Former Michigan state Rep. Lee Chatfield’s sister-in-law — who accused him of sexually assaulting her for years, according to a recent criminal complaint being investigated by Michigan State Police — has come forward to share details of what he allegedly did to her.
“He destroyed me, and has controlled my life since I was 15-16, the past 10-11 years,” Rebekah Chatfield told Bridge Michigan in a series of interviews, published Friday, about the allegations against her brother-in-law. “And I know the only way to get justice for this is to come forward and to file a criminal [complaint] against him.”
Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, is married to the former lawmaker’s younger brother Aaron Chatfield, also 26.
Lee, now 33, has not been charged and has vowed to “vigorously fight these false claims.” His attorney acknowledged he had a relationship with Rebekah while he was married but said she was mischaracterizing a consensual affair between adults.
Rebekah tells a much different story. Police say they are continuing to investigate.
Rebekah claims the abuse began when she was a student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, where Lee was a teacher and an athletic director. Rebekah says she spent time in the Chatfield home, babysitting his young children with his wife and spending the night when it was too late to venture home.
“I had a lot of family stuff going on in my life,” Rebekah told Bridge Michigan. “My dad was a recovering alcoholic, and so I believe that Lee used those [circumstances] against me and helped take advantage of me. So he would manipulate me, he would mess with my emotions.”
Lee’s attorney told PEOPLE on Friday that he is “innocent of the false rape claims made against him,” adding that he had an affair with his accuser while he was married but that the relationship was consensual and happened while both were over the age of 18.
“He did not assault this woman in any manner during their years-long adult relationship,” the attorney, Mary Chartier, said.
In response to the specific claims Rebekah gave to Bridge Michigan, Chartier reiterated that her client had an “affair with this woman [that] lasted for years, but they were both consenting adults over 18.”
“During their affair, this woman regularly contacted Mr. Chatfield to initiate sexual encounters, and she took steps to hide the affair from others, including her husband. The actions that she took prove a consensual affair and not an assaultive relationship,” Chartier also said.
“Mr. Chatfield did not ‘brainwash’ the complainant, as she now claims. She was an adult woman when their affair began, and she chose to continue the affair,” the attorney continued. “Whatever ‘details’ this woman is now claiming are irrelevant because Mr. Chatfield did not rape her, and he will provide evidence to the police as they conduct their investigation.”
Rebekah says the alleged abuse began with unwelcome touching and escalated to unwanted sex, which happened “more times than I can count.” She said that she eventually stopped resisting.
“My whole world was the Chatfield family,” said Rebekah, who also attended the school-affiliated Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church where Rusty Chatfield, her father-in-law, is a pastor. (Rusty has told local news outlets her claims are false.)
Rebekah told Bridge Michigan she felt she had no way out from the relationship.
“If I told [the Chatfields], that would, that would ruin everything. I couldn’t see what would happen past then. I didn’t know there was an option to report,” she said. “I didn’t know there were options for therapy.”
She also described a sense of belonging within the school and church community — with the Chatfield family at its center — and a culture that valued hierarchy, male superiority and sexual purity. “They preach at the pulpit that the men are always right, the women have no say,” she said.
At one point, her family discussed sending her to a public school. But she and her mother, Debbie Newbury, both told that Bridge Michigan Lee urged her to stay in his family’s orbit.
“Instead of him saying, ‘Hey, you should listen to your parents’ — what they’re supposedly preaching from these pulpits — they … started planting seeds in my head of why I shouldn’t listen to them, and why I shouldn’t trust them,” Rebekah said.
Newbury told Bridge Michigan her daughter, then 16, was “old enough to make her own decisions” and so Rebekah moved in with her father, who lived about an hour from the school and church compound in Burt Lake, Michigan.
“Lee quickly took me in,” Rebekah said, adding that her father’s health began to decline and she became more involved with the Chatfield family.
After the first alleged instance of unwanted sexual contact, Rebekah said, she didn’t tell anyone about it because she was afraid of how the Chatfields would react. They “ran that whole church and school,” she said.
According to the Bridge Michigan report, state law generally sets the age of consent for sex at 16 but it’s illegal for a teacher to sexually penetrate a student under the age of 18, though there is a statute of limitations on bringing some charges.
Rebekah said she finally told her husband, Aaron Chatfield, her mother and other family members in December, when she also notified police in Lansing, Michigan, who referred the complaint to Michigan State Police.
Aaron Chatfield, Lee’s younger brother, spoke with Bridge Michigan and said he supports his wife. He said he didn’t know about the alleged sexual abuse though he “always had questions.”
“I just saw the way he looked at her,” Aaron said.
As an unofficial driver for his brother, who was elected to the Michigan legislature in 2014 and served three two-year terms, Aaron told Bridge Michigan he drove Lee to strip clubs and to meet up with women, including a former staffer.
“Lee portrays himself as a family tradition, conservative guy who believes in the Bible and the Bible is so important,” the younger Chatfield said. “No, it couldn’t be further from who my man was as a person.”
Another of Lee’s brothers, Paul Chatfield, 27, said he believes there was “inappropriate behavior” between his sister-in-law and older brother but questioned her account of the alleged abuse in terms of when it started and how far it escalated.
“What she is saying, I don’t believe,” Paul said, adding that “the best-case scenario is, I’m disappointed.”