Here is her story, changed slightly from the original.
On her shoulder is a self portrait, a half face looking straight out blankly… lost.
The face fades away as it rounds the shoulder toward the back.
It is just one of many tattoos on her body that, combined, illustrate her survival.
Another tattoo on the back of her hand simply reads "Alone."
Every tattoo is a bit her story. Her kids are there, her relationships are there, her strengths are there and so are her vulnerabilities.
And her tears.
Though her identity hadn’t been revealed, her story was in the news in 2011 when her accused rapist was tried and found guilty. He had earlier plead guilty in another, very similar rape case in Mercer County.
On May 24, 2007, she was showing a house in Saegertown to a man she thought was a grieving husband, a truck driver who claimed to have lost his wife and was in need of a change.
Leech met the man at a property for sale on Huson Road in Saegertown. “He was dressed as your average clean cut man, he was polite, he was very nice,” she said.
She spent a lot of time showing him the entire property and house, including the basement.
Leech said he was very attentive and looked at everything closely, even in all the cupboards and drawers. He asked a lot of questions and she took the time to answer them all.
“I didn’t realize I was staring evil in the face,” she says now.
As she was trying to wrap up the meeting to meet another client, the man asked about a hole he noticed in the basement. Leech seems to think it was probably a sump pump space cut into the floor, but it was empty.
So without thinking about it they went back to the basement to have a closer look.
“I didn’t feel I was in danger,” she said, but as she entered into a small room off the basement where the hole was she suddenly felt an excruciating pain in her side.
“That’s when he started zapping me with a stun gun.”
At this point she didn’t know if she was going to make it out of there alive, but she did know one thing, he was going to rape her.
“I didn’t know what was going on in this man’s mind. He stunned me repeatedly as I tried to bite him on his right hand…as I tried to fight.”
She said she became unconscious at one point hitting her head against the wall. He then dragged her by the hair out into the main part of the basement where there was a weight bench on a small carpeted area.
“He threatened to kill me, he threatened to kill my children, he told me he knew where I lived and that he knew what time my children got off the bus and if I ran or screamed or hurt him that he would kill my children, he wouldn’t kill me, he’d kill my children to punish me.”
She was scared and all she could think about was her children.
She was forced to pleasure him orally before being thrown to the floor, stunned more times, had her clothes ripped off and raped.
“I finally gave in.” she said. "I was defeated and afraid."
“Until this day I still punish myself for not fighting more or trying harder to get away, but all I could think about was my kids and making sure I got home in time to get them off the bus. I laid there with him on top of me with my face smashed into the floor. I tried to reason with him to not kill me and to not kill my kids.”
Leach remembers at one point she was trying to find a way to calm him down and to find a way to get through it, so she began talking to him about the house.
She reached for anything to to keep her mind going.
She was in shock.
“So I was laying there while I was being raped talking to him about buying the house.” she said crying and shaking her head.
“When he was done he told me to get dressed. I ran out of the house and he followed me and all I could think about was him killing me.”
She got into her car and he followed her. She was scared to death. After a few miles he finally stopped following her and was gone.
Leech went to the hospital and filed a report with the State Police. She gave a description of the man, gave his name which turned out to be a false name, and a description of his car. An exam to collect DNA and any other possible identifying clues was performed.
“I was humiliated and embarrassed. I felt empty. I had to go to the hospital, get a rape kit (the exam kit used to collect evidence) which is even more humiliating because they stare at you, they pick at you, they prod at you and all you want to do is go home and shower and forget it happened.”
Her rapist wasn’t found.
Leech said she didn’t tell anyone in her family or circles about it at first. She said she had trouble remembering details but they would creep back in over time.
“I decided to ignore the fact that I was a rape victim and I tried to tell myself I was a survivor and not a victim.”
But she said she found herself becoming self destructive.
“I was angry, I was angry at the people who don’t tell you stuff like this could happen. Until this day I’m still angry, I hold a lot in.”
She continued for two years in real estate, but her work suffered. She was nervous talking to men and couldn’t show a property to just a man.
Her sales plummeted.
Her marriage was falling apart and she said her kids were falling apart because she was a mess.
Then, the real-estate agency got an e-mail that an agent in a neighboring county had been raped.
This set Leech off on a roller coaster of emotions from wanting nothing to do with it to wanting to see justice served.
She immediately contacted the police saying that’s the same guy. This time he was apprehended and was in custody facing a trial for that rape in Mercer.
Leech could identify him and now had a name, Michael Ray Tackett.
Her emotions were high and after confirming Tackett was the man who raped her, she had second thoughts and didn’t want to put herself through testifying. By this point her life was a mess and she just didn’t know what she wanted or could do.
After many conversations with the police who were trying to build a case and the other victim reaching out to her, she decided to testify. Tackett plead guilty and was convicted in that case. She never had to face him.
Then came the charges in her case and another trial was set. Another testimony and another period of wondering if justice would be served. This time Tackett denied the rape and she found herself in a courtroom facing him.
“I had to find it in me to punish him for what he did!”
She said she had to find the strength to sit in a courtroom with total strangers telling them about being raped. “The gory details, the humiliating stuff my family didn’t even know. I didn’t allow my family in the courtroom.” she said.
“He ruined me, he changed me, I’ll never be the person I was before, that part of me is dead.”
In 2011, almost 4 years after she was raped, a verdict was handed down in her case finding Tackett guilty of raping her and he was sentenced to 20 to 45 years. He had already been sentenced to 18 to 36 years in the previous rape case.
It was finally over.
Or so she thought. She continued to struggle with what had happened to her and how her life had become.
“You think you’ll get closure, but you don’t, You never get closure. I’ll never get closure,” she said.
Leech admits that she spiraled out of control getting in and out of relationships, cheating and having an overwhelming need to seek out extremes in order to feel anything at all. She said she didn’t feel worthy of being loved and when she began to feel love, she would then cheat, seek out someone else and self-destruct further.
She can’t explain it, but she felt she needed to be with men who were rough and domineering in order to feel anything at all.
She has sought counseling over the years and finally, after nine years, she said she is settling down and not spiraling out of control as often. When she feels the urge to flee from something positive in her life, she says she can stop herself now. Though she says May is a horrible month for her with many anxiety nightmares and reliving every detail that she can remember so vividly now.
After nine years she seems to be pleading with herself that it is time to move on. “I need to tell the story. I need to be done with the story. I need to live as me and not as a victim or a person who was brutally raped.”
She still says the girl she was is gone for good, but hopes the tattoos on her body serve as a continual reminder that she is a survivor.
One very special tattoo is a dandelion gone to seed that is on her right shoulder.
“The dandelion represents me, a dead weed, but no matter how many times they are destroyed they keep coming back.”
You're not alone. There are people dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault.
The PPC Violence Free Network of Family Service and Children’s Aid Society is a non-profit agency that works to help provide advocacy and supportive services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and other crimes.
“Sexual assault statistics are high everywhere, and our area is sadly no different,” said Kiyomi Knox, an advocate and counselor at PPC, which stands for prevent, protect, change, and she is passionate about the battle against domestic violence. She noted that about 50 sexual assaults were reported to police from July 2014 to June 2015.
But the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, also known as RAINN, says 68 percent of sexual assaults each year go unreported to police.
That would mean about 103 sexual assaults went unreported during the July 2014 to June 2015 last year in Venango County, bringing the county’s estimated total during that period to 152.
In the last year, PPC Violence Free Network has provided services to 187 survivors of sexual assault.
“We want to help victims to become someone better than they were before and transition to become survivors,” Knox said. “It’s not always an easy process, but we have many ways to help.”
These services include, but are not limited to:
- Counseling in office
- 24-hour hotline crisis counseling
- First response services at the hospital or police station
- Advocacy including legal, law enforcement and within other community services
- Emergency shelter
Hotlines are safe and confidential, and calls are routed only by the first six numbers of the phone number. Responders only report calls if consent is given or if it is legally obligated such as when a child is involved.
Here are some other hotlines to remember:
- Venango County Hotline – (814) 677-7273
- E. Crawford County Hotline – (814) 827-3472
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (Caller will be connected to a local crisis center) 1-(800) 656-4673
- National Suicide Hotline Prevention – 1 (800) 273-8255
- Online Support – 1in6.org. This would be an instant message-style communication
The RAINN network says everyone can play a role in helping to prevent sexual assault. The steps to “bystander intervention” can be remembered by the acronym CARE:
- C-Create a distraction. Do what you can to interrupt the situation.
- A-Ask directly. Talk directly to the person who may be in trouble.
- R-Refer to an authority. Intervene a potentially dangerous situation with an authority figure like a police officer.
- E-Enlist others. Never approach a dangerous situation alone. Bring support.