The woman who accused Stowe’s fire department chief of rape during years of sexual encounters when he was a Stowe police officer has shed her anonymity, even as her alleged assailant maintains their relationship was consensual.

She says she came forward in order to encourage other survivors of domestic and sexual violence to break their silence.

Rachel Fisher accused Stowe Fire Chief Kyle Walker of abusing her over the course of several years between 2009 and 2013 when he was a full-time police officer. She first came forward to police in January but is now coming forward publicly for the first time.

Walker continues to deny wrongdoing and said he and Fisher were in a consensual relationship, even though he admitted to having sex with her while on duty. He was fired as a cop but remains fire chief.

The encounters

Fisher says her “path crossed” with Walker in January 2009, when she was working the night shift at the Swimming Hole gym in Stowe. The fire alarm went off and Walker — also working overnight shifts for the police department — arrived first. Fisher said she could tell right away that “something was off” when Walker asked what nights she worked and for her cellphone number.

She said Walker returned the next night and asked to come inside the building, telling her not to tell anyone he was there because he could get in trouble.

“The grooming had begun,” Fisher said.

A Vermont State Police investigation report — requested by the Stowe Reporter May 3 and received May 19 — is heavily redacted, with Fisher’s, Walker’s and nearly everyone else’s names and personal information blacked out. Even Fisher, who made the complaint and whose statements make up the bulk of the investigation, was unable to receive an unredacted version. State police told her she would have to subpoena that version, and pay for it to be transcribed.

In the 20-page report, often graphic, Fisher describes encounters with Walker that include him choking her, ripping her shirt off, pulling her hair, twisting her nipples until they bled, shoving her body into the car’s metal door frame, and more.

Throughout the encounters, she said never once did Walker penetrate her vagina with his penis, although she said he did have anal sex with her, digitally penetrated her and had her perform oral sex.

At one point, she said he masturbated on her face in her driveway while she squatted on the ground so the rocks wouldn’t dig into her knees, and she collected a sample of his sperm and sent it in an envelope to a family member for safe-keeping “because she realized she was in a ‘scary situation.’ ”

Police later requested and received the still-unopened envelope from the family member and took it into evidence, and also requested a DNA swab from Walker, who had already admitted he’d had sex with her.

“I didn’t want any of it,” she told police, adding Walker wouldn’t take no for an answer and he wore a gun. “I don’t know how else to say it. I just complied because I was afraid.”

Walker, in his interview, told investigators that it was “mind-boggling” that he would be accused of sexual assault, and said he never got the impression that she was upset or anything was unwelcome. He described Fisher as more sexually mature than him, calling her “a strong-willed lady” and a “pretty sexual lady.”

“Her sexual drive would put me to shame then. I never met anyone like her to this day. That was probably part of the attraction,” he told investigators.

Walker, in a written statement to the Stowe Reporter last month, said “this was an isolated event many years ago.” However, this week, he acknowledged there were multiple such events over a long period of time — he told investigators it was a year and a half, although Fisher said it lasted more than twice that long.

“During the course of this relationship, I never used my position as a police officer to exert any power. In fact, there were multiple conversations between us about the risks that I was taking and that she actually held the power between us,” he said this week.

He said the allegations “are simply not true” and added, “there wasn’t anything violent, ever.”

Fisher called Walker’s assessment of it as an isolated event “another whopper of a lie” and an attempt to gaslight the whole community.

“It’s sad but not unexpected that Mr. Walker has referred to his clear predatory patterns and years of abuse of power in terms that are both salacious and false,” Fisher said in a letter. “As I have previously stated, people like Mr. Walker are unlikely to believe they did anything wrong. ‘She wanted it’ is a common thread among sexual predators. Some of his admissions, however, have revealed that he was dishonest to the whole town.”

Fisher said when she first met Walker, she was in a vulnerable spot, with extreme stress from getting out of a marriage with two children and adjusting to working nights in order to take care of her kids’ needs during the day and the exhaustion that goes with that.

“Every single day was brutal,” she said. “I had zero skills to deal with a predator like Mr. Walker and I was an easy target. I was completely naive to the abuse patterns of certain personality types at that time. I did not know how to identify and deal with gaslighting.”

Fisher said the stress took a toll on her physical and mental health. She lost weight and felt her body “go haywire” from the ordeal. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was afraid to mention Walker’s name during her therapy sessions, she said.

“Being treated like an object to be used by a police officer is dehumanizing and demoralizing,” Fisher added. “I decided the only way out, since I believed Mr. Walker to be untouchable, in large part to the grooming, was to become the kind of woman who would never let anyone hurt me ever again.”

Enough is enough

Then came January when she saw a photo of the alleged Stowe arsonist who’d been setting fires around town for several years. Fisher thought it looked like Walker, and said her encounters with him in the past made her think he might be the type of person who might start fires, even as a firefighter.

Another person was arrested shortly after who admitted to setting many of the fires.

That report is what led to her revelation to police about the years of sexual encounters with Walker.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault declined to pursue criminal charges — sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct and neglect of duty. The statutes of limitations had timed out on the latter allegations, and Thibault said he didn’t think there was a strong enough case for the sexaul assault charges to ensure it would stand up in trial.

Fisher said Thibault’s summary “smacked of victim shaming and victim blaming and allegations of the boy who cried wolf.”

The investigation does appear to relay Fisher’s statements with a different tone than those of Walker and others.

The report says Fisher’s “sentences were broken” and she wasn’t giving information in order or being specific, and it noted her use of phrases like “ya know” and “whatever” and even “blah blah blah” to characterize her tone.

At the same time, the investigation report takes a more matter-of-fact approach to Walker’s statements. The report even notes at one point that Walker “did express multiple times that he wants to be as forthcoming as he can, and he would not lie about anything.”

That investigation report was not available when the Stowe Reporter first wrote about Thibault’s decision not to press charges, and Fisher took umbrage with the story, calling it misogynistic and slanted. She called Thibault’s assertion that her account “indicates an unhealthy relationship” the most offensive thing she had to read.

“This was not a relationship,” she said. “Kyle Walker was not my friend or partner of any sort. I was referred to only as the cleaning lady or the cleaner. Once I was referred to as a liability. I was simply an object.”

Coming forward on their terms

Becky Gonyea is the executive director of the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, part of the state’s 15-member Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Gonyea said there is no single template for people who experience domestic or sexual violence, and there is no single formula for how to recover from it.

“There is no normal, there is no typical, there is no average,” Gonyea said. “Every case and every response is different.”

Sometimes, Gonyea said, Clarina works with people the same day they’ve been assaulted. They may still be in the hospital or at the police department. Sometimes, law enforcement and the hospitals never get involved.

Gonyea said there are numerous reasons why a victim or survivor might take time to come forward, whether it’s in high-profile cases like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, or more locally-centered cases like Fisher’s.

One of those reasons is shame.

Gonyea said there’s often a sense of second-guessing oneself after sexual or domestic assault, such as how did I not see that coming? Could I have fought harder? I shouldn’t have been drinking. What was I wearing? I must have asked for it. I should have locked my door. With that shame comes denial, she said.

“There are all sorts of stereotypical issues that women in particular have to fight off all the time,” she said. “All of these things lead to incredible shame and questioning of oneself.”

There’s also the factor of public opinion, “having your life publicly scrutinized,” she said, and the fear of losing the respect, support or contact of one’s family and friends, maybe even a job.

Then there’s the literal fear for one’s physical safety.

Walker said he “never hurt anybody in my life.”

But Fisher still worries.

She said she waited a long time to come forward because she had a lot of work to do on her mental health and PTSD. She’s healthier now, she said, and her children are in their late teens and doing well. She said she thought about coming forward earlier, but also felt her life was finally back to normal.

“Maybe for the last year or two, I just enjoyed my life a little, you know what I mean?” she said. “It wasn’t ruling my life. I didn’t have to think about him every second, like, was he going to be around the corner? I have to tell you, though, that coming forward I’m afraid again. But that’s what I work through with professionals.”

Gonyea said women come forward at their own pace, and organizations like Clarina are there to support them, not lay out a road map.

“It definitely varies, and that’s one thing we don’t want survivors to think, is that there’s a path they must follow, or boxes they have to check in order to move on and be healthy,” she said.

Gonyea said Clarina has liaisons between survivors and the criminal justice system — the organization has a criminal court advocate who works directly in the state’s attorney’s office — which gives it an official capacity in criminal cases like Fisher’s.

Fisher said Thibault expressed frustration that she didn’t come forward earlier, something he reiterated when talking to the newspaper about opting to not press charges. Gonyea said she recognizes it’s best if someone does come forward to come forward with “the best case possible.”

“Time certainly does not improve the likelihood of successful prosecution in any case,” she said.

But, she added, she would like to see the Legislature improve criminal law to match the reality that it simply takes longer for some people to come forward, if they ever do. Take, for instance, the statute of limitation laws.

“Should we be either eliminating them or making them longer? Given what we know about the likelihood to come forward, the delay in coming forward, should we adjust those (laws) so they allow for that?” Gonyea said. “We do think there needs to be accountability in the community, for a variety of reasons. To hopefully stop abusers from abusing, but also to send a message to the general public that this is not allowable, that it’s not going to be tolerated.”

Still on the job

During the roughly two-month state police investigation, Walker was placed on paid administrative leave.

After Thibault wrapped up the investigation, Walker was fired from his job as a part-time Stowe police officer.

Town manager Charles Safford placed him on 10-day unpaid leave from his job as fire chief, which he said is the most severe punishment, aside from firing someone, he has doled out in 34 years in municipal government.

Safford said it was clear that Walker violated Stowe Police Department policy, and that police are generally held to a higher standard because “they have a badge and gun and are situated differently” in society. He said the town is going to look at its policies regarding abuse to find areas of improvement.

Safford said, just because Walker violated police conduct, it doesn’t mean it applies to his job as fire chief, even though he acknowledged “it wouldn’t be great” if it was sex on duty as a firefighter that was being talked about.

“I have generally tried to work with employees and give them a second chance,” he said.

However, he said that’s not the same as saying he doesn’t take the allegations against Walker seriously. He said if other people come forward, or new evidence arises, Walker’s case could be reopened.

Walker said he hopes his character and work ethic and “who I am as a human” will ensure people he can still be trusted. He suggested the newspaper take the opportunity to talk to people who can vouch for his character, but was told that’s his job, not the newspaper’s.

Safford agreed.

“He is walking a tightrope now. He has put himself in a challenging position,” he said. “This is not a public opinion poll.”

Gonyea said advocates work with police all the time as they investigate cases of domestic and sexual violence — Clarina works with Morristown and Stowe police departments, the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department and Vermont State Police just on Lamoille County cases. She said the organization doesn’t discourage people from going to the police to report abuse, but she can understand that mistrust of law enforcement can be “another barrier to coming forward.”

As for Walker?

“We believe that anyone who has committed the offenses that Walker has committed should not remain in a position of power, so we do believe he should be removed from his position,” Gonyea said.

As for Safford’s assessment that a 10-day suspension is “suitable punishment,” Fisher said she had “no words except, possibly, shame on you.”

“The sounds of towels snapping in the men’s locker room is all I hear with that comment,” she said.

“Fearless”

Fisher said she is, by nature, a shy, quiet person. Coming forward has not been easy for her, and she does not anticipate enjoying the attention she is certain to get after her name and face go public. She is not a public figure by choice.

But, she said, it’s important to her that survivors and victims of sexual or domestic violence feel emboldened to step forward, if they choose. Fisher worries that, before she shed her anonymity, the camps had already started to line up — those who instinctively defended the cop and firefighter and those who instinctively defended the nameless woman. She told investigators she worried that she would, in effect, be put “on trial. And people I don’t know would assault my character.”

At a May 10 Stowe Selectboard meeting, a letter signed by 19 people was read aloud that called for Walker’s resignation or removal from his job as fire chief. There were also people, two of them women, who defended Walker as a pillar of the community. Others have expressed support for Walker on social media.

Now that she’s no longer nameless, Fisher said she would like to begin advocating for victims, education and change around sex crimes. She wants officers who have sex while on duty treated “as culpable as someone who commits statutory rape.”

She said she was told frequently by Walker to keep things quiet, and was reminded that he is an upstanding man known for years of service. She called him “mister spotless,” and told investigators he would already have “thought of three things to say” to any question they might ask him.

“The implication was clear: don’t come forward, no one will ever believe you over me,” Fisher said. “I complied for years out of fear and embarrassment. I now choose to be fearless.”

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