Open letter: My sexual assault story

As part of an ongoing series, Yahoo Canada is profiling personal experiences in open letters. For more from the series, click here.

Trigger warning: Graphic detail.

It’s 2007. We had been at a New Year’s party with all our mutual friends. I couldn’t get a cab that night so I called my mom to please come get me. She did, and so when I got home it was after 3 a.m. I sat up in the living room and left the light on. I heard a knock on the door. I answered. It was my neighbour, whom I had grown up with and loved like a brother, and he said his mom wouldn’t let him into the house because he was drunk. So I let him stay over. I passed out because I had had a lot to drink, etc. Let’s just say I had a rude and traumatizing awakening.

I kept it to myself for a long time because I was so ashamed, and tried to consolidate what happened in my head. My mother and sister had been just feet away from my room. I felt disgusting. We had been neighbours for years. My mother had always told me never to have boys in my room alone. Now I felt like an idiot. Him and I used to hang out almost every day. We had never had any sexual contact or discussions of a sexual nature. I knew what he had done, but he was my good friend…my “brother"—how could I have him arrested? It was so confusing. We stopped talking after that night although we continued to live across the street from each other. Certain things started really making me angry—misogynistic comments, men’s rights activism, the elements of rape culture that were making themselves present in my awareness. Soon, I found myself very angry about my entire situation, as I began to see it for what it was. My “brother” had raped me. That hurt more than anything to acknowledge.

I began to talk to friends about it years later. The responses were always questions. "Why did you let him stay over? Why didn’t you stop him?” And when I asked if I should do anything about it, “You shouldn’t go to police; nothing will happen,” or “what do you want to get out of going to the police?” and so on. These reactions made me feel absolutely worthless, and made me question my friends. Finally after the trauma was becoming too much for me to handle alone, I started having suicidal thoughts. I finally told my parents about what happened, because I needed help. My mother told me not to report it when I asked if I should. They were angry and disappointed at first, which really weighed on my self-worth. Again. However, they were supportive of helping me get therapy privately, because free, good resources are difficult to come by. After finding the right therapist, I started to really talk about what happened. I got angrier and more frustrated with myself. How could I be an activist and not do anything about what happened to me? I was out of alignment. Then a friend I had opened up to told me the same guy had done something similar to her. Finally, with this knowledge and my therapist’s support, I reported the incident to the police in May 2013.

I gave my report and was called in to give a victim impact statement. The whole time I was questioned: “What do you want out of this? Do you want revenge? What do you want us to do? Why did you wait so long?” When I gave my witness impact statement (on video), I had had no contact with a lawyer (and was told they don’t look well upon victims who seek a lawyer out first). I gave the details of my rape as best I could. I was not prepared with details as I was not told to be prepared, so I gave details to the best of my knowledge for an incident that had happened 6 years earlier. At the end the detectives said they had enough information to charge him. And they did, successfully. They told me they would update me about the potential trial in the coming weeks. I had no idea at the time that a victim impact statement is the only evidence the prosecution can submit for such a case.

I was never contacted. I called police services to ask what was going to happen next. I was told that Victims Services should be the ones to call. I was confused because Victims Services had not been in touch with me.

I then called Victims Services and they had no information for me. The person I spoke to said they don’t step in unless an offender is convicted. I was confused. They said I could try calling the police for an update.

When I got my next update, it was to notify me that the defense had found many problems with my statement that discredited me sufficiently as a witness to throw the case away.

These were the major points that discredited me:

  • I said the rapist came by my house before the party we would all attend later. My rapist got at least 4 people to say he was with them at that time.

  • I said I heard a knock at the door and that was how we connected that night. He said I called him. The defence produced phone records that indeed did show that my phone had received a call from him — but it was from his to my phone, and not my phone to his, and there was no proof that I received the call nor time elapsed showing a discussion might have taken place. This means they had misinterpreted the evidence in the rapist’s favour and used it to discredit me anyway.

  • I said I had had intercourse “with, like, one other person” before this incident. This was somewhat true. Because the rapist was like a brother to me he knew everything about me. He knew that I had had a fling with someone after my first ever boyfriend. I left this part pretty vague because I didn’t feel it was anyone’s business. So my rapist got my first boyfriend (the guy who took my virginity) along with this other guy, who I thought I was still friends with, to testify against me. I didn’t think my sex life could be used against me.

That was that. My case was dismissed by the Crown Attorney. I had no lawyer.

Of course I didn’t find this acceptable, nor did I understand what the hell was going on. “But I can prove that most of those things are lies,” I said. “My mother and other friends witnessed him at my house earlier that night. The phone calls are coming from his phone to mine, not mine to his, so that doesn’t even matter. And I don’t think you can use my sex life against me in a case like this.”

Everything I said fell on deaf ears.

“Sorry, we did everything we could do.”

I was livid.

I went straight to the Internet and found the best sexual assault lawyer I could. He told me it was late in the game—probably too late—but that he would help as much as he could, pro-bono. Just him doing that made me feel like I had an ally, which I desperately needed at the time.

I made an appointment to meet with the Crown Attorney, and was met by the Assistant Crown Attorney. He basically told me the same thing. “Nothing we can do, your statement had holes, you don’t think it’s hard having to do this to you and 84 per cent of other cases, some involving little kids?” was his answer.

In the end nothing, could be done.

I filed a complaint against my detective, which was also denied.

I felt like I should just go die. And I tried desperately to make that happen, many times. It was all I could think about.

But then I heard about this thing called the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) and I decided to give it a try. I submitted an application and a trial date was set. The day of my trial loomed over my head and gave me immense anxiety, because although the defense doesn’t win or lose anything by choosing to be present at the trial and I was told most defense don’t show up to the trials, my rapist decided this was worth fighting me on. So I had requested a conference call trial because the thought of having to see him made me sick. I received a letter in the mail stating this request was denied. So on the day I was a mess. Every voice I heard coming around the corner I thought was his. Finally, my boyfriend couldn’t take seeing me in such distress and asked the security if there was any way I could be put in a separate room. Security looked up my file and said that the trial would be done by conference. Thanks for fucking with my sanity! I thought. I was met by two judges and had to hear my rapist’s voice via conference call. He had brought his wife and newborn daughter (probably on recommendation from his lawyer). I could tell immediately that the judges weren’t impressed. Directly following the trial I went straight to the doctor because my body could not stop shaking.

The trial was in January 2015. They told me I would not hear a verdict until March. I had booked a trip to Bali for the next day because I knew that this would be a traumatic waiting period and I was afraid of what I might do to myself left in this city with the “friends” I had around me at the time. The support I needed was lacking severely. I was angry in a way I couldn’t understand and nobody would tolerate or understand. The trip to Bali was amazing, and helped me centre myself. After that I shot a documentary in Sumatra, which was life-changing and inspiring. I felt like I was healing steadily being with people who cared for the forest and each other.

After that I went to Israel, Jordan and Palestine to shoot a documentary on peace-building and dialogue among young people in situations of conflict. It was one of the most uplifting, heartbreaking and inspiring trips of my life. I felt like I could feel and empathize in a way I hadn’t before.

The day before I left for the Amazon in March to shoot another documentary, I was on my way to see my aunt who was suffering from cancer. As I walked out to my car to get going, I noticed a big brown package stuffed in the mailbox. I started to tremble. I wondered if I should leave it and open it later. Somehow I knew what it was. It was for me. It was from the CICB. This was it.

I didn’t realize quite how much was riding on this decision until that moment. I still had a hose and duct tape in the back of my car from previous attempts, because in all honesty, I felt like an empty shell of who I used to be. I had lost so many friends and my family relationships were at an all-time low. I had built a wonderful organization. I was ready to go. And if I lost this trial, I think that might have been the end for me. (I’m OK now. No need for pity. This is just as honest as I can be.)

I opened the letter. It was a thick report. I couldn’t stand it. I skimmed through to the page that mattered.

“We find that a sexual assault did occur.”

Once I saw those words, I screamed. I cried. Snot streamed. I was making sounds that an ailing dinosaur might make. It was not pretty.

I tried to bring myself back. Deep breaths. I read a few more paragraphs: “…offender tries to cloud the issue with false accusations…” I read the report and I felt like justice won that day. Justice won.

That day, something in me changed. I felt alive again. I wasn’t fully healed, but I was well on my way.

There is another silver lining to this story. My rapist had always wanted to become a police officer, if you can believe that. Now he never will be.