How do I protect myself and my family? — Leesa Sparks wants to change a system that neglected her
For a long time, Leesa Sparks didn’t want to be called by her given first name. She went by Rhae, because hearing “Leesa” reminded her of the voice of her attacker, a man who held her hostage and tortured her for two days.
Her nightmarish experience began in 2013, when she got a call from an ex-boyfriend. He said he was being released from a mental hospital and needed her help. Leesa picked him up and drove him to a hotel. What happened for the next 48 hours would change her life forever.
The man she was trying to help blocked her exit from the hotel room with a refrigerator, restrained her, savagely beat and strangled her, and mentally and emotionally tortured her. After two days of fighting back and struggling just to survive the attacks, Leesa’s attacker decided he couldn’t kill her with his bare hands. It was then that he forced her to take drugs, telling her he was going to make it look like she had overdosed accidentally. If she refused, he said, he would find and hurt her son.
The drugs knocked her unconscious. When she woke up, she was again threatened with death. Leesa’s attacker even told her where he was going to dismember and bury her body. “He kept saying, ‘if I can’t have you, no one can.’ I knew I was going to die,” Leesa said.
After more than 48 hours of captivity, Leesa was able to escape and run to a nearby convenience store, where she called the police. They arrived and arrested her attacker, but what should have been the end of her ordeal was only the beginning of another traumatizing experience: navigating the criminal justice system.
“When the police got to the scene at the store they treated me horribly,” said Leesa. “I will never, ever get over the way I was treated by the police and later the court system and the parole board. It was not right.”
Leesa’s attacker pled guilty to a domestic violence charge, something which she considered wholly inadequate for the level of trauma she suffered. “This was not a ‘domestic dispute,’” Leesa said. “This was kidnapping, attempted murder, and torture. They dropped most of the charges without even asking me.”
Her attacker was sentenced to four years in prison, and Leesa never received notification of court dates or even a notification of her attacker’s sentence. In 2016 he was released for “good behavior.” The Parole Board never notified her he was being released, and a letter she wrote and sent to the Board with the help of a friendly Oklahoma City victims advocate apparently fell on deaf ears.
“No one ever asked me how I felt. No one told me how I could make my voice heard. The fact is that this is a very sick man. A repeat violent offender. He cannot be rehabilitated,” said Leesa.
After being attacked, Leesa suffered from post-traumatic stress. She left Oklahoma, hopping from state to state, before returning and settling in Pottawatomie County. There she connected with a domestic violence agency who introduced her to resources for victims and a strong support network. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found this county, these advocates, and these people,” said Leesa.
Today, Leesa is still struggling to escape her attacker. Her family receives anonymous calls she suspects are from him. She also received a single dollar bill in the mail with a note that said, “Now my debt to you is paid in full.” “I know it was him, I just can’t prove it,” said Leesa.
Today, she is working with Marsy’s Law to make sure other victims are given guidance and resources that were not made available to her.
“When you become a victim, no one tells you anything,” said Leesa. “No one let me know what resources were available to me or who I could talk to. No one explained to me how the process worked or what was to happen next. Where do I need to go? What do I need to do? How do I protect myself and my family? How do I write a parole letter?”
“When you are beaten up and traumatized, you struggle with not knowing what to do, or where to go, or whom you can go to. When you do find the courage to finally call you get passed around, shrugged off, or ignored. The justice system only focuses on the perpetrator, and often the system is just looking for a quick plea deal. They aren’t thinking about the victims and what has been done to them.
“Marsy’s Law is all about developing a support system for the victims and their families, ensuring they are seen as people and not a docket number. Making sure victims understand their rights and get the resources and advocacy they need. Being informed of all criminal and parole proceedings. Being held accountable for the victims to make sure they are not forgotten.”
“I don’t want another victim to ever have to go through what I have been through. It was unfair and unjust. That’s why I support Marsy’s Law.” said Leesa.