On Crime Victims’ Rights Week, St. Paul man tells of his childhood sexual abuse to combat stigma

Photographs of Billy Dinkel show him as a second grader and a fifth grader — before the abuse started and when he was going through it.

He went from a little boy with a big smile to “just trying to survive,” he said Thursday.

During national Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dinkel told his story of the childhood sexual abuse he suffered because he said he wants to help others share what happened to them or realize they’re not alone.

“There’s a little boy inside of me that appreciates when people listen,” said Dinkel, of St. Paul. “Every victim has that wounded child that wants to be heard and believed. Empathy and compassion is how we should treat our victims and sometimes we don’t.”

40th anniverary of passage of victims bill of rights

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Minnesota Crime Victim Bill of Rights.

“These are rights that most people likely never think about and now are often taken for granted, but they weren’t always the law,” said Suzanne Elwell, Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s director of the Crime Victim Justice Unit.

The “landmark legislation” included rights for victims to participate in the prosecution process, be notified when an offender is released from jail or prison, and be eligible for restitution, Elwell said. It also paved the way for the creation of the state’s Office of Justice Programs, which Elwell works for.

OJP funds services for crime victims in all of Minnesota’s 87 counties and 10 tribal reservations, including for 170 organizations and six statewide crime victim coalitions. They include sexual assault programs, child advocacy centers, domestic violence shelters, legal advocacy programs and more.

OJP spent about $86 million in state and federal grants for victim services in the last fiscal year. They’ve provided services to more than 130,000 victims per year over the last five years, Elwell said.

Breaking the silence decades later

Dinkel grew up on a small dairy farm just west of Long Prairie, Minn.

“I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse,” he said at a Thursday press conference. “There were many times in my past where I wouldn’t have been able to say that. … For many years, for decades actually, I hid it. I wore a suit of armor that showed that I was a victim of nothing. It’s very difficult and very heavy to carry that armor through life.”

The summer he turned 8, Dinkel said the abuse started by a farmhand who lived across the road from his family’s farm. He said he tried to get help from various people, but they didn’t want to believe it or pretended it wasn’t happening. The abuse lasted until Dinkel was 13.

“There are experts that say if an abuser isn’t held to to account through the justice system, over the course of their lifetime they can have more than 50 victims,” Dinkel said.

Dinkel said he didn’t get legal justice for the crimes committed against him, though the man was later convicted of a sex crime against a 10-year-old boy, according to the St. Cloud Times. The man died at 48.

Dinkel said his life spiraled into alcohol abuse as he tried to numb his pain. He worked to find his way and he became sober.

He went on to work for the campaign of St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly and was a staffer at the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. He now works in fleet management at the Ramsey County sheriff’s office.

On “Break the Silence Day” in 2018, when Dinkel was almost 50, he posted his story on Facebook. He’s since testified at the Legislature and says he’s open to speaking to groups interested in learning about trauma.

Dinkel said he believes the Minnesota Crime Victim Bill of Rights has helped victims move forward with their lives, but he still sees a need for more work.

It’s estimated that up to 70 percent of childhood sexual assault victims don’t report it “because of the shame that’s associated with standing up,” Dinkel said. He said speaking openly about it is one way to diminish the shame.

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