Posted Tuesday, November 10, 2009 --- 10:05 p.m.
"I met him when I was 14. He had come in June of 1974 as a Christian youth pastor," recalls Laurie Asplund, while sitting on the couch in her office. "Right away in July we went to a summer camp, a Christian camp, and that's where he started to groom me."
Asplund was your All-American girl. She participated in youth group, ran track at Big Foot High School in Walworth County and was prom queen.
But her innocence was quickly taken away.
"We played trust games. We would play a game where he would go up my inner thighs and say, 'Do you trust me not to pinch you?' And I would say, 'Well yeah.' And he would go up kinda further," explains Asplund.
Russell Lesser was 29 years old at the time and 14 years older than Asplund.
"I can't remember exactly when it went from the touching [and] feeling to actual sexual intercourse," says Asplund.
She says they started having sex in his car, but it also happened at the Abbey Springs Country Club in Fontana and Lesser's home in Williams Bay.
Asplund explains, "He had all the windows blacked out in his garage and down in his basement so no one could see in there."
The relationship lasted for nearly two years.
"I don't think I knew how to say, 'No, this isn't right! This feels ucky'," says Asplund, "We never talked about sex within my family. I just know at a certain point it just felt very, very wrong."
Asplund and her family moved away, and she eventually told.
But she wasn't ready to go public.
"I didn't know if people would believe me," explains Asplund, "He was very well-liked and popular."
"I was probably 24 [or] 25 when I started to think, 'Can I get this guy?'"
But by then, the Wisconsin statute of limitations, which at the time was only six years, had expired.
"Nobody wanted to touch it [her case]. I mean even in the '80s and I think even today, there are many attorneys who don't want to take these cases," says Asplund, "So I just let it go until I heard about Father Donald McGuire."
McGuire faced charges of molesting two boys during retreats in the 1960s.
In 2006, McGuire was sentenced to seven years in prison, 36 years after the crimes were committed.
"Because the offenders did not live in the state, that holds or stops the running of the statute of limitations for the entire time they're out of the state," explains Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss, who prosecuted the McGuire case.
So because Lesser moved out of Wisconsin shortly after committing the crimes, the statute of limitations never ran out. That gave Asplund the opening she needed to bring her attacker to justice.
"I was afraid," she recalls, "But I just knew there was no doubt in my mind that I was going for this."
Lesser was living in North Carolina.
After a two year investigation, authorities arrested Lesser and charged him with three felonies, including sexual intercourse with a child.
"After he was arrested, then I did get scared," she remembers, "It didn't matter who I had told or that I had already given a statement and it was already taped. [It] didn't matter. If I disappeared, the whole thing went away."
Lesser pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
"It was just a sense of relief," says Asplund, "I didn't cry. I didn't do anything. It was like thank god; he got it."
Koss, who also prosecuted Lesser's case, adds, "This was the defendant himself saying he was guilty so I think that that helped show the world Laurie was right all along."
But Asplund's work wasn't done. She spent 3 years documenting her journey to justice. In her self-published book, she speaks candidly of the pain, shame and humiliation of being a victim of a child sexual assault.
"It was just, I think, a god whisper saying that not only can you help yourself, but we're going to help others," says Asplund.
She is also lobbying at the state capitol and hoping to help pass a bill that would create a three year window for victims of child sex abuse to file a civil lawsuit.
"It's like a piece of that childhood, a piece of my soul that was ripped out is back and that feels very, very good," says Asplund, "And I want others to be able to have that, if that's what they want."
The Child Victims Act has been passed out of committee in the Assembly, but has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.
The Senate companion bill is in the judiciary committee awaiting a hearing.
Under current law, most child victims of sexual assault have until the age of 35 to file a civil suit and the age of 45 to file a criminal suit.
Asplund's book is available for purchase online:
JUSTICE BEFORE MERCY
Here are some resources for sexual assault victims:
Office of Crime Victim Services
Statute of Limitations
The Digital Youth Network (DYN) is a project that supports organizations, educators and researchers in learning best practices to help develop our youths’ technical, creative, and analytical skills. Originating from the keen desire to understand and support urban youth in learning digital media for their educational development, DYN grew as a resource to help youth understand how to use digital media for all aspects of their lives. As technology rapidly evolves, supporting our underprivileged youth in school and out of the classroom has become a critical and timely issue to address. Currently underprivileged students live under the following statistics:
- 47% of low-income households have broadband access at home.
- 37% of teachers of low-income students use tablet computers.
- 35% of teachers of lower-income students say their students use cell phones as a learning device in class.
In an effort to resolve these conditions, DYN has created iRemix social learning network for students in formal and informal settings; Co-founded YOUmedia – along with the Chicago Public Library – to develop innovative spaces for youth; and implemented Chicago City of Learning – with Chicago’s Mayor’s Office – to join together learning opportunities for youth.
Currently DYN is creating a blueprint for Cities of Learning to model Chicago City of Learning, releasing DYN’s book in spring 2014 and launching DYN Studio at DePaul University in winter 2014.
The goal of the Digital Youth Network is to create an equal platform for ALL to be digitally literate.