Nearly a year after Toby Willis, the patriarch and star of TLC's The Willis Family, pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape, his oldest daughter spoke out in an emotional blog post, confirming speculation that she was one of her father's victims.
Jessica Willis Fisher writes that she can remember the sexual abuse at the hands of her father when she was just a toddler.
"I figure I was around three years old in some of the earliest memories. Initially, I had no way to know that anything was wrong," the 25-year-old wrote. "When I did eventually come to realize the fact, I had no way to accurately express what was happening to me. There followed immense shame, distrust and hurt throughout my childhood – even in the happy times. Thus ran the two parallel storylines that became my life."
Jessica said her father controlled every aspect of life for her and her 12 siblings, noting there "was a constant current of manipulation, domination, fear and favor." She wrote of being a victim of "graphic sexual abuse" periodically through puberty, up until she turned 17.
When she turned 24, Jessica finally "escaped" her father. Four months later, a friend stepped forward to report her father on suspicion of sexual abuse, which launched an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Her interview with investigators lasted a day. She feared for her life until her father was finally arrested.
"I truly think that the full extent of the abuse will never be known; I know even with this partial account of my personal experience alone, it is complex," Jessica wrote. "I also believe that no matter the method of telling, no one else will ever fully understand what it is like to live through something like that unless you too have been there in your own way. The investigation unearthed so many more things that my family as a whole was unaware of and there are still sometimes no words to describe what happened in it's fullest magnitude. Healing is a lifelong process."
Last year, Jessica got married and her husband has introduced her to a better, peaceful life.
"As both my 26th birthday and the anniversary of my leaving draws near, I find it amazing to reflect on the past two years," Jessica wrote. "I have learned that even when I do find the courage to speak my mind, not everyone will understand or be there for me. But that's not why I am doing this. For me not to speak up and acknowledge what has happened would be like hiding in the bus all over again. It would be to hide my own painful past and pretend that I wasn't a part of the act because I am afraid of what might happen or whether my story will be misunderstood. Writing and sharing this piece is an important step for me in owning my story, loving myself and others, and moving forward to live the life that I truly want to live."
As PEOPLE reported in 2017, Willis pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Authorities said that Willis' victim was sexually abused between 3 and 13 years old.
The Willis family first gained public attention when they performed on season nine of America's Got Talent. They were given a TLC reality series, which ended in April 2016 after two seasons, and before Willis was arrested.
"Although the criminal case has concluded with Toby Willis receiving 40 years for the crimes he committed, the impact on the victims will remain much longer," the Willis family said in a statement last year. "The family is appreciative and grateful that people have respected their need for privacy during this trying time and asks for continued respect as they seek to move forward."0comments
You can read Jessica's entire blog post here.
Photo credit: Facebook/ Jessica Willis Fisher