In 2002, Teri Hatcher, not yet a "Desperate Housewife," was visiting her mother in Sunnyvale, Calif., when she saw a newspaper article about 14-year-old Sarah van Cleemput, who had committed suicide. Sarah had been molested, and the man implicated was Hatcher's uncle.
"The way she did it with the wrapping her head in the towel so she didn't make a mess when she shot herself. … I so understood her pain," Hatcher, 41, said.
In that moment, Hatcher decided to break her long silence. She contacted authorities and revealed for the first time that her uncle, Richard Hayes Stone, had molested Hatcher when she was 5 to 8 years old.
"What you walk away with, what you remember as an adult, is what haunts you," Hatcher said. "You know, this overwhelming feeling like that you could anticipate it and you participated. That's why those perpetrators are so good at what they do. That's where something like what Sarah did comes from, not being able to reconcile that. It's awful."
Hatcher's testimony was instrumental in persuading Stone to plead guilty to four counts of child molestation of two girls. The 64-year-old received a 14-year prison sentence.
"I think what she did was courageous and heroic," said Chuck Dillingham, the deputy district attorney prosecuting Stone. "Had Teri Hatcher not come forward in this case, I'm quite convinced the case would have been dismissed."
Coming forward with her story to the public took a little longer.
"I believed that if I came forward, it would end up in the tabloids and it would, you know, mar me forever and define me as the out-of-work, crazy, abused actress," Hatcher said. "And once I found out from the DA that they really needed help because they didn't have that strong of a case, it really wasn't a question."
Hatcher finally went public with the secrets of her past in the March issue of Vanity Fair. The revelation forced her parents to slowly absorb the truth about the man who had married into their family.
"My mom has felt like it's ruined their lives," Hatcher said. "And I looked at her and I said, 'You know, mom, if you feel like your life is ruined, he didn't ruin our lives. You ruined your life.'"
Hatcher said her own refusal to let the past ruin her future had helped her parents deal with the molestation.
"I mean, of course they want to go out and kill him, you know," Hatcher said. "But then I'd have parents who are in jail. So that's not helpful."
There are times, Hatcher said, when she still feels the pain of the abuse.
"It feels like there is a little girl in there that's insecure and needs to be constantly told it's not your fault," she said. "I think that will dominate me forever."
If Hatcher ever needed words of reassurance after taking her story public, she received them in a taped message on Tuesday's "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
"Hi, Teri. I'm Claudia, Sarah's bigger sister," Claudia van Cleemput said on the show. "We've gotten justice for Sarah, and that is a big relief. Thank you for coming forward because this actually helped us understand more Sarah's state of mind. At least now we now why she did it, and I wish you all the best."