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Did the Pentagon Ignore Allegations of Rape, Sexual Abuse in the Ranks?

Aired February 16, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Is this the U.S. military's dirty secret?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody wants to say that there's been a rape in their command. Just looks bad on paper.

MORGAN: Veterans who put their lives on the line for America sue Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. Their explosive charge, the Pentagon ignores rapes and sexual abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I went for help several times with other petty officers and I was denied help.

MORGAN: Tonight, two military women tell their shocking stories. My primetime exclusive.

And later the heartbreak behind her celebrity.

CHERYL BURKE, "DANCING WITH THE STARS": I think if I tell my story I can help a lot of people.

MORGAN: "Dancing with the Stars'" Cheryl Burke on overcoming her childhood trauma.


Good evening. Ever since the draft ended America's fighting forces have been all volunteer, young men and women prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. But none of them expected when they signed up they could be serving alongside the enemy.

This is exactly what some combat veterans are charging tonight. They say they've been sexually assaulted by fellow troops and they charge their superiors swept the whole thing under the rug.

I must warn you details of their stories are graphic and disturbing and may not be suitable for all viewers.

Joining me now is Marine Corps veteran Anu Bhagwati. She's executive director of Service Women's Action Network. Rebekah Havrilla and Myla Haider, both plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Secretaries Gates and Rumsfeld, will also be joining me.

Anu, let me start, I suppose, by trying to get a picture of how bad this problem is. There are 200,000 or so women in the complete American military. How many cases are we seeing per year and is it getting worse?

ANU BHAGWATI, SERVICE WOMEN'S ACTION NETWORK: In the last report by the Sexual Assault Prevention Response Office in fiscal year 2009, over 3,000 -- 3,230 sexual assaults were reported throughout DOD, all the four branches.

What we know, though, is that that accounts for only about 20 percent of total sexual assaults, these are DOD estimates. If you do the math, though, about 16,000 service members, both women and men, were sexually assaulted that year.

So it's an extraordinary problem but it gets even more egregious when you look at what happens to those alleged perpetrators once they're reported through the chain of command. Very --

MORGAN: Your position is that the perpetrators are not brought to justice and the victims are often treated as criminals themselves and they shouldn't be bringing these cases.

BHAGWATI: Absolutely, and we just have to look to the data to understand that most of these predators are actually not prosecuted. They don't even see the inside of a courtroom. There -- and those that are prosecuted don't necessarily get convicted. The vast majority are punished in a non-judicial way, just a slap on the wrist, or their cases are swept under the rug by commanding officers.

MORGAN: The case that you're bringing now is against the two secretaries of defense, Gats and Rumsfeld. You're not taking it against the perpetrators because in some cases they've already tried that line of justice and it hasn't worked.

This is a big play by you, isn't it, and the people you're representing? Why have you taken that step and do you think you can be successful?

BHAGWATI: Well, the case has been brought by Berk Peel LLC, a law firm in Washington, D.C. and we're -- sort of spokesman and consultant for the suit. Litigation is absolutely necessary on this issue. I mean, decades -- for decades this has been a problem.

We've had dozens of task forces, studies, congressional hearings, reports -- you know, there's not a member of Congress who doesn't know that this is a problem but nothing is being done to fix the problem. I mean the rates of report -- the reports of sexual assault are continuing to rise. And perpetrators aren't being brought to justice.

MORGAN: I'm going to be joined now by one of the victims, Rebekah Havrilla.

Rebekah, tell me what happened to you.

REBEKAH HAVRILLA, PLAINTIFF IN LAWSUIT: I was in the Army from 2004 to 2008 and I deployed in 2006/2007. And while I was in Afghanistan, I was subjected to a lot of harassment and assault from my team leader on an almost daily basis and right before I left to come back to the United States, one of the guys I worked with raped me right before we came back.

MORGAN: This is a horrific incident. Tell me about the buildup to what happened to you because clearly if you have seen movies like "G.I. Jane" and things like that, you know there is a pervasive culture in the military towards women who join the military of sexism and abuse. In the same way that there is against almost everybody.

It's part of the cultural philosophy of the military that you treat everyone in a pretty bad way to make them stronger, they say. What was happening to you before you got raped?

HAVRILLA: Well, it is a very hyper masculine culture and I did a predominantly male job. I was an explosive ordnance disposal technician and there really were not many or if any other women that I had contact with, and so it leads to a lot of isolation, a lot of times in my instances I had no support from my chain of command.

And then as I said earlier having a team leader that sexually harass the and assaulted me in many different ways from telling me what exactly he wanted to do to me and trying to grab my rear end, pull me into bed with him on occasion, dealing with those types of issues and dealing with the combat stressors on top of that puts you in a very difficult place emotionally and mentally.

And then to have someone that you consider a colleague and an ally rape you at the end is just kind of the icing on the cake to the whole story.

MORGAN: When it finally happened to you and you've been raped, what was your first reaction? What did you do?

HAVRILLA: My first reaction was I just want to go home. I just want to go home. And then when I got home and had time to kind of process some of the -- of what happened, I mean, it's a lot to take in and I did go report it but I utilized the restricted option that the military has to offer and I reported both the man that raped me and my supervisor under the restricted reporting option.

And then I did everything I could to try and do what I could for myself to finish my time in the service and eventually move on.

MORGAN: We're going to come back after the break to what happens when you report these incidents, one of the major things I know that you're concerned about is when these get reported they get thrown under the rug, no one seems to bother with them or taken seriously. But we'll also being joined now by a second victim, Myla Haider.

Myla, tell me about your story.

MYLA HAIDER, PLAINTIFF IN LAWSUIT: I was actually -- I spend six years in the Army before I decided to become an agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and I had to do an internship in order to submit an application to be a criminal investigator. It was during that internship that the rape occurred. After my internship I went to Hunter 1st Airborne Division, went to Afghanistan, went to Iraq, and I went to become a CID agent. After about a year of being an agent I received a phone call that the person who attacked me was being investigated as a serial sex offender and my cooperation was requested for the investigation.

So I cooperated with the investigation and the offender was not convicted of any of the sex related offenses against several different women. He was not placed on a sex offender registry and my -- within two months of the trial, my command began administrative discharge proceedings so after 9 1/2 years my career was over within months of the trial.

MORGAN: So Myla, in essence, you end up getting sexually abused and raped and you then get thrown out of the military, and this is after nine years of great service to your country?

HAIDER: Right, I was administratively discharged and I spent five years after my discharge fighting with the Department of Defense to get my record corrected and five years after my discharge in 2005 I was finally awarded a medical retirement.

MORGAN: Now you had been part of the very investigative body which is supposed to investigate cases like yours. Is that one of the main reasons that you didn't pursue this and didn't report it?

HAIDER: It was. I was not very aware of the issue at all prior to becoming or working with CID during the internship, and it was during the internship that I was first exposed to sexual assault investigations. It wasn't something that I thought too much about or was worried about myself, but I -- I participated in many investigations both with a male and female victims.

And it was during that time that I noticed that, you know, the attitude towards cases involving female victims had -- it was a very victim-blaming atmosphere so when it actually happened to me, I knew that if I reported it, that I would face some kind of negative ramification and then the offender would not be convicted.

Additionally, the personnel who would have investigated my rape at the time were the friends and co-workers of the rapist and I was an intern. He was, you know, more senior investigator and, you know, the offense would have been investigated by his colleagues so I knew at that time that I had really -- there was no sense in reporting it because nothing good could come out of it.

MORGAN: And Rebekah, you actually went to one of the army chaplains who gave you some extraordinary advice, didn't he?

HAVRILLA: Yes, about a year later, I had gotten out of the army and moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and I ran into the guy that raped me and went into a little bit of shock and requested to speak to a sexual assault response coordinator or to a chaplain. And when they finally got me the chaplain, the chaplain basically told me that it was God's will for me to be raped and that I needed to get right with him and go back to church.

MORGAN: I mean it's completely scandalous, isn't it? I mean, would you say -- I'll put this question to both of you.

Rebekah, you answer it first. Would you say that in your experience the military is just inherently institutionally sexist and that there is an attitude towards women which is --

HAVRILLA: Completely.

MORGAN: Which is really unacceptable?

HAVRILLA: Completely, and it's even worse in job fields that tend to be male dominated.

MORGAN: And what would you say, Myla?

HAIDER: I would say that it is very much a command accountability issue and institutionally the military is sexist but most of the workplaces that I worked in when I was in the Army, the leadership had zero tolerance for any sexual harassment so in the workplaces in which the command did not support that atmosphere I didn't have any problems.

But I would still have problems from people outside of my unit making remarks and, you know, it's a sexually harassing atmosphere, but in my own workspace, thankfully, it was not tolerated.

So I think it's a matter of, you know, command enforcement and command accountability and responsibility.

MORGAN: We're going to have a short break now. When we come back the aftermath of assault these service women say what happened to them next was just as shocking as what happened in the first place.


MORGAN: More now on the stunning charges of sexual abuse in this country's military. I'm back with Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women's Action Network and Rebekah Havrilla and Myla Haider, both say they were raped while on active duty.

Anu, let me come first to you to put to you that point really about whether the American military is institutionally sexist. Do you think it is? Or is that an unfair labeling really of the situation?

BHAGWATI: Well, I think sexism is allowed to exist generally in the military but the larger problem with sexual abuse in the military is there's no institutional accountability. There are very few options for redress for victims of sexual assault and harassment. And many of these victims are male. We should remember.

If you look at what's happening in the VA, 40 percent of military sexual trauma survivors are male. All right? So this isn't just a problem of predators targeting women. It's predators targeting whoever is perceived as weak. Whoever they feel like targeting at that moment.

MORGAN: Let me go to you, Myla, and I want to know from both of you, but I'll start with you, Myla. But what happens when you report these cases? And be specific here. What happened to you?

You'd been raped and I know because of your circumstance of being with the CID, you decided not to report it at the time. You were then approached two years later. What happened when this all became a public matter for you?

HAIDER: Well, at the time that I was approached by the investigator to give a statement, I already knew at that time that giving a statement would end my career in CID. CID is a very close- knit organization regardless of the severity of the complaints, there's -- complaints against other agents are, you know, generally discouraged and people who make complaints like that really as well as in the rest of the military are considered almost to be betraying their own by making those complaints.

So I knew that I was going to have difficulties, but I was prepared to deal with that because he had attacked so many other women and I felt it was my responsibility and my duty to participate in it.

After I reported it, you know, there were other agents who were subpoenaed and who were asked for statements in other areas of CID but it was a -- it's a very small organization and so the word traveled fast that there was this rape case and there is a general -- a general contemptuous attitude towards rape cases and towards victims within CID. So being known as a rape victim was not a favorable impression for me to have.

I went to a new duty station. My command already knew that I was part of this rape case at this time that I arrived. I didn't get treated -- you know, I kind of got treated differently from the time that I arrived at my new station so it really -- it changed a lot of things for me.

I got treated a lot differently. I knew that was going to happen. I just thought at the time that it was -- that it would be worth it.

MORGAN: Yes, but did everybody ostracize you or were there any Good Samaritan types who came forward to offer you protection?

HAIDER: Well, several of my good friends really stood by me throughout this ordeal. There were some agents who didn't know me, who didn't want to ride alone in a car with me and kind of acted like, because I was involved in this rape case that I might report them for anything else.

It was kind of an attitude of skepticism towards me and because of the fact that most rape cases that CID investigates, there's kind of an assumption that the victim is probably lying in most of them, so I kind of was challenged more on my integrity which was really offensive and difficult for me to deal with because I had a nine-year history of working in very sensitive positions and had, you know, documented integrity throughout my performance evaluation.

So being treated on a daily basis as if everything that I said should be questioned was probably one of the most difficult parts of that for me. It was really as soon as I was known as a rape victim then I was treated like one and I think that's what happens within the military in general also.

MORGAN: Rebekah, let me put that point to you. Did you have the same experience as Myla?

HAVRILLA: I did not, and I did not because I chose to use a restricted reporting option and that's exactly why I chose to use that option because I knew if I started an investigation that there would be the ostracism -- the criticism. And I didn't want to deal with any of that.

At that time it wasn't -- I wasn't emotionally ready for any of that and I made that decision for me, not for anybody else. That was purely for my own sanity. And then later when I did report it and I did start an official investigation, it took a lot of time. I didn't hear anything for four months and then I got called in again to say hey, somebody new has your case. We need you to come in and basically redo the whole interrogation again.

And at that point, you know, I was not real happy with the situation. The investigation continued. They found out that the guy that raped me was married at the time which I had no idea. So the end story was basically, well, it's a he said/she said. We can get him for adultery but we'll refer it to his command and they will make the final decision.

And I've never heard what that decision has been and it's seven months since they were supposed to get back with me on that.

MORGAN: Myla, the option that Rebekah is talking about, what is that exactly and why didn't you take it?

HAIDER: The restricted reporting option is an option in which a victim can report the crime to only certain individuals including medical personnel and the necessary evidence will be collected and then the victim can maintain some level of confidentiality, but they are actually ordered not to talk to anybody else about it, not even friends. And they are held to that if they decide on that option.

I was not aware of that option. It was in 2004 that the majority of -- that when I started with my case and I'm not sure if that option existed at that time but if it did I was not aware of it.

MORGAN: We're going on another break now. When we come back, the military responds. Is the top brass taking these charges seriously?


MORGAN: Back now with the latest on the dramatic charges of sex abuse in America's military and we're joined by Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women's Action Network, and Rebekah Havrilla and Myla Haider, plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that alleges the abuse. Both women said they were raped.

Here's what Secretary of Defense Gates had to say today on this issue.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have expanded the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and Victim advocates tenfold from 300 to 3,000, and we now have those advocates at every base and installation in the world including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court-martial percentages have increased from about 30 percent to 52 percent. So we are making headway. The fact is we aren't where we should be. It is a matter of grave concern and we will keep working at it.


MORGAN: And we've just received a statement from the Pentagon which says, "Sexual assault is a wider societal problem. And Secretary Gates has been working with the service secretaries and chiefs to make sure the U.S. military is doing all it can to prevent and respond to it. This is now a command priority but we clearly still have more work to do in order to ensure all of our service members are safe from abuse."

We also reached out for comment to former Secretary Rumsfeld and are awaiting his response.

Anu, I mean there's a recognition there that mistakes have been made. What I'm curious about is why is it now a priority? I mean I can't imagine many more serious things to happen in the life of the military than serious sexual abuse and rape against female members of the military and yet they're only saying now that they are prioritizing this?.

BHAGWATI: First of all, I think those responses are completely unacceptable. I mean these, you know, representatives of our government know exactly what's going on. This -- you know, this crisis has existed for years and years.

What Secretary Gates was referring to is these SARCS and victims' advocates. You can flood the system with all of these people who are allegedly supposed to help victims. But if victims don't feel safe to report then what's the point of spending millions of dollars on a program which doesn't provide protection for survivors, which doesn't guarantee prosecution of perpetrators, which doesn't send sexual predators to jail, doesn't even require that a sexual offender registry be implemented.

So that once these serial predators are finished -- you know victimizing people in the military they go on and victimize people in our neighborhoods back home. MORGAN: Yes, but you are a former captain in the Marine Corps yourself. Are these women all exaggerating what went on? I mea what was it like for you? Are there positives to being a female captain in the Marine Corps? Is it good most of the time with bad apples? What is the situation?

BHAGWATI: Well, of course, I mean there are lots of positives. I mean it's an honor to serve as a Marine Corps officer, as a Marine in general. But, you know, what we're talking about is systemic abuse of personnel. It's very difficult being a woman in the Marines without -- it's a challenge being a woman in any branch of service.

MORGAN: Did you see any abuse when you were serving?

BHAGWATI: Absolutely. I mean I saw egregious abuse. When I was an officer and, you know, I'm endowed with a bit more authority to actually do the right thing and see that victims are protected and perpetrators are punished, but I couldn't do that because my senior officers wouldn't allow me to.

I saw senior officers, these are lieutenant colonels and colonels, who literally are still in uniform and are now in the general officer rank, who transferred sexual predators out of the unit instead of prosecuting them, who allowed junior enlisted members, NCOs, to be sexually harassed by junior officers, who allowed those junior officers to be promoted in the middle of equal opportunity investigations.

That's endemic to the military.

MORGAN: So you're saying this goes right to the top. Generals --

BHAGWATI: Absolutely.

MORGAN: -- serving right now.

BHAGWATI: Absolutely.

MORGAN: Were aware of this kind of abuse and basically covered it up.

BHAGWATI: Very much so and in most of these cases -- I mean I encourage your viewers to read the complaints that -- of this lawsuit. It's online on our Web site. It's egregious what's happening to these women and men.

Commanding officers are absolutely implicit and oftentimes are involved in cover-ups of these cases because they don't want to be seen as having a problem in their unit. It's considered a leadership failure.

Well, it is a leadership failure if when something is reported to you, you don't act on it and you don't --you know, you don't defend the women and men in your own unit. MORGAN: Let me go back to Myla and Rebekah here and ask them for your reaction to what Secretary Gates was saying. I mean as I say what struck me when I heard him was this idea that somehow now this is a priority.

What was your reaction to that? Let me ask you first -- let me ask Myla first.

HAIDER: The others -- it has been several years since I got out of the military and I've been following the issue. And there have been a string of excuses throughout the last several years and into time before that, as to why nothing is done about this.

It's true sexual assault and rape is a societal issue. A lot of women -- women in our society are conditioned to worry about rape all the time. We have to spend, you know, our lives worrying about rape walking at night, et cetera,

I realize it's a societal issue. But civilian women, when they are raped, have the option of quitting their job if their supervisor was the one who raped them or moving someplace else if they feel unsafe. And there is just -- regardless of whether, you know, it's a societal issue, there is really no excuse for anyone to be subjected to the level of maltreatment that victims are subjected to when they report an offense.

That just -- there is no excuse for it. There is no excuse for that. And the programs that have been put in place are completely ineffectual. The victims' advocates are not advocates. They're hand holders. They are people who can, you know, see victims through the system as the system re-victimizes them and be there with them while this happens.

The advocates are powerless to do anything for victims. So that -- putting more advocates in the picture doesn't do anything at all.

MORGAN: Rebekah, let me go quickly to you for your reaction to what Secretary Gates was saying.

HAVRILLA: Right, my reaction to that is it's just a lot more lip service. We've been getting lip service from these people for many years now on we have a zero tolerance policy. Well, lip service doesn't change anything. And in my opinion, these are -- these numbers mean nothing.

But, hey, we've made adjustments here and there. But they haven't made any changes. There's been no systemic change. And I have to echo -- Myla was saying that, you know, most of the training they -- we go through is ineffective. A lot of times it's even made fun of. So there needs to be a big overhaul.

MORGAN: There needs to be basically a completely new system, it seems to me, put in place. When we come back after the break, these military women are making it their mission to fight sexual abuse. Will this lawsuit open some eyes?


MORGAN: More now on the charges of sex abuse in America's military. Here with me Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women's Action Network and Rebekah Havrilla and Myla Haider, both plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Let me go to you, Myla and Rebekah. Myla first. Do you regret joining the military? And do you remain proud of your service in the military?

HAIDER: I actually don't regret joining the military at all. I don't know that I would advise it for another young woman. But I had a wonderful time during the majority of my time in service. I really enjoyed the military and intended to stay in for 20 years. And I had a lot of wonderful experiences in the military. So I don't regret it at all.

MORGAN: Rebekah, how about you?

HAVRILLA: I don't regret it, but I don't think that I would do it again. I also -- I loved my job. I just really didn't enjoy most of the people associated with the job. But, no, I don't regret it. I just don't think I would do it again.

MORGAN: Let me thank both of you now for your service to your country. I think you've done an extraordinary job. And it's very brave of you to do what you're doing now. And I hope you do get justice.

Anu, I want to sum up with you. I'm appalled really by what I'm hearing here. I think these are two intelligent, diligent women who tried to do their job properly, and they've been A, appallingly abused. And then when they have tried to complain about this, they've basically been thrown to the wolves.

How do you stop this happening? Can you win your lawsuit? Are you just running up against a brick wall here? What happens?

BHAGWATI: Well, we'll se what happens with the lawsuit. I mean right now we are trying to knock some sense into the Department of Defense and to wake up the American people. Their sons and daughters are not being protected when they join the service. They are legally not allowed to sue their commanding officers, their perpetrators or their branches of service.

There are no remedies for you, as there are in the civilian world. I mean as we see with these two incredibly talented veterans, the military is losing tens of thousands of extraordinarily talented people it spends millions of dollars training. It's a retention issue. It's a national security issue.

MORGAN: The military has to keep recruiting. Obviously, this is not going to help. What would your message be to any young woman watching this who has been interested in pursuing a career in the military, but is now horrified at what she's hearing?

BHAGWATI: I would encourage any young woman or man to follow his or her dreams and to join the military if that's what they want to do. The onus here is on the military and our government, on our Congress members to ensure oversight and to allow a system -- to create an additional system where service members who are assaulted, attacked psychologically and physically tortured are allowed to seek remedies and redress for the crimes committed against them.

MORGAN: I wish you good luck with it. I really do. Thank you very much, Anu Bhagwati.

Next, the dark side of glamour; the childhood trauma that haunts "Dancing With the Stars'" Cheryl Burke.



MORGAN: Cheryl Burke is undeniably a glamour girl, strutting her stuff on "Dancing With the Stars." But behind the glitz lies a story of childhood trauma and horrible abuse. She breaks her silence in the book "Dancing Lessons."


MORGAN: Cheryl, I read your book yesterday, and it is a fascinating book because I only know you as this happy, smiley, you know, fun-loving girl "Dancing With the Stars." And you've been in this for a few years, a hugely popular show, second-best talent show on TV after --


MORGAN: -- "America's Got Talent" obviously. But that's how I know you. So I just know you as this great dancer, always smiling, always having fun.

Then I read your book and I discover a whole different world that you've had to go through as a young woman. And I found it quite shocking. And I know that it's been a pretty big deal for you to come out with this stuff. How do you feel now it's all out in the open?

BURKE: You know, I feel relief. I feel also that I'm still in the healing process and it's actually been very therapeutic to me. And just all the feedback I've been getting from people has been so positive. And every time I talk about, I do get a little nervous. But once I leave to the next interview, I feel like a stronger woman.

MORGAN: Let's go right to the heart of the most serious part of your book and this is the extraordinary revelation that when you were a very young girl your parents entrusted this guy who was a mailman to come and look after you and your sister. How old were you at the time?

BURKE: I was five years old.

MORGAN: Incredibly young. Very -- obviously, very naive and this guy comes along. Tell me what happened. BURKE: Well, my parents hired help because they worked 12 hours every single day. We needed someone to help around the house, pick us up from school, take us to the grocery store. And he was kind of that fatherly figure in the house when my step dad wasn't around. And --

MORGAN: Your parents had got divorced.

BURKE: My parents divorced at the age of two and my dad left us, went to the Philippines and, you know, I think from then on I kind of just felt this abandonment from my father. And my mom remarried a great guy who I call Dad to this day. And when we -- when they hired help, this man was that father that I was looking for. He would cuddle me, tell me he loves me, and make me feel important.

MORGAN: Then what happened?

BURKE: Then he would touch me inappropriately and I knew it was inappropriate.

MORGAN: Even at the age of five?

BURKE: Even at the age -- I just felt uncomfortable. There were moments where he wouldn't go there. And then there were moments where he would touch me inappropriately or make me watch pornographic movies with him. I was so young. I was so confused as to what was going on. But he never hurt me physically.

He also, you know, came to me knowing that I needed that father figure. He knew my weakness and he filled that gap.

MORGAN: Classic pedophile behavior, isn't it?

BURKE: Absolutely.

MORGAN: Groom you into thinking this is perfectly normal. At the time, did you tell your mother or your stepfather anything about it?

BURKE: I couldn't. I didn't tell -- I didn't tell them. I didn't want -- I was scared. I didn't know what he was doing was wrong. And I didn't want to get him into trouble. And the only reason my parents found out was because of my stepsister's friend who he tried to touch as well, and she stopped him and went to my parents.

MORGAN: What was your mother's reaction, in particular, when you said to her that you had also been through this?

BURKE: I -- what I remember -- because it's such a foggy memory since I was just five years old, I just remember them in shock and then the next thing I remember is I'm testifying against him in court at age six.

MORGAN: I mean, that's an extraordinary thing for a 6-year-old girl to have to go through.

BURKE: It was the scariest thing. MORGAN: Can you remember much of that?

BURKE: I can just remember the feeling I felt. It was nerves. It was guilt. And it was confusion because I didn't understand why I was here. I didn't understand why I'm putting this man who's treated me with such love, why am I putting him in jail? And on top of that, I had to try and explain my story like I am right now at age six years old. I was terrified.

MORGAN: Does your mother feel guilty about the fact that this was allowed to happen? That she left you with this guy?

BURKE: Sometimes I feel like both of them feel guilty. I talk to them as much as I can about not to feel guilty. You know, they were great parents because they were working parents. If it weren't for their success, I wouldn't be here today. I wouldn't be a dancer. I wouldn't have their support in that way. They were just trying to work and help me do what I love to do.

MORGAN: When the guy got released, he turned up at your stepfather's office.

BURKE: Dental practice.

MORGAN: And he confronts him.

BURKE: He confronts him. He walks in and says to my father that he never did that to his kids. And my father kicked him out right away, told me that, you know, he was walking in in his walker, just a really old man, really weak looking.

MORGAN: But he now presumably knows that you're famous, you're on television, you're a very glamorous figure in the celebrity world. And there's this guy who systemically abused you back on the streets, free to lead his life, as he's already shown once, just turn up if he wants to.

BURKE: I think about it and it creeps me out, but I try not to. I try to move on from it.

MORGAN: What's been the impact to you psychologically, do you think?

BURKE: I think a lot, growing up with no self-esteem, no confidence, getting into abusive relationships in high school with men, not knowing my boundaries, feeling like I always need to please and have no self-respect for who I am.

MORGAN: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about how dance enabled you to get out of that abusive time in your life and turn you into the happy woman you've become.


MORGAN: I'm back now with "Dancing With the Stars'" Cheryl Burke. Cheryl, we've had a very harrowing few minutes with you there talking about this awful abuse that you had to go through. What kind of child were you before that happened, do you think?

BURKE: Quiet. My mom had to take me to a hearing specialist. She thought that I couldn't speak or thought I was deaf. I think the separation from my parents really affected me as a child. And, you know, I was always the kid that sat in the back of the classroom, never talked, never really could communicate with anybody.

At the time, we also had another nanny who was from the Philippines who only spoke the language and I was speaking English. So she would only speak that language to me and I couldn't respond and I couldn't communicate back. So I think I was always a very shy girl.

MORGAN: Your relationships with men from an early age, you know, in your teens when you began going out with guys, all seem to have been adversely affected by the psychological trauma you've been through.

BURKE: Yes. I've been through two abusive relationships in high school, one that was seriously physically abusive.

MORGAN: And one was sort of more mental.

BURKE: One was a little bit more mental.

MORGAN: And the other one, this guy actually was punching you and hitting you.

BURKE: Yes, he did hit me with his belt. That was the worst -- worst day of my life, I have to say. And he -- and I continued to go back to him. I continued to go back to that relationship.

MORGAN: Why did you do that?

BURKE: Because I was scared to be alone. I didn't want to leave him because he told me he would be the only person that would ever love me as much as he does. And --

MORGAN: I mean, that the passage in the book is -- is awful to read, that this guy just takes his belt, wrestles it off his trousers and just begins to thrash you with it. I mean it's all -- it's awful that any young woman has had to go through that.

And yet you -- as you say in the book, you go back to this guy. He keeps spinning you the same old story, isn't it?

BURKE: When -- you know when he came back and he was upset, I felt like I couldn't leave. I felt like -- I felt sorry for him. He made me feel in a way that it was my fault and that I deserved that.

And that's what I thought. That's -- that's how -- you know, I had no self-esteem. I had -- I couldn't walk away. I was too scared to walk away and be alone. I was terrified.

MORGAN: What made you finally do it? BURKE: My dancing, just being called from New York, a great -- a great opportunity for me here happened. And I just packed my bags and left.

MORGAN: And never looked back?

BURKE: Never looked back.

MORGAN: How are you now, do you think, psychologically?

BURKE: I think I'm still healing and I'm a work in progress, for sure.

MORGAN: But do you have meltdowns? Do you have bad days, when you just lose it because of all that's happened to you?

BURKE: Not so much meltdowns. I think, you know, I get co- dependent sometimes on certain people in my life. But I do know that I am in a healthier stage in my life right now. You know, I've been single for the past year. I've been working with my therapist every single week. And I think I owe that to myself for the rest of my life.

MORGAN: Do you -- do you trust men?

BURKE: I have a hard time trusting men.

MORGAN: And single for a year, at this stage of your life, it's quite unusual --

BURKE: It is.

MORGAN: -- for a woman like you. And you're a huge star and there can be no shortage of guys. But I can imagine every one that comes up to you, particularly if you're famous, it's even more difficult to get any kind of trust going, isn't it?

BURKE: I do. I do have major trust issues, but just -- and I know that. I've -- I've realized that from my past relationships after high school that, you know, into fix that. I can't -- no one deserves that. No one.

MORGAN: One of the other awful things that's happened to you was when you began to appear in the tabloids and they began focusing on your looks and your weight and so on.

How hurtful was that? From -- from reading the book, it clearly was hurtful. But compared to the other stuff you've been through, was it as bad? Is it -- is it as bad as it gets for a woman to go past a store and see your picture in a magazine --

BURKE: It's horrible.

MORGAN: -- and people poking fun at you?

BURKE: Yes, I mean put -- putting yourself -- I was put on blast for my weight. And let alone I had to go -- and it was during a season where I had to go put on another outfit and smile.

MORGAN: This is -- this is one of the pictures that they -- I mean, I've got to say, I don't see anything wrong with that picture.

BURKE: Thank you.

MORGAN: It might just be me, being -- coming from Britain, where you would be deemed a goddess, to be perfectly honest with you.

Is this because of the pressure of the kind of LA --

BURKE: It is.

MORGAN: -- nonsense where --

BURKE: I think it's the pressure of, you know, you flip through a magazine and you see really skinny women in those pictures. And I think, you know, they used to compare -- they compared that to another picture maybe a couple of years ago.

MORGAN: So when you look at yourself there, what do you think?

BURKE: No, I don't think I'm fat.

MORGAN: Not at all.

BURKE: No, I don't. No. I don't.

MORGAN: It's ridiculous.

BURKE: That's not fat.

MORGAN: I mean, I interviewed Janet Jackson recently. And she told me -- I was shocked by this -- that she knows female celebrities who, to avoid getting hammered over pictures of themselves in bikinis and so on, they -- they eat tissue, Kleenex, because it clogs up their stomachs and it means they're not hungry.


MORGAN: I mean, this is dangerous stuff, isn't it?

BURKE: It is dangerous. And it's sending the wrong message to women out there.

MORGAN: Well, if you had the chance to go back into a room with these guys that have mistreated you, what would you say to them?

What would you say to the old man who took away your innocence?

BURKE: I would say thank God I testified against you. And I'm so happy you are in prison for as long as you are, because you've done lots of damage to many young girls, including myself.

MORGAN: And to the guy -- the -- the two men, but particularly the second one, who physically abused you and continued to do so for some considerable time, what would you say to him?

BURKE: I would say, how dare you ever have done that to me? And I am just living proof that any woman who has been abused can move on from that and become a powerful and courageous woman, as I have done.

MORGAN: Cheryl, thank you very much. I wish you all the very best, I really do.

BURKE: Thank you.

MORGAN: It must have been a very difficult thing for you to have to endure. And I hope that it all works out for you and you meet someone that you can trust.

BURKE: Thank you very much.

MORGAN: Thank you.


MORGAN: Now here's my colleague Anderson Cooper with "AC 360."