“The hashtag came about very impulsively and from a place of anger because people were blaming Ghomeshi’s alleged victims for not going to the police, for not giving their names. On October 30, four days after the Ghomeshi story broke, I wrote a quick Facebook message to Antonia Zerbisias, a former columnist at the Toronto Star. I said, ‘Why don’t we start a list of all the women who have been raped but never reported it, and I’ll go first. Then we both tweeted our experiences, neither one of us knowing that the other had been raped. We both put it out there, and it just took off like crazy.It’s been a month now and it still has legs. I didn’t expect people to respond to the hashtag the way they did.
I’m 54 now and at 30, I fell into a deep depression. I was living in London, at the time, and I realized I was feeling this way because I had never dealt with the sexual abuse I experienced at the hands of my grandfather from the ages of three to nine. In my 20s, I did try to go to the police. My grandfather was from a small town, and the police didn’t believe me. They knew him to be an upstanding citizen; he went to church, things like that. They said it was a bit late for me to come to them. Then I tried to sue; I went the civil route, but the lawyer told me I wasn’t going to get anywhere. So I sort of dropped it. But I told my family about it and it kind of disrupted everything. They didn’t know what to do.
I was also raped when I was a flight attendant with Air Canada in my 20s. I was working on an overnight flight to Frankfurt; a colleague and I were working in the same section of the plane, so we were talking the whole time. In those days, there were no movies, so the passengers just slept. There wasn’t a lot to do workwise, so we just chatted. He was much older than me and senior. We got to Frankfurt, and he told the crew he’d taken some beer off the plane, if anyone would like to have a beer. I said yes and he said he would come to my room. So he came to my room and he attacked me.
Because I’d been abused as a kid, I’d learned how to separate my body from my mind and I would just travel somewhere else in my head while it was happening. So I did that with him. He left the room and he didn’t talk to me the next day. And apparently this guy had done this to other women. He was smart; he’d go after the young, naive women. I honestly thought I would lose my job if I told on him. I thought they would think I couldn’t handle the job. I never went to the police; I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And I blamed myself: I let him into my room; I drank some beer with him; I thought it was my fault.
When I was older, I travelled a lot to try to escape my demons. At one point I was living in London and I just could not stop crying. I was very suicidal—everything was dark. So I came back to Canada and went to therapy to get through it, to heal from my abuse. I’ve been able to come to grips with it. I’m at a place now where I am fine. I have never spoken about this publicly, but I know that there are a lot of women in their 20s who are where I was, and I don’t want them to suffer for as many years as I did.
Better sex education is one of the most important things for preventing this, from kindergarten on. There has been a series of cutbacks in sex education and where it’s provided. They only talk about where babies come from. It’s important to have it start early. I wish I’d been told that if someone touches me in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, I should tell somebody immediately.
—As told to Rachel Browne. This interview has been edited and condensed.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.