In September 2009, former One Day at a Time star Mackenzie Phillips stunned the nation with a shocking family secret. Mackenzie says she was in a consensual sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips, the founder of the Mamas & the Papas, for 10 years.
Since Mackenzie's confession, the crime of incest has emerged from the shadows and become a national conversation. Now, survivors like Rena are finding the strength to speak out without shame. "I was lying down on the couch because I had a headache, and I turned your show on and Mackenzie said, 'I had a consensual sexual relationship with my father,'" Rena says. "I was jumping up and down and screaming and started crying horrendously: 'Oh my God. That's my story. She's telling my story. I'm not the only one.'"
Rena says her brother treated her like a mistress for nearly 20 years. "He was 11 years older than me," she says. "My mother was a widow at the time from my stepfather, and she worked full time. She thought that he was our protector. He was sort of a father figure."
The abuse began at age 4, when Rena says he manipulated her into performing oral sex. "I remember looking up at him standing at the edge of the bed, looking up at him and looking in his eyes, [asking]: 'Why are you doing this? What is it you're doing?'" she says. "But I felt like it must be okay. It's my brother. He loves me. So it happened."
Rena says her brother groomed her by making her feel special. He would take her on vacations and pick her up from school on his motorcycle. With no father figure at home, Rena says she craved his attention and became brainwashed. "You're held captive," she says. "You don't want to disappoint them because you love them. You don't want it to happen anymore, but you don't want to disappoint them."
Rena says she began doing drugs at 13 with her brother who was by then married and living in his own house. One year later, the relationship became more physical. "The sex started at 14, and right after that, he started giving me money. Bought me a car that my mother wouldn't let me keep—a pink Cadillac. And he said that he could get me into modeling, and he would have me pose on his motorcycles."
At 16, Rena became pregnant. "My brother insisted that he go with my mother to the doctor. I was to get an abortion," she says. "He was teasing me and taunting me. And the reason he wanted to make sure I got the abortion is because he thought it was his and not my boyfriend's. And I had no idea."
Rena says the relationship finally ended when she was 25. "My brother wanted me to go to South America or somewhere because he was dealing drugs and he wanted me to mule the drugs for him. He tried to have sex with me that day too," she says. "I just [said] no. No to the drugs. No to the sex. And he threw a temper tantrum. And he was screaming and ranting and raving and he was saying that his girlfriend at the time was more of a sister to him than I was because she would give him sex and do the drugs."
After that, Rena says her brother moved to California and she moved to Florida. "I just wanted as much real estate between us as possible, and he did try to get me to move to California," she says. "I knew I was programmed, and I knew that I needed to be de-programmed if I was going to live my life."
Rena's brother died in January 2009. Between his death and Mackenzie's confession, Rena says she feels more empowered than ever to speak out. "Everybody could accept that I was abused by my brother, but they could not accept that it went on from the age of 18 to 24 or 25. And I was afraid to tell that because I would be judged."
If there's anything Rena wants others to learn from her story, it's that sexually abusive relationships are never consensual. "To consent is to be of sound mind and body," she says. "To consent is to not be a family member—not to be a sister or a daughter."