“We didn’t have a voice growing up,” says Laura Bast. “But that doesn’t mean other girls shouldn’t.”
Eight sisters from Minnesota—six of whom claim they were raped or sexually abused decades ago by their father or one of their two brothers—are now using their childhood pain to help others.
“We didn’t have a voice growing up,” Laura Bast, now 70, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “But that doesn’t mean other girls shouldn’t.”
The dark secret that Laura and her sisters spent decades hiding from the world—and from each other—finally broke free late one afternoon in January 2013.
On that day, her sister Wanita Nosbush, 60, was washing dishes after their niece’s baby shower in Mankato, Minn., as several of the siblings—including Laura, Carol Brennan, 66, Mary Schmit, 57, and Miki Schultz, 54—sat at the kitchen table chatting.
Their 87-year-old father, William Weber, had died three months earlier and the group had since been reeling from their belief that their two brothers—Wayne and Larry—had allegedly talked their dad into giving them control of the two family farms.
So it took everyone by surprise that day when Laura announced that the brothers had ultimately agreed to sign off on the probate paperwork, transferring one of the properties back to the sisters.
“Well, they’re done f—— me for the last time!” snapped Mary.
Hearing the anger in her usually-upbeat sister’s words, Wanita suddenly felt sick to her stomach.
In an instant, the painful secret that she’d spent her life refusing to acknowledge suddenly came into sharp, horrible focus.
“I knew at that moment that Mary had been sexually assaulted by one of our brothers just like I had,” says Wanita, now a grandmother of five, who owns a resort with her husband in Park Rapids, Minn. “And that I’d failed to protect her.”
Over the next few weeks, as the eight Weber sisters continued talking, they discovered that six of them—all but the oldest and youngest—had long-repressed memories of rape or sexual abuse as children at the hands of one of their two brothers or their father.
United in their anger, the sisters confronted their brothers Wayne, now 65, and Larry, now 68, and demanded they acknowledge what they’d done and apologize.
But the brothers—who, through their attorneys, deny all the allegations—refused.
Watch the sisters tell their heartbreaking story on the series People Features: Healing From Abuse, available now, on PeopleTV. Go to people.com/peopletv, or download the app on your favorite device.
So the sisters came up with a new plan. They were advised that they could leverage a 2013 Minnesota law, which provided a three-year window for childhood sexual abuse survivors over the age of 24, allowing them to file charges against their attackers no matter how many years had passed.
In 2013, the sisters filed a civil suit against both brothers that was eventually settled out of court.
The settlement prohibits the sisters from discussing any further details of the agreement, but it hasn’t stopped them from turning their pain into purpose.
Each of the siblings donated a portion of her settlement money to more than a half-dozen Minnesota-based organizations fighting childhood sexual abuse and has begun speaking publicly about her experiences in the hopes of helping other young victims.
Now known around their home state as the “Amazing Eight,” they say they hope to prevent other children from going through what they did.
“I want to live long enough to not have any little girls or boys crying silent tears into their pillows like my sisters and I were forced to,” says Carol.
For more information or help dealing with sexual abuse, contact The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800-656-4673 or visit their website at RAINN.org.
Additional reporting by Rose Minutaglio