(APTN reporter Brandi Morin. Photo courtesy Jenna Hobbs)
A note from APTN News Director Karyn Pugliese: As journalists we do not often share personal stories. Our role is to be a vehicle for other voices. Those among us who have experienced violence and sexualized violence make a choice: To speak about it publicly. Or not. As journalists we respect these wishes. Each path to healing is unique.
With so much in the news about MMIW, and sexual violence in general, it can trigger memories. For journalists too. We are not immune or protected from the troubles that plague our people. So what do you do when someone in your own newsroom comes to you, and wants to share their story? Someone who believes doing so will not only help their own healing, but help others who are struggling to speak about their trauma and to find their first words. I asked: Are you sure? Then I respectfully stepped out of the way.
APTN National News
I was raped in the winter of 1993.
I was 12.
It would be 16 years before my journey of healing would begin.
Because I felt like everything was my fault.
Because I felt like I had brought it on myself.
It was too much.
Who would ever believe me?
I felt dirty. I felt deep shame. I felt wasted.
For all those years in between I tried to forget that night in the strange apartment with the two other girls I ran away with from the group home in North Edmonton.
I still remember the girls’ names, Shannon and Rose.
Sometimes, when I am hit with a sudden bolt of panic, I see their faces within the shadows of memories I suppressed throughout most of my life.
The story of that night that could have been my last began with an innocent desire.
Shannon, Rose and I wanted to escape the group home. We were sick of the rules and the colorless concrete walls where we were housed.
They were street smart and I came from a rural area and didn’t know the dark underside of city life.
We made our escape during a cigarette break. We started running and didn’t stop. The two girls seemed to know where we were going, so I followed. It was dark and cold outside, but running warmed me up, sped up my heartbeat along with the anticipation of what lay ahead.
The air tasted like freedom.
We were rebels.
Finally we arrived at a high rise apartment and I remember it sat next to the luxurious Fairmont Hotel. I still know its outline along the Edmonton skyline and to this day, I feel a quick pain deep in my gut every time my eye catches its shape.
On that night, at that moment, there was no thought of danger, only of our mission to find cigarettes and booze so we could get drunk, if we got lucky. We entered the front doors of the apartment building and took the elevator up. Shannon and Rose knew where they were going.
I was a lost and confused little girl living in and out of foster care since I was six years-old. I was accustomed to moving around, but never grew used to it.
I came from a broken home afflicted by chaos punctuated by fighting and pain.
My mother, the daughter of a residential school survivor, struggled to raise four children while trying to maintain a relationship with my father, an alcoholic. Their relationship was volatile and my father would come and go.
I was always expressive and responded to the family dysfunction by acting out. I was labeled the wild one of the family. No one knew how to deal with my anger and my mother decided to put me into foster care.
She told me later it broke her heart.
She felt powerless and believed it would only be temporary, just until things got better.
My childhood years became a blur, moving in and out of foster homes until they put me into a home for troubled children.
My world was the world of lost children.
On that winter night when I stepped into the elevator, and into the apartment I didn’t know how lost we were.
I didn’t know how much I was about to lose.
Living room laughter and talk came in through the bedroom walls. I remember that.
I also remember the brown paper bag with the six-pack of beer and the pack of cigarettes. That was the price. I took the payment.
Over the next few days the men moved us to another apartment.
I started praying. I prayed hard, ‘God, please help me escape.’ It was so dark. ‘God, please help me,’ I prayed.
One of the men finally agreed to let me go.
He drove me to my Kohkum’s.
I ran inside as fast as I could. My Kohkum embraced me. I was safe.
I didn’t tell her what had happened.
A few days later I had to go back to the group home. I remember telling one of the workers what had happened, but nothing was done. My parents weren’t notified.
Shannon and Rose were still out there.
A couple of weeks later I remember a news story about the rescue of two teen girls held hostage by men.
That was that.
I buried it deep and hoped it would never surface.
For many years I felt shame and guilt about what happened.
Those memories began to surface again about 8 years ago. They came in flashbacks, and panic attacks. Feelings of terror and anxiety. Doctors drugged me with sleeping pills and other medications.
The memories kept resurfacing. I knew I had to face it sooner or later. I needed to talk to someone that I trusted, someone that I had faith in. For me, faith was found in church. I always believed God had sent angels to rescue me when I prayed to him that night.
And my faith is what I’ve clung to along this journey of healing.
But recently it was the story of Tina Fontaine’s murder and the arrest of the alleged perpetrator that helped bring what happened to me into sharp focus.
I am a survivor and these feelings have suddenly become stronger with every headline I read about the planned inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.
Lately I’ve been inspired to share this story in hopes it can help others who have experienced the same to find healing.
I’m hearing of so many women who have been hurt and violated, who have survived, but are too scared to come forward.
I believe there is healing in sharing.
Last week I realized the panic attacks that haunted me for years were rooted in this incident. It was freeing to understand that I no longer have to be afraid anymore. I’m not that 12-year-old girl fearing for her life. I survived and I am thriving now.
But I believe there’s empowerment in sharing our stories of survival.
We all deal with trauma in different ways, in different stages and healing won’t look exactly the same for everyone.
What has been hiding in darkness must be brought to light so that these attacks against women stop, so the deaths and disappearances stop.
Looking for help?
This link will take you to a number of programs across the country where you can turn.