Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Kristen Stillman, victim of horrific abuse, gives up her children, but still has a bill for their care

The outpouring of support for Kristen Stillman, the survivor of horrific abuse who first told her story in the September 9 issue of Westword, has been amazing. Many, many people want to know how they can help her, and I thought a follow-up that will be published here today would have an answer. But there's no happy ending -- not yet.

That Kristen Stillman can even contemplate a life with any happiness is astonishing. When she was eight, she and her twin brother were left by their mother at a house in northwest Denver, where they were physically and sexually abused. By the time she was twenty, Kristen had four children -- all fathered by her rapist, Eric Torrez. Finally, after a dozen years, she and her brother escaped with the children, only to have the rapist and his son take the kids back, with the blessing of a Denver County court. That launched a two-year journey for justice that has seen Kristen's mother and Eric Torrez put behind bars, and his wife and son sentenced to stiff programs as sex offenders.

Last week, Kristen took the toughest step of all: She voluntarily relinquished her parental rights to her four children, so that they could be adopted into good homes. The kind of home she's never had.

But she has something to remember them by -- a $5,000 bill for their foster care. The Denver Department of Human Services, which did nothing to save Kristen from the abuse she suffered as a child, is billing her for caring for the children that resulted from that abuse.

Of all the wrongs she's suffered, this one still grates on Kristen. She has no money, but if she did, this is not a bill she feels she should pay. She does not want her well-wishers to pay it, either; their money could go to better causes. Although the Denver Department of Human Services insists it has little leeway in billing parents for foster care -- the rules are included in state statutes -- the Colorado Department of Human Services, which oversees the process, is currently exploring what options exist for dealing with Kristen's bill.

They did not have an answer when this week's paper went to press. But for anyone who's ever heard Kristen's story, the only humane answer is very, very clear.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun