Creve Coeur mom opens up about her childhood sexual abuse in new book


Ellen Futterman, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

At 5 years old, Rachel Weinhaus was sexually assaulted by a teenage neighborhood boy in the woods near her Creve Coeur home. She told no one, not even her mother.

In 2019, Weinhaus learned she was part of a $215 million class-action settlement with the University of Southern California related to Dr. George Tyndall — a former gynecologist at USC who has faced numerous accusations of sexual misconduct. Weinhaus, now 47, had been a patient of Tyndall’s when she was a graduate student at the university.

What opening that envelope stirred in her surprised no one more than herself. For decades, she had buried the memories of both her sexual assault in the woods and her sexual assault by Tyndall. Was now going to be the time where she would need to deal with those emotions?

USC offered Tyndall’s ex-patients “free” therapy. [USC agreed to pay out an additional $852 million to ex-patients of Tyndall’s in 2021, bringing the total to over $1.1 billion. He is currently on trial and has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.]

Eventually through therapy, Weinhaus was able to resolve her childhood and adult trauma, and to start to see real change in her life. At her therapist’s suggestion, Weinhaus also began writing down what she had gone through, and ultimately that memoir became her new book, “The Claimant: A Memoir of an Historic Sexual Abuse Lawsuit and a Woman’s Life Made Whole.”

Recently the Jewish Light sat down with Weinhaus, who lives with her husband and two sons near Creve Coeur, to learn more about her story and “The Claimant.”

Why was it important to you to write “The Claimant”?

I hid the memory of what had happened to me as a little girl for so long, even from myself, that it was very important for me to give voice to my inner child and help heal that traumatic wound. I had also spent much of my life hiding the parts of myself that I was ashamed of, or afraid other people might reject, and so, sharing those memories and vulnerable aspects was a way to release my shame and reveal my authentic self. And I felt an urgent need to connect with other women, especially survivors. I knew I could help others heal by sharing my story. In that respect, it wasn’t a choice; it was a responsibility I felt compelled to fulfill.

How did writing the book help you work through the trauma associated with the sexual abuse?

Writing has always been my remedy. I first became a writer after my childhood assault. I’d spend hours playing make-believe to cope with the trauma. Escaping into other worlds and characters was soothing and probably my most effective coping mechanism. It was a skill I developed to run away from my pain. Writing this memoir was a true blessing in my healing process. It gave me the comfort I craved, but it also forced me to use words on the page to bring my painful past front and center. Writing became not just an escape, but my way home.

Did your Judaism and/or Jewish identity play any part in your book, or in your processing what had happened to you?

I showed an early draft to Rabbi Andrea Goldstein from Congregation Shaare Emeth. I have been on a journey of recovery since the envelope from USC arrived in 2019. Honestly, I am still not sure about the role Judaism plays for me. I am grappling with the difference between religion and spirituality and don’t know that I have found the answers. But sharing my story with Rabbi Andrea and having her support meant the world to me. Her encouragement helped give me the courage to share it with others, too.

What do you hope others learn from your story?

The most important takeaway is that you truly matter, your memories matter, and you are worthy of love. I carried and nurtured shame all my life, and it is a lonely way to live. I thought the trauma I experienced as a child, and at the hands of George Tyndall, was no big deal and couldn’t have impacted me. But burying those memories affected how I felt about myself and skewed my view of the world. The disconnect caused me to keep those I loved most at bay. I want people to know that releasing yourself from shame and facing your past can help you move forward. And the most important thing you can do is practice self-love. Trauma happens to everyone—it’s the human experience, and no one gets out unscathed. But healing and love are part of the human experience, too.

What impact has your book had on your family and close friends?

I knew that I couldn’t publish this book without sharing it first with my mother, who has worked as a clinical social worker for more than four decades. I examined our complicated relationship in “The Claimant,” and I was nervous that I might hurt her with my honesty. But she was the first person who told me, without any hesitation, that I absolutely must publish it because it could help others. We have worked through the past together, and it has brought us closer. My husband and I also strengthened our relationship through the writing of this book. He has always been my biggest champion, but there were aspects of our relationship and past that we were both nervous about revealing. When I wrote my story, we needed to reexamine some painful moments, but we further healed, individually and as a couple. So many of my friends, friends I have had for years, have opened up to me about their hidden pasts. My vulnerabilities paved the way for more honest communication between us, and I could not be more grateful for the deepening connections.

Any advice, or thoughts, to women who have undergone a similar experience(s) but so far have chosen to stay quiet?

Be kind to yourself, and patient. This is not easy stuff, and there are no right or wrong answers. Please know, no matter what, that you are not alone. You are loved and you are supported, and I hope you can find strength and solace, especially on the harder days, of which there are many. But there will be better days to come. I promise.

What is your day job and what are you working on now?

Are you hiring?! My day job is being a mom to my beautiful boys. I feel incredibly blessed. I also dedicate a few hours each day to my craft. There are few things I enjoy more than sitting down with my computer next to the same spot of sunlight each day and composing. Whether it’s a new personal essay or (gulp) brainstorming a new novel idea, it is a true honor to be a writer and to make sense of this world, and our journeys, through the awesome power of words.

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