Carmen is still hashing out a custody agreement with the man she says raped her when she was sedated.
They’d been married a decade. It was two days after their tenth anniversary, in fact. She was woozy, semi-conscious after a medical procedure.
“I was devastated and traumatized but was initially convinced that I could somehow desensitize myself if I chose to stay,” she told Global News.
When the horror didn’t dissipate, Carmen went to the police, then a Crown prosecutor, who told her “there wasn’t enough likelihood of conviction to justify taking a losing case to court.”
Carmen ended up leaving her home, living for months with her kids in a women’s shelter.
It still enrages her.
“I hate our justice system,” she said.
“It’s time for people to know that these things do happen, they are legitimate and they do ruin lives.”
Especially infuriating, she says, is the idea that it’s somehow less of a violation because it was perpetrated by her husband.
“Having perhaps the only man I’ve ever trusted do that to me was much more devastating than a stranger.”
‘I’m going to f—ing ruin you’
Kayla sported bruises up her legs and on her hips after he ripped off her jeans, cinched with a tight belt.
She’d kept her clothes on to crash at her boyfriend’s place, too drunk to head home, because they weren’t having sex. She’d been clear about that. He’d been cheating and lying, she said. She was not in the mood.
He was not listening.
“I started crying, I was like, ‘What are you doing?’”
He pinned her down so she couldn’t move, grunted “I’m going to f—ing ruin you” in her ear. Almost nine years later, she’s still astonished by the pain.
He called it a mistake. Said he’d been drunk. Gave her his debit card to buy the morning-after pill. (She did — along with a tube of mascara.)
Talking it over with a friend a week later helped Kayla end the relationship. For years she couldn’t have sex without crying, terrified he had indeed “ruined” her for all future intimacy.
“It just never felt the same,” she said.
“I, to this day, do not know if it had anything to do with the way my ex tried to ‘ruin’ me. … I know he tried.”
But she never told police.
“I felt like I shouldn’t. … I was just too confused,” she said.
And she’s still worried about the boy she’d had a crush on, who’d been her friend since age 13.
“I didn’t want him to go to jail.”
‘It became my problem … They needed to try to fix me’
It took Louise years to call her sexual abuse what it was.
Because he was her brother. Because she was seven years old when it began. Because she blamed herself, as though she were somehow complicit in exploitation that escalated from “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine” to digital penetration.
Even when her vehement resistance finally stopped it, when she was 12 and her brother, two years older, was pressuring her into intercourse, she was angry at herself.
“It was my fault: If I’d only done that sooner, none of this would have happened.”
She told no one. It didn’t occur to her that there was a connection between the abuse and the deep-rooted anxiety that eventually had her home-schooled.
“I didn’t connect the dots at all. It didn’t occur to me,” she said.
Louise knew she was different when she and her peers started dating and physical intimacy freaked her out in a way her friends didn’t experience.
“I kind of remember kind of asking them roundabout questions like, ‘Oh, doesn’t that make you nervous?’”
But it wasn’t until teenage girl talk turned to speculation around what counted as losing your virginity that Louise became horrified enough at her own experience to tell someone.
“At that moment I just freaked out,” she said.
“It just dawned on me: ‘I’ve done some of these things. Oh my god, does that mean I’ve lost my virginity to my brother?’
“I had to leave and go home. I was physically sick,” she said.
“That’s when I realized, ‘I have to talk to somebody. I can’t keep going with this.”
She ended up talking to her school counsellor, who convinced her to call her mom.
“Instantly I balked at that idea. Because then it’s real, right?”
Louise remembers sitting in the counsellor’s office as he talked to her mom outside.
“Sitting in that chair, stomach in my shoes, not sure what to think or do, just in this panic mode.”
The good news: Her mom believed her, told her she loved her, that it wasn’t her fault.
The bad news: No one seemed to know what to do after that.
“They turned to me and they were like, ‘Do you feel safe in the house? … ‘Is there really a need to bring anyone else into this?’”
When they offered to put a lock on her door, Louise realized they felt as lost as she did.
“I remember distinctly thinking, ‘A lock on my door isn’t going to make a difference, because this never happened in my bedroom,” she said.
But she felt the need to protect her mother from distress at Louise’s own victimization.
“I almost wanted to throw her a bone: She was obviously upset and I wasn’t giving her the response she wanted.”
So they went home. Put a lock on her door. Didn’t tell her father, or her middle brother. C continued to see the counsellor until they all had to admit he wasn’t helping: He didn’t know how.
“It became my problem . … They needed to try to fix me,” she said.
“I don’t think [my mom] intended to make me feel like I was the problem, but that’s definitely what it felt like.”
Decades later, Louise is happily married and living in Red Deer. Her relationship with her mom is strained; with her older brother, nonexistent.
Knowing now what she didn’t at 14, “I don’t understand why this wasn’t an instant phone call, at least to child services to have someone assess the situation.”
“We all could have gotten counselling. … I definitely think my oldest brother could have benefited from intervention himself,” she said.
“I think it was a huge ball drop on behalf of everybody.”
Louise doesn’t have kids yet, but she wants them. At the same time, she doesn’t know how she’d protect them from being abused the same way she was.
“My greatest fear is that one of my children may perpetrate against another, and I’m not entirely sure how to safeguard against that.”
READ MORE: ‘I needed to know it wasn’t my fault’
‘You want to have the satisfaction of knowing there’s someone behind you’
Kathleen remembers the flip phone.
The technological anachronism sticks out amid a substance-blurred several hours. The 26-year-old has always been good at holding her liquor. She’s convinced there was something else in her drink that night in a Halifax-area bar last summer.
“I know when to cut myself off. And this was beyond that point,” she said.
“I couldn’t form a sentence. I just wasn’t myself.”
It wasn’t like her to leave the bar before last call; to leave her purse behind; to walk alongside a man she’d never met, who offered her his flip phone to call her friends. (His voice, not hers, is the one you could hear in the garbled voicemail hours later.)
Kathleen remembers bits and pieces.
“He pushed me to the ground and started to assault me.”
Bruised, bleeding, pantsless, right thumb askew, she made it to a road, flagged down a cab.
“The guy who had assaulted me actually jumped into the back of the cab as well,” she recalls.
“It was absolutely awful.”
In a daze, she directed the driver to her home. Her friends were there, frantic. They took her to hospital where she got a rape kit, a cast for her thumb, a cocktail of potent painkillers.
Kathleen’s mom took care of her six-year-old for the first week and a half after her attack.
“I was in no shape for my daughter to see me.”
The torn ligament in her thumb kept Kathleen, a paralegal, off work for weeks. She’s found a therapist she trusts, and for whom she’s paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket.
But Kathleen characterizes the police investigation into her assault as callous, riddled with blunders. She left her clothes with investigators combing for evidence, she says, but went back to retrieve her jacket months later.
“It’s just awful: You want to have the satisfaction of knowing there’s someone behind you in everything,” she said.
“When police are like, ‘You did this to yourself. You’re telling us a lie’ … ”
‘I felt like the system would fail me’
Laurel had just told him she wanted to stay friends.
They’d been dating casually, she says — Laurel, then 20, from Surrey, BC, had just ended a long-term relationship and wasn’t in a great place. They had slept together a couple of times, but she told him that was done.
“I was not interested in continuing to sleep with him but enjoyed spending time talking with him,” she wrote in an email.
They grabbed coffee. Went for a drive.
“Except this time he kept driving,” she says, “farther and farther out of town.”
Laurel realized she had no idea where she was.
“I asked him to take me home. He refused and said we could leave after we had sex. … I remember looking out the car window at the train tracks and realizing that even if I got away and managed to get cell reception I had no idea where I was, not even the closest city.
“He told me I could yell for help but that no one would hear me. ”
She remembers when the fear turned to resignation.
“I never reported it because I felt that I would be blamed,” she said.
She’d gotten in the car of her own volition; they’d slept together consensually before.
“And I felt stupid,” she said.
“I’m university educated, had a good job and came from a middle-class background. I thought if I reported it I would be ridiculed. I felt like the system would fail me and just make me feel worse so I tried to forget it.”
She’s still trying.