Now Or Never

After years of secrets, sexual abuse survivor speaks out through poetry

When she was a child, Karla D. Weir was sexually abused by two men who she says never faced justice. Her family knew and did nothing, so she kept those secrets and lived with guilt and shame. Now she's finally speaking out and channelling her pain in her first book of poetry.

'Once you tell that story and bring it out into the light, it loses its power,' says Karla D. Weir

Karla D. Weir just published her first book of poetry, and broke her silence about living through childhood sexual abuse. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

It's a small book — just 76 pages cover to cover. 

But for Karla D. Weir, her first published book of poetry, Where the deer lie, is enormous.

That's because it's full of the secrets she's been keeping since she was a little girl.

"Not every survivor is going to be in a position where they can stand up in a court of law and have justice in that way," said Weir, who says she was abused as a child. "But in writing this book, and finding my voice through the poetry, I was able to feel a sense of justice."

Weir says a family member started sexually abusing her when she was a young child, but that he was never held accountable for his actions. (Submitted by Karla Weir)

Multiple predators

Weir describes the home she grew up in as a war zone. She remembers her stepfather beating her mother every day after they married when Weir was five years old. 

"We had to move several times because of the noise level with the violence," said Weir. "I was a very good child. I didn't want to stir the pot. I didn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers. I kept quiet. I dreamed a lot of escape."

While all this was going on in her home, Weir said an extended family member started sexually abusing her. It went on for years.

Then, when she was eight, she went on an extended camping trip with her mother and stepfather, where she said she became the target of yet another predator. 

Weir says she was eight years old when she was violently sexually assaulted by a man she met while camping with her family. She says he was never brought to justice for what he did. (Submitted by Karla Weir)

"There was an older man who was married with two children, who worked at the campground. He began giving me free candy and he basically groomed me," said Weir.

A few weeks after he befriended the child, luring her with gifts, she said he violently sexually assaulted her.

"I told my mother. I remember taking my mother out into the woods because I was afraid that he would hear me," said Weir. "She told my stepfather and we basically packed up and left."

No justice

Neither of the men who sexually abused her were ever brought to justice for what they did, said Weir.

"In the era that I grew up in, when my abuse was taking place, society had a tendency to look the other way," she said, adding that she later discovered many relatives knew she was being abused by her family member. 

"Families looked the other way. And I can tell you right now that the most important thing for a survivor isn't even what happened. It's how people respond and how seriously people take what happened and that they can demonstrate that you are a person of worth by taking action against wrongs that are committed to you."

Weir and her mother are still close, but Weir is estranged from many other family members who she says knew a relative was sexually abusing her as a child and did nothing. (Submitted by Karla Weir)

It would be years before Weir could escape the sexual abuse. But when she was 11, she said she and her mother finally left her abusive stepfather. 

"My mother said to pack everything that I needed to take in one suitcase and keep it in the back of the closet and not tell anyone. So I couldn't tell my friends from school," said Weir.

"We got up early one morning after he had gone to work and got on a train ... and I remember feeling like it was the best day of my life." 

Weir said she remains close with her mother, but has become estranged from many other family members she says knew of her abuse.

Finally getting help

The trauma Weir lived through as a child left her with chronic insomnia, and difficulty trusting people and feeling safe. It was only three years ago that Weir finally sought counselling when she was told about The Laurel Centre, a non-profit counselling service based in Winnipeg, for women who have suffered childhood abuse.

"There was part of me that though it was too late," said Weir. "That I needed to step aside and let the younger people who had a full life to live get the counselling and I would just go out to pasture with my shame."

Meeting other survivors and at The Laurel Centre changed that.

"It's like finally meeting someone who speaks your language. That breaks the isolation that is so common with survivors," said Weir. "Once you tell that story and bring it out into the light, it loses its power." 

Weir held a book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg on February 6, 2020. She donated part of the proceeds of her books to The Laurel Centre. (Submitted by Karla Weir)

Between counselling, meeting other survivors of childhood abuse, and her lifelong love of writing poetry, Weir said she felt strong enough to write and self-publish where the deer lie. She held a well-attended launch party on Feb. 6 at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, and donated some of the proceeds to The Laurel Centre.

"I'm moving to another season of my life, but I want it to be about thriving. I want to embrace what I have left and live a better quality of life rather than living in this isolated place of secrets," said Weir. 

"To finally have a voice after so many years of not having a voice, and to have witnesses is extremely satisfying," she said. "I would say that it's contributed a lot to the healing that I undergo on a daily basis."

Weir feels publishing her book and expressing herself has helped her begin to heal from her childhood trauma. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

For links to services across Canada for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault, click here.

If you are in immediate danger, please call emergency services in your area by dialling 911.