BALTIMORE — This May will mark five years since the release of a documentary series that sent shockwaves through some of the most powerful institutions in Baltimore.
"The Keepers" on Netflix detailed horrifying sexual abuse at a now-closed Catholic high school, the murder, of a nun and a cover-up that has lasted for decades.
Now, one of the victims featured in "The Keepers" has written a new book that includes surprising revelations on what it took for her to survive. She hopes it might help more survivors of child sexual abuse.
Jean Hargadon-Wehner was abused at Archbishop Keough High School back in the late 1960's, by two priests - Neal Magnus and Joseph Maskell - along with other men Father Maskell allowed into his office at the school.
“I don't know how I made it out of hell, but here I sit,” said Hargadon-Wehner, in a new interview with WMAR-2 News.
Memories of abuse started to surface in the early 1980's - along with guilt and shame...
“We're talking about young minds. Well, who wouldn't feel like, I did it. You know, I made that happen,” she said.
Finally, years later and with the support of her family, Jean Hargadon-Wehner came forward- and was named "Jane Doe" in a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Others followed, including Teresa Lancaster, who came to be known as Jane Roe. In 1995 they both testified in Baltimore City Circuit Court, in an attempt to prove the Archdiocese knew about the abuse at Keough and did nothing to stop it. Instead, a judge ruled the statute of limitations for claims of sexual abuse had expired. The lawsuit was over.
“When they let Joseph Maskell go, and two major systems I feel let him go, what they said to other predators was, ‘As long as you don't get found out, you're good’" Hargadon-Wehner said.
A loss in court - but life, goes on. She thought about writing a book she had trouble, and trauma trying to understand what else kept surfacing with the memories of abuse.
Now, after more than another quarter-century – she has gotten it down on paper. The book is called “Walking with Aletheia."
“It's a biography at the beginning but it's a lot of my inner journey throughout it,” she said.
The inner journey involves accepting the recovery, she says, of multiple aspects of herself that developed while she was being abused all those years ago.
“We can't handle it, so we fraction off. And we get thrown into another dimension. That's how we survive it. The dissociating, the severing that I talk about. Almost like you can't handle it it's so much that you get thrown into another dimension,” Hargadon-Wehner said.
She buried the fractions deep in her consciousness, but she says the personalities started to come out, and communicate with her. The personalities included herself, as a young child - who she refers to as "Little Jeannie" along with an older version of Jeannie. There’s also a 14-year-old girl known as Frances, who blamed Jean for allowing the abuse to continue, and many others, including – eventually – Aletheia, the Greek goddess of truth, and the inspiration for the name of her book.
She started to refer to them all as "The Girls.”
Hargadon-Wehner thought she might be - to use her word - "crazy" .. And that was before trying to explain what she was going through to other people. “Then we have to also explain, how I can say certain things in this, that sound so absurd. Well, I decided, I've done this for almost 30 years, maybe I can defend it,” she said.
Those things do not sound absurd, to Ellen Lacter, a clinical psychologist who has reviewed Jean Hargadon-Wehner's book.
“It's a way of psychologically surviving this horror,” Lacter said. “It's not unusual at all to create dissociated identities, to hold the memory of such horrible trauma.”
Lacter has worked for years with people who developed what are more accurately called "disassociated self-states.”
“That way the child can wake up the next day in the persona who does not know what has happened, and be able to have friends and go to school, and to not lose their mind,” Lacter said.
But eventually those "other" personas, which were buried along with the memories of abuse can surface with the memories.
“Because the other identify holds the memory, when you connect to that identify, when you begin to reach toward it, or to listen to its cries and to say ‘OK what's going on internally.’ Then when you meet that personality you meet also the memories that that personality holds,” Lacter said.
That is what Jean Hargadon-Wehner is trying to explain in her book. It includes conversations with her other aspects from the past several decades, recounted from journals she kept along the way.
Hargadon-Wehner hopes the book might help more victims and serve as a guide for therapists as well. It is a road map to understand the voices, how she learned to listen to them, and even gained a measure of peace.
“Maybe if I can help somebody else it might be a shortcut. You know it took me 30 years, she said. “But maybe there's something that your therapist can read in here, and it can feel like, oh, that can be a shortcut. Just knowing that the crazy things that you might think nobody will ever understand, that this is what makes you tick. Maybe they would be understood.”
“Walking With Aletheia” is available on Amazon and anyplace where books are sold. She also read it, as an audio-book, which is out now on Aubible.