SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Millions of Americans are survivors of sexual violence or know a victim. Yet stigma surrounding sex crimes still makes it difficult for many people to talk about things like rape and incest.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates more than 730,000 people were raped in 2018. 1 in every 5 women has been raped during her lifetime. And nearly one in four men has experienced sexual violence.

Thirty years ago it was even more difficult for a survivor to talk about their experience with sexual violence. But one Sioux Falls woman knew the importance of her voice in 1990.

In October 1989, Dawn Aspaas, then Dawn Gaspar, and her nine-year-old daughter Liza were victims of a devastating crime. Two men — Levi Flute and David Arapahoe — broke into their home as part of a gang initiation. Arapahoe held Liza at knifepoint while Flute raped and beat Aspaas for hours. During that time period, it wasn’t common for rape victims to openly talk about what happened to them — Aspaas spoke anyway.

“He’s done too much to apologize for. There’s no excuse for any human acting like he did and I don’t feel that any apology can ever be accepted from him,” Aspaas said in 1990.

33 years later she’s still using her voice in hopes that the world never falls silent to these crimes again.

“Back then, it was something that we didn’t talk about. The girl always had done something wrong or she asked for it. Things have changed to a degree but I think there’s still that undertow,” Aspaas said.

Aspaas’s bravery was immediately appreciated by many that year — some people even sent her letters of gratitude.

“People reached out because they wanted to help, they wanted to make a difference. And I don’t think they could believe that these terrible things were going on or they were relieved that I finally said something so that it wasn’t the stigma because back then, it was a dirty little secret,” Aspaas said.

But in 1990 it was her daughter, Liza Gaspar, who Aspaas was thinking of when she came forward.

“She was a little girl, you know. Think of yourself at nine, just going to be 10 in a couple months, what life was like and then all of a sudden your world is upside down,” Aspaas said. “Then your mom is really young and she can’t get you to talk about it, right, but she also doesn’t know how to deal with it. My only way to deal with it was to say, ‘we didn’t do anything wrong,’ and tell our story.”

“He had a 120 plus year sentence for a reason. And I know I won’t live that long but I feel somedays like we’ve lived that long with the torture. So I’ll talk about it anytime because we did nothing wrong.”

Dawn Aspaas, survivor of 1989 crime

And for the first time since that horrific night, Liza is speaking publicly and sharing her voice for this story.

“I hope us coming forward again, or bringing it in the light again will help. People that aren’t wanting to come forward, know that it’s okay and the shame that you feel is normal. The anxiety and the depression, you can get through it,” Liza Gaspar said.

But healing isn’t easy and Liza says 30 years later she’s still learning how to get through it.

“It’s all I’ve ever known too, so I don’t even know anything different, I guess,” Liza Gaspar said.

“But you were also so brave that night. Without you, we would’ve never got them,” Aspaas said.

“I took a few punches to the face and a knife in my throat because I looked at him, but I didn’t know what was happening to my mom,” Liza Gaspar said.

“But she also was the hero because she could identify them,” Aspaas said. “She’s my hero. She has no idea, but she really is my hero.”

“I hope that she is the healing piece for all those young ladies out there who are suffering, thinking that they did something wrong when they didn’t do anything wrong. It was pure evil that took over.”

Dawn Aspaas, survivor of 1989 crime

A mother and daughter still healing together and reminding every woman, man and child that their voices matter.

“I’m not a counselor but I am a survivor. I do understand the feelings and the emotions we go through. I want them to know that they’re not alone and they should get help,” Aspaas said. “You shouldn’t sit still on it because if they don’t do something, it will continue to the next victim. And then someone else is going to feel as destroyed as they are. They got to be brave. That’s why we’re put here on Earth, is to stand up for what’s right.”

David Arapahoe was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1990, and let out on parole after 9 years. Today, the Department of Corrections has him listed as a parole absconder. Levi Flute is still in prison after being denied parole last month — Dawn Aspass was there, fighting to see him stay behind bars.

“I don’t want to relive this every eight months. It’s not fair.”

Liza Gaspar, survivor of 1989 crime

Flute’s next parole hearing is scheduled for December of this year.

Resources for victims of sexual violence

  • Sioux Falls Police Department
    • 911 for emergencies
    • Non-emergency number: 605-367-7000
    • 320 W 4th St, Sioux Falls, SD 57104
  • Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety
    • (605) 338-4880
    • 113 N St Paul Avenue, Sioux Falls SD 57103
  • The Compass Center
    • (605) 339-0116
    • 1704 S Cleveland Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57103
  • South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault
    • (605) 731-0041
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline
    • 1-800-656-HOPE
  • South Dakota Sexual Assault Guide from SD Law Help