Recently, we received an e-mail from someone who wanted to share her story under the condition of anonymity.
TRIGGER WARNING for discussions of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.
Inspired by two recent letters in Carleton’s Charlatan and a really powerful article I read about December 6th, I too need to share my story.
I am also a statistic. I am also in support of a sexual assault centre at Carleton.
I support the creation of a sexual assault centre at Carleton University because my 18 year old self deserved better.
I graduated from Carleton shortly before the Coalition started and so I did not have the privilege of benefitting from their support line or services. (Although I suppose I could have easily graduated this year and I still wouldn’t benefit from a centre.)
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say and looking back on my life, I know far more about violence now than I did then. And what I know is that my experience was all too typical:
1- I was 17 (Most sexual assault victims are between the ages of 16-24)
2- My abuser was my boyfriend
3- It took me two attempts before I left our relationship
3- When I left my abuser, the abuse didn’t stop. In fact, it got worse.
I was 17 when I entered an abusive relationship that would haunt me for 7 years. Let me stop your train of thought before it goes off the tracks: I did not enter into a relationship with an abuser. Like most women, I started dating a sweet, charming, ambitious man. A man that many people envied me for having in my life. We were compatible, inseparable and very much in love.
And I could very well be your daughter, your sister, your friend.
There was nothing about me or him or us that would raise a flag to anyone that something was amiss.
So when I came to Carleton, overjoyed to be studying at my dream university and entering into my classes, I looked no different than most keen first years.
When the abuse began and slowly but surely escalated, I did not reach out for help. Not directly, anyway. But as I retreated slowly into myself, stopped seeing friends, avoided people in my life, people who knew me well knew enough to ask questions. But I loved him, I was determined to make it work and on the worst of days, I told myself that I’d made my bed and I was damn well going to lay in it.
It took me two tries but I finally left him. There is so much mythology around abusive relationships but in particular about how they end. ‘Why doesn’t she just leave him?’, they say. As though it’s that easy. As though you don’t love the good days. As though you have the financial independence to simply up and move (and in my case, move 3 times).
But I eventually took my things and left him.
However, like most abusers, he simply picked up the pace knowing that now, he had nothing to lose; he’d already lost me.
Meanwhile, I spent 2 weeks as ‘So and So from No Fixed Address’. I was homeless; couch surfing from place to place, attempting to escape his escalating harassment, threats and abuse. He followed me to work, to class, to the library, to my friend’s houses. He harassed my co-workers, my friends, my roommates.
All the while, I was struggling to finish papers on time, write finals, attend class. I felt like a prisoner who couldn’t escape him as he waited outside my classrooms, sat outside my apartment, chased me from parking lots.
When it was clear that my abuse and subsequent trial hearings were affecting my ability to succeed in school, I reached out to a school counsellor. At the time, I was struggling with whether or not to drop the charges since nobody had told me that he’d be free to reign until trial. My Hollywood dreams of a ‘Witness Protection Program’ to keep me safe while he awaited trial were quickly dashed when I realized I was going home alone every night to the possibility that he’d be there, waiting. He told me, repeatedly, that if I didn’t drop the charges that he would murder me, my family, my pets, my whole world. I believed him. (And still do).
As I debated what to do, I was told by counsellors that ‘If you don’t follow through, he won’t stop until you’re dead’. When I returned a week later, I was having a good day and was then asked by the counsellor to write down how much they’d helped because Health and Counselling Services were understaffed and needed positive feedback in order to increase their profile. I jotted something down and never went back.
I want you to know my story because I want you to know that it’s people like me who sign petitions in support of the sexual assault centre.
My 18 year old self deserved a space to sit, to cry, to fume. I was owed the opportunity to speak to my trained peers who could truly look me in the eye and say “I understand”. I wanted to be in the presence of people who understood that rape and daily, continuous abuse was more than just physical; it was about breaking someone’s spirit. It was also a logistical issue; I had deadlines to meet and awkward conversations to be had with professors and TAs.
I support a sexual assault centre on Carleton’s campus because it’s become abundantly clear to me that I was not alone.
I support a sexual assault centre at Carleton because we all deserve better.