'I am not ashamed of the trauma I endured': Victim speaks out as her abuser is sentenced to jail

Hannah Povey can breathe a little easier today. Her former boyfriend — the man who abused her —  has been sentenced to jail.

'I wasn't telling people ... because I was ashamed at the time'

'It's very important to me to be able to share my story and to hopefully help other women,' says Hannah Povey. 'I believe that's the first step for us to move forward with trying to fix this epidemic.' (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Hannah Povey can breathe a little easier now.

Her former boyfriend — the man who abused her — has been sentenced to jail.

William Wesley Gunning, 24, of New London was sentenced Friday in P.E.I. Supreme Court in Charlottetown to two years less a day in provincial jail, for assault, forcible confinement and making a death threat.

Details of the trauma Povey suffered were laid out in an agreed statement of facts presented in court. They include Gunning cutting off her breathing, by pinching her nose at timed intervals, over many hours.

On two occasions he refused to let her leave his home. One of those times he kept her there for two nights and tied her to a rail in the bathroom. He also threatened to kill her.

Gunning pleaded guilty to six charges. A number of other charges, including sexual assault, were stayed. An earlier publication ban on information that could identify the victim was removed when the sexual assault charge was stayed. 

At the sentencing hearing, Povey took the stand to read her victim impact statement.

Despite a troubled childhood, William Gunning, 24, was an active member of his community. 'Behind closed doors he was just a different person,' says Povey. (FaceBook)

"I now struggle with my breathing. I savour every breath. If my airways are hindered in any way, I panic," she said. "Having my life hang in the balance of someone else's control, this is the thing that haunts me."

Friday's sentencing marked a step onward, in an ordeal that began three years ago, when Povey and Gunning began their relationship. 

She told CBC News she developed "coping mechanisms" to help her get through those terrifying episodes.

"There were times when assaults would occur, I would just have to think about what I was going to do the next day. Because if I put myself in the next day, I could believe that I was going to live that long."

Carefully chose her moment to leave

Povey also struggles to reconcile how such violence could have happened, in light of who her boyfriend appeared to be to the outside world.

"He was a volunteer fire fighter, he did a lot of public speaking. He appeared to be this really great person.… Behind closed doors he was just a different person and he would just change."

Did I have a space in my home where I felt safe? I realized the answer was no.- Hannah Povey

Povey knew she had to do something, when a women's outreach worker — who had come to her home on an unrelated matter — asked her an unexpected question.

"She asked me, did I have a space in my home where I ever felt safe," said Povey. "I realized the answer was no ... that really gave me the presence of mind to look at my relationship."

Povey carefully chose her moment to leave — making sure a friend was there to help. Later, she contacted East Prince RCMP for assistance in retrieving some of her belongings from the home she shared with Gunning. She credits the police officers' perception of the situation, and sensitive questioning of her, with the criminal charges that were eventually laid.

"It got to the point where I did not have my own vehicle. I did not have autonomy over my own money. I was isolated from my family," said Povey. "I was leaving breadcrumbs. I wasn't telling people what was happening because I was ashamed at the time. I didn't want to tell people that I was in danger."

In a statement to the court Povey wrote, "I am not ashamed of the trauma I endured ... I am not ashamed of the choices I made with my heart instead of my head."

As Povey's abuser was sentenced to jail, Islanders gathered to remember victims of violence against women, as part of the national day of remembrance and action. (Al McCormick/CBC)

At Friday's court sentencing, Gunning's defence lawyer described the man's troubled childhood. It included a difficult, abusive upbringing, followed by years of care in foster homes. Gunning has been in custody since March. Court heard he has begun counselling, and intends to seek treatment for anger management and chronic cannabis abuse, among other psychological issues.

Gunning did not speak in court Friday, but according to statements made previously to justice officials, he said he regrets what he did and wishes it had not happened.

Remember the women that lost their voices.- Hannah Povey

Gunning will be on probation for three years after he gets out of jail. The court has ordered him to wear an electronic ankle bracelet when he gets out, so probation officers can keep track of his whereabouts.

Friday's sentencing fell on a sombre date; the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, and the national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. Povey calls it a "pivotal day."

"I really want to take the day to just remember the women that lost their voices," she said. "I want to pay my respects to them. I feel very lucky to be in this position where I am alive and I was able to come forward.

"It's very important to me to be able to share my story and to hopefully help other women," she said. "I believe that's the first step for us to move forward with trying to fix this epidemic."

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Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting and print journalism in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.