'I believe you': The words that changed how I felt about my sexual assault
I was ready for an interrogation and prepared to be dismissed by the police officer
This First Person column is written by Jacqueline Mills of Whitehorse. Read more about CBC North First Person columns here.
Warning: This First Person column discusses sexual assault.
We all have our own expectations and biases and when I entered the Whitehorse RCMP station on that frigid January morning, I was expecting the worst. I was ready for an interrogation and prepared to be dismissed. So why was I there?
I was there because of the brave people who came before me, spoke up and said #MeToo. I was there because they cracked a culture of he-said, she-said and turned it into a glimpse of what belief in survivors may be like.
I was there because if he ever did what he did to me to someone else, I would never be able to forgive myself.
You see, about four months earlier I was raped. But not in the way that you hear about; I was not drugged, I was not held at knife point, I was not dragged by a stranger into an alleyway. No, I was about a block away from my house on a date with someone I had met up with several times before. As the night got darker, it became quite clear that we had different expectations of how the night might end. I will spare you the details but I froze in that moment.
The following months were filled with a nauseating mix of confusion, fear and blissful denial. All of it somehow eventually led me into the RCMP station.
My initial expectations were met – cold room, concrete walls, video camera and a voice recorder — just like a movie. But then I was met by a female officer as I had requested. The officer was dressed in plain clothes, jeans and a baggy hoodie — just not quite baggy enough to cover the gun that was on her waist belt.
I began to tell her my story, avoiding eye contact, and feeling disgusted and ashamed with myself. How did I, a self-described strong and independent woman, end up in this situation?
When I finished my likely incoherent story, I looked up between sobs expecting a "did you ask for it?" or, "but what were you wearing?" Instead, when I met her gaze she said, "I believe you."
Those three words would change the next days, months and years for me. No evidence, no rape kit, no witnesses — only my word.
Initially, her belief in my story immediately made me feel safer in my home and in my community. My perpetrator could no longer contact me and had to stay elsewhere and could not continue to live a block away from me.
The RCMP officer believed me when I wasn't sure I could believe myself and when I was wrapped in so much shame and guilt that I wasn't sure I wasn't somehow to blame. I was not interrogated further, like you hear about far too often, and I did not have to relive my story over and over. I could focus on my own wellbeing and recovery instead of being re-traumatized by questioning.
Being believed is as much about holding perpetrators accountable as it is about giving some form of control back to victims.
It was much easier for me to come forward to friends and family afterwards. I felt that there was an even lower chance for anyone to doubt what had happened. This allowed me to open up to more of my community and ask for support when I have needed it.
I know not everyone can report sexualized violence. In so many instances, there is still so much stigma and shame, it may not feel worth it, or it may not be safe to do so. Only a small fraction of rapes are ever reported and an even smaller amount lead to a charge.
In the news we often hear or see the bad outcomes. I wanted to share my story as a glimmer of hope and encouragement to people who may at one point consider reporting. It is also a thank you to those who have fought so that my interaction with the police was a positive one.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or who is affected by these reports. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. In Yukon, help is available through the Sexualized Assault Support Line at 1-844-967-7275.
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