In our latest Notable Narrative, “Promise Not To Tell,” we meet Kellie and Kathie Henderson, two girls raped day after day by their brother, and later their father, for nearly a decade. Their abusers jailed, they are now trying to find a way to live the rest of their lives.

While narratives about family tragedy are legion, Roy Wenzl’s project in The Wichita Eagle differentiates itself in two ways. The first is that the story moves from recounting victimization to providing some sense of empowerment. It is the twin girls themselves, now 19, who take the lead in telling their stories. They are far from healed – such a word seems insufficient to describe whatever it is they will need to do in the long run. However, their willingness to talk – with the goal of helping others who are currently suffering – shows a kind of sufficiency, a possible future, that makes Wenzl’s story, if not redemptive, at least a vehicle for hope.

Kellie and Kathie Henderson in November 2010 (Photo: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Kellie and Kathie Henderson in November 2010 (Photo: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

The story’s other strength lies in its restraint. Though Wenzl doesn’t flinch from the facts at hand, he skips the word incest. He avoids the kind of graphic description he worried might make readers put the paper down.

Yet he finds telling details other places. One twin remembers her head hitting each step as she was dragged to the basement bedroom of her older brother. The scene in which the girls are rescued is agonizing, as the twins deny their abuse to investigators again and again, until their mother steps in. And even though we have already been told the mother knew, seeing her feign ignorance and then retrieve some vestige of her responsibility at the crucial moment is a triumph for the scene and a small blow for humanity in the midst of so much monstrosity.

When Storyboard spoke with Wenzl last week, the project was nearing 600,000 hits, with many responses sent directly to the girls and hundreds of comments posted on the site. The Wichita Eagle, whose multimedia project on a local priest we highlighted previously, once again makes use of video and photos. Such images make the story both more powerful and more mundane, in a good way, as if to remind readers that if it could happen to these girls, it could happen anywhere, to anyone.

[For more on this story, read our interview with Roy Wenzl on how the project came to be, his worst fears for it, and what he hopes it will accomplish.]

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