ROCHESTER, Minn. — For the first time in more than two years, Danielle Leukam feels free. She has hope for the future.
But that sense of freedom comes with a ticking clock. Twelve years. That is when the man who broke into Leukam’s home in November 2018, brutally raped her for hours and repeatedly threatened the life of her and her young son, will be eligible for parole.
“I feel a limited time of freedom,” Leukam said last week. “I feel so free being able to speak and use my voice, but I still feel fearful for when he gets out.”
This isn’t a story about that man. It also isn’t the story of what was done to Leukam. This is the story of Leukam’s survival and how she is working to move forward after her life was changed forever.
“The only way that I can deal with that and move forward is to help others.” Leukam said. “I’m hoping that my story and my book can be somebody else’s survival guide.”
At the Feb. 10 sentencing in Winona County District Court, Leukam told the judge that she had been silenced for the past two years. When she spoke to Forum News Service less than a week after the sentencing, she said she felt “like lava in a volcano and I finally reached the surface.”
“I'm ready to write and speak and just be open and free,” she said. In sharing her story, Leukam said she is taking her power back.
Getting to the point of being able to speak publicly hasn't been an easy process for Leukam. At times, she's struggled to cope with the trauma she endured and it has had lasting effects on her, physically and mentally. As part of her victim impact statement, Leukam said as she neared the end of her remarks that this was not the end for her.
”This is not where my broken soul heals," she said. "But it is the start of a new chapter and my mission to advocate for other survivors who have endured rape and sexual violence.”
Leukam is in her second year of her two-year term on the Minnesota’s Survivor Advisory Group to the Governor — a joint group from Violence Free Minnesota, Sacred Hoop Coalition, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition. Leukam said the coalitions, the governor’s office, and other state departments look to the group for its expertise as victims/survivors to influence policy work and improve response when violence does occur. The group is able to raise questions, present ideas for change and provide feedback on legislative proposals. Leukam has used that position to advocate for adequate therapy resources in rural areas.
She also spearheaded an effort to have the dome at Rochester City Hall illuminated in teal in October to recognize Break the Silence Day. She will also be reaching out to the city in advance of Sexual Assault Awareness month in April to request that the city once again light the dome teal.
Leukam also has begun sharing her story more publicly and has plans to speak at conferences, and podcasts as well as with law enforcement and hospital security officials.
She has written a book about her experience, yet to be published, and is working on a second book with stories from other survivors. Writing has been a form of alternative therapy for Leukam. She has maintained a blog for about a year, sharing stories of her day-to-day life, things she’s learned and insights on what it means to be a survivor.
“If I could spend all of my time right writing books, writing blogs, articles, and being an advocate, I would in a heartbeat,” Leukam said. “I love the idea of writing, because you can do it anywhere and anytime and you can advocate anywhere, anytime.”
A nurse by training, Leukam said she would not be where she was today without her Mayo Clinic work family.
“But I don't look to move forward in nursing anymore, I don't look to get into management anymore. I used to, I wanted to, now I don't,” she said, adding that despite being a skilled nurse, she could be replaced. “I look to be in a leadership position in other ways — by advocating. I can't be replaced with the experience that I have endured. It's not only the events from November of 2018 that fueled my passion to speak publicly, but the assault and harassment I've endured prior to that weekend as well.”