My heart absolutely broke for Kristen Stillman. In my job, I see kids who have been in situations not unlike the one she was raised in, and I know that the level of abuse and neglect she experienced happens on a horrifyingly regular basis. I know that many people are apt to condemn her for giving up her children — but in my view, her decision was the best in a long list of bad and worse options. I fervently hope that they will get the therapy they need and be able to find families that can provide the level of care they undoubtedly require. As far as people who would criticize Kristen for having another baby, I would gently chide them for their judgment. Children (and in many ways, Kristen is still a child) raised in an environment like Kristen's often long for the family they didn't have and attempt to re-create it, although they may be woefully unprepared. At least Kristen isn't a drug addict and seems committed to acting in her children's best interest. Resources exist to help her learn how to be a better parent, and I hope that she will take advantage of them.
Moreover, I hope this article will provide enlightenment to our ineffective, overburdened social services system. The welfare of other people's children affects the health of the society as a whole and has been ignored for too long. As long as the system remains underfunded, understaffed and underappreciated, horrific stories like this will continue to make the papers.
I wanted to congratulate you on a great article — and while I can't say I enjoyed it, I was moved. I believe it nothing short of a sin for government officials to abdicate their duty or stand behind regulations and policy to insulate themselves from blame. (I work for the federal government.)
It's also a great cover photo, which shows that she has the soul of a survivor.
This article was truly touching. My eyes teared up many times while reading Kristen Stillman's story. It made me think about what goes on behind closed doors; the systems that are and aren't working; judging people and not truly getting to know who they are or what they have been through; compassion. Thank you for sharing this. I am inspired by her strength to speak up. I wish the best for Kristen in her life's journey.
"Spreading Her Wings" is the most disturbing story of abuse I have ever read — anywhere. Perhaps because it happened right here in our own community. I remain horrified about the repeated and ongoing failure of the Denver Department of Human Services to protect children in reported abusive circumstances, as well as Denver County's cruel and idiotic treatment of Kristen in assessing foster-care fees for her four children of rape. I hope that one or more leaders, lawyers or advocates in the community take strong and swift action that results in a significant change in this young woman's circumstances. Will anyone be held accountable? Could DDHS be held liable for damages? Will Westword provide an update on possible reduction or elimination in the fees assessed her?
It is simply impossible to understand how human beings can commit the kinds of acts perpetrated upon these children and how it was allowed to go on for years right here in Denver. Where are our leaders? Will they intervene, or sit back and do nothing? I wish there was a way to expose and eliminate the collusion that exists in families, communities, churches and public systems that facilitates continued violation and subsequent revictimization of individuals like Kristen. Everyone owes her and her brother their deepest apologies and more.
And many thanks to Westword's writers for abiding by your long-established journalistic standards that result in stories that would never be told otherwise.
Another attack on the Denver Department of Human Services? Another story filled with disgusting details of sexual and physical child abuse and the evil agency that failed them? You jumped on the bandwagon, dragging DDHS through the mud with cries about how they failed to prevent atrocities.
What would be original is a story about how many children DDHS has saved, how many it's helped graduate from high school, how many it's helped overcome violence, drugs and poverty. What a bore! If it bleeds, it leads. Who wants to read about children pulled from uninhabitable homes and monstrous abuse?
Another novel idea: Write about Denver County caseworkers sacrificing time with their own families to keep Denver's children safe. They work tirelessly in dangerous jobs, unarmed, dealing with situations every day that would make most people piss themselves. And they sure as hell don't do it for the salary. They do it because they care about kids in our community.
How long until you trot out your next shock-and-awe piece on Human Services? They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. When they remove a child from a dangerous situation, they get reamed for intruding needlessly into people's lives. When they back off without enough evidence to pull children from parents who guarded cruel secrets as Ms. Stillman's caretakers did, they are slammed for not intervening sooner.
Name withheld on request
I am a student at Metro, and I read the news on Kristen. I think she should not leave her four children. Nobody will love them like her and care for them like her. She might be sending them to a house just like the one she lived in. She needs to grab her children and learn to succeed with her family. Family is life's true value.
I just read "Spreading her Wings." I had a hard time getting through the article, not because it was sad, but because I could relate to Kristen's story. I would just like to tell her she is not alone and that I thank her for being so strong and standing up to those who did this to her. Most of us don't, and these monsters go on to hurt others. If I ever met her, I know that I would want her as a friend. I guess I just said that because it's hard to have friends when you've been through something so traumatic in your childhood. I think that maybe she and I experience some of the same problems in our day-to-day lives — at least, I could really relate to the notebook thing and forgetting things and such.
I just wanted to thank Kristen for being my hero.
Spreading her wings? More often than not, she was spreading her legs! What a worthless piece of humanity she is! She had no idea of what was going on? Who paid for all of her rats and all the services she received (duh)? Instead of delivering her rats, the doctors should have given her a complete hysterectomy! How did she pay for her tats? Can somebody pay for my tuition, free? I would spit on her!
P.S.: I'm white, and I guess I'm not eligible for the "free ride"! She should be horse-whipped!
I was nearly moved to tears by this article. What a depressing and inspiring story.
Another (untold) story is the appalling neglect of social services, her teachers, and the cops who visited the house and did nothing. Hope you will be able to sink your teeth into that one. A story along those lines really might help other kids who are in the same situation now.
Excellent writing! Keep it up.
I just read your article about Kristen Stillman and couldn't stop crying and thinking about it. It's so shocking to hear a story like hers, and maddening that there is so much injustice. Is there any way to help her and her children?
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What really struck me about this story, besides Kristen's strong spirit in spite of everything, was the lack of anything done for her and her brother while they lived at that house of horrors. Surely someone in the neighborhood, another parent at school or a teacher, etc., noticed something odd along the way? While we need to be prudent about reporting suspicions about people, we also need to bear more responsibility for children in our community. The system in Denver totally failed her, but maybe the system would have worked with more pressure exerted on it from concerned neighbors. Even if it is extremely difficult and possibly dangerous to press on, we must never turn the other way or give up when it comes to children.
Patricia Calhoun responds: Kristen Stillman's story inspired a deluge of letters — there are dozens more comments posted at westword.com — and many offers of help. Her date in Denver Juvenile Court to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights to her four children was scheduled for September 14, after this issue went to press; I'll update her story on the Latest Word blog and in the print edition next week.