victims with.
Here is the info:
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation is accepting charitable donations in memory of Tiffany Thiele online (please complete the memorial designation).
Charitable donations can also be made by check to:
Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
(please specify that the donation is in memory of Tiffany Thiele)
PO Box 366
Truckee, CA 96160
Tax ID 68-0416404
Kurt Thigpen is a mental health advocate, sexual assault survivor, former Trustee for the Washoe County School Board, and is CEO of Ace Studios, a multimedia marketing agency based in Reno, NV.
Correction: Tiffany Thiele said she was raped in 2018, not 2017 as originally stated.
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