Sexual Assault Victim Opens Up to Queen’s Park

By Jennifer-Leigh O’Neill

December 29, 2018

So, The following novella is a presentation I did for the Toronto Provincial Legislature regarding everything that is wrong with our criminal justice system from the perspective of a sexual assault survivor who had danced through that shit show.

Tbh nothing has changed, but this is probably the most important thing I’ve ever said. And I am proud it is on the books.

Please read this, not because you know me, but because this story remains relevant in how we need to proceed with the fight against sexual violence, particularly in the era of Doug Ford.

Read on , lovers.

Ps. added the modelling pic because it embodies me feeling comfortable in my skin, which is rare. #femmepower.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil


Image may contain: 1 person, standing

 

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): I will call on our next presenter this morning: Jennifer O’Neil.

Hi, Jennifer. Just come forward. Have a seat anywhere you like. If you’d like some water, please help yourself.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Thank you.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): You’ve got up to 20 minutes to speak to our committee this morning and that will be followed by questions for you, if you’re willing to take some questions. For the record, please start by stating your name.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Hi. I’m Jennifer O’Neil. It’s nice to see all of you here. I’m going to do my best with this. Presenting today is really, really challenging. I live with complex PTSD and I’m talking about some of the most triggering stuff possible, so do bear with me.

I’m here today to share some of my experiences with sexual violence and our criminal justice system. All instances of sexual violence are unique, and I don’t think that my voice is any more or any less valuable than any other survivors. I really wish I saw more of us here.

With that being said, my experience has been unique in a way that could be useful. I’ve survived our criminal justice system as a victim/witness in a sexual assault and the accused was found guilty; I’ve heard that’s a 3-in-1,000 chance.

I don’t wish to make this solely about a heart-wrenching narrative of abuse. I could do that, but I think that we all know how horrible this stuff is. If you’d like to hear my victim impact statement, I’ve posted it publicly to YouTube and I will be forwarding it to MPP Kiwala. However, to give you a sense of familiarity with me as a human being so that my words might matter a teensy bit more, I’m passing around some photos of myself as a child, just to keep in mind that I’m a human being with a history, who had a life before this happened.

Two and a half years ago, I was living in Toronto, working as a fashion model and a cook. I was really starting to make it in modelling. I had landed myself in a high-profile kitchen. I was pumped to see where those took me. I was enrolled in social work at Ryerson University, which I loved more than both of my jobs combined. All I wanted to do was get my degree together and find a job that could help me help others. That’s really what I wanted. I had a gaggle of wonderful friends. I was unafraid. I was joyous.

Everything changed when I attended my staff party, a large staff party in a club atmosphere—not my usual scene, but I thought, “Hey, I usually work, so why not go?” I left my drink unattended for two minutes—stupid me—but nobody deserves what came next. From what I believe, I was drugged and I was then abducted, forcibly confined and violently sexually and physically abused by a complete stranger. To put it briefly, I was the recipient of an unwanted sedative placed in my drink without me knowing. This is what I believe.

I woke up in a stranger’s car with a stranger, taken to an unknown location, manipulated, violently abused, threatened, taunted, humiliated and more. I was eventually released due to an effective coercion by the police in my community. My friends were aware that I was missing. If I didn’t have a caring community I would not be here today.

I recall watching the Toronto skyline from the apartment I was confined in and I recall wondering if my loved ones knew that I loved them. I recall wondering if I had truly lived out anything resembling a destiny. And I recall realizing that I hated fashion modelling. I recall realizing that if I could just get out of there alive, I’d have to do something about rape culture, because this was insane.

As I found myself alive the next day, figuring out what to do next was a challenge. It’s taken years. When your life gets blown up, it lacks a literal bomb going off. There’s no messenger that shows up with an envelope telling you that everything is different now. You’ve just got to figure it out yourself. I knew I felt different. I knew something was different; I just didn’t know what yet.

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What I eventually realized is that the incident left me with crippling PTSD, as I mentioned. I’m now a recipient of ODSP due to this. I was not disabled before this happened. This is so humiliating.

So why did I report? Why? We often ask why women don’t report. Maybe asking why they do could narrow in on the necessary conditions for when to participate in our justice system, because there are so few of us who do. I know there are a series of reasons why I decided to report, and I’d like to share those with you.

Thank you for listening so attentively.

Number one, I reported because it was horrible. We’re all aware that criminal court is the pits, particularly for victim/witnesses, so after being sexually abused, if continuing on with life is an option, most people would opt for it, as the system offers little in terms of tangible protection or comfort. Pursuing criminal court is a theoretical act that lacks efficacy in keeping the victim safe, as restraining orders are potentially less than effective. But what I needed to know was that, at the very least, my country could recognize that what happened to me was a crime and that they were trying to do something. Why would I vote, otherwise? These were my most important interests. I reported because I care about sovereignty and government legitimacy.

I also reported because I’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault. When I was 11 years old I was ongoingly sexually violated by my best friend’s older brother. It continued at school, and when I entered junior high—and that’s something we need to think about, in terms of high schools and middle schools: We have no relationship between high school kids and kids in middle schools, and no protection for kids in middle schools.

I was in grade 7. I recall wetting my pants in class simply to avoid having to walk to the washroom, where he usually lurked, waiting to abuse me and whoever else he did this to. He was eventually sued in a class action lawsuit that I was not included in. I was afraid. I had nowhere to turn. Children do not have the same kind of power that adults do, and they are victim to sexual violence just as much as we are.

Knowing full well that I had just experienced a violent, very illegal assault, I could not in good conscience avoid reporting to spare myself discomfort. Civic responsibility goes beyond voting.

I reported because I have family support. My parents know of my history of abuse. They know how devastating sexual abuse is. They supported me in whatever I chose, and always made sure that keeping me alive was their priority. I knew I had that backing. I knew that there were people there to keep me from going off the edge.

I reported because I have a supportive and progressive community who understand the complexity and relevance of sexual violence. Without their support, I would not have had the courage to report. Without their support, I would not have had the courage to follow through with a trial.

I have top-end, privately funded healing resources, due to a community member offering me funds for my healing needs. I could never afford this on my own. I have spent most of my university money on therapists. I otherwise would not be able to afford any of this.

Some of our publicly funded resources are fantastic, but sexual trauma requires rigorous, ongoing, holistic care. It’s gutting. There are no two ways about it. We need more resources, and we need more integration between our resources. I didn’t hear about most of the resources in Kingston that are available from V/WAP when I went there—Kingston and Toronto. I was at both. None of them directed me. I don’t see most of the people who provide support for sexual trauma survivors in Kingston here today, and I don’t know why.

I’m privileged. I’m white. I’m able-bodied. I’m hetero-seeming. I’m attractive. I did nothing to earn any of these things, but these attributes allow me more sympathy from the public at large. I look like a perfect victim. We have made the dire error of associating the reasoning behind sexual abuse with the characteristics of the survivor or victim. I realize we are trying to undo these beliefs through awareness-raising, but they’re well and alive. Were I overweight, a person of colour, non-hetero or physically disabled, reporting this would have been impossible. We ascribe the shame we feel as victims to our other identities. When I was younger, I thought if I was smarter, prettier, if my parents were richer, if there wasn’t something wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out, this would have never happened. So when we favour certain people in society, we inadvertently give them greater access to justice.

I reported because the perpetrator was a stranger. Not knowing this person allowed me to think only of my experience and not of the impact that would reverberate throughout my community had I known him, had I started a “he said versus she said,” or had he started a “he said versus she said.” Naming a stranger as a rapist or a perpetrator is much easier than naming a community member, a family member, a spouse, a parent. We all like to think that evil lives outside the walls of our homes and familiarity. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and our communities or the people we live with everyday are ill-equipped to fairly and safely negotiate sexual violence within our private spaces, with or without state involvement. Our state doesn’t know what to do, but our communities don’t either.

I reported because I’m articulate and educated in the field of oppression. It gave me a tool kit to understand my experience and to defend myself against discrimination within the justice system. It helped me to advocate for myself, which was intrinsic to my success in completing court. For all of these reasons, I reported. While some of them are logical, many of them are entirely tied to my unearned privilege. I don’t want my access to justice to be based on winning a discriminatory gene lottery. We need to make this more available. How do we do this? Because it does matter. I know that the other resources matter, too. Healing and staying alive is of the utmost importance. Women vote. Survivors vote. When this happens to your life, it creates a lens that you see your life through. We need to address this.

So for all these reasons, I reported. Clearly, ending sexual violence is going to require a committed, ongoing cohesive effort on the part of all political parties, leaders, interest groups, agencies, survivors, medias, communities, religious groups—everybody. Until I’m well enough to return to my degree, my job as a survivor is to heal and to be as brave as I can, to speak whenever I can and to speak for myself, but to know that I’m not alone.

There are a thousand and one reasons why women don’t report, and honestly, all of them are really good reasons. There are few reasons why women do report, and some of them aren’t the best. Seeking justice, I believe, is good, but seeking justice on the basis of unearned, arbitrary characteristics that reinforce stereotypes feels horrible.

Moving on: Once you report, everything changes for the worst. The police officers, before my report, were calling my house, saying, “We think you have a good case. We really think you should report this. You matter.” I listened to them and I thought about it, but it all changes once you make your statement. You’re assigned a victim witness worker who you rarely speak to—they have very few. I wish V/WAP was here. I know they’re state-funded. They are the people who deal with all of the survivors in court. They know what’s needed.

The services offered by V/WAP are a pittance of what is necessary to aid a person through this process. They’re understaffed and bound by the rules of criminal court; complainants are always at risk of being cast as not standing alone. You may not deviate from your initial statement before court. Any new information you share with the crown, V/WAP or anyone for that matter who is related to this process must be submitted to the defence.

I was told to stop journaling. I was told to reconsider how I spoke to the V/WAP professionals I was seeing, to avoid notes. I was told to get better, but to also stay so far under the radar that getting better quickly was not an option. Although my health status was eventually put on the books due to requiring ODSP, I am traumatized by the alienation that was forced on me by this process. I started to feel as though I was hiding something, even though I wasn’t.

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Any identity that deviates from complete privilege makes accessing a fair SA trial substantially more challenging. Disclosing mental health concerns as a female complainant in a sexual assault case is frightening, as mythology and stereotypes are so frequently used to undermine complainant credibility. My mental health is an important part of the discussion in trial, not a tool to discredit me but as evidence of the impact of my perpetrator’s abuse. This is what they call a 279 application. Thankfully, the rape shield law has made the process of cross-examination slightly less abusive and discriminatory than it once was; however, the “sluts or nuts” mythology—the idea that she’s either a slut or crazy—is so embedded in the beliefs of our justice system that it perpetuates itself within the context of the rape shield law.

To avoid direct questioning regarding mental health or sexual history in cross-examination, the defence instead must file an application for this information to the judge. This extends the trial. It adds another date to determine whether or not the judge believes that your sexual history or mental health is of relevance. In some cases, if they are filing for your medical files—anything on paper—you, as the complainant, have to go and get your own lawyer because if the state supported you in that, that would be considered a conflict of interest. I’m sorry, but that’s pathetic. Nobody wants to be doing this. Throw them a bone.

It felt like a kick in the teeth. You live for over a year knowing that your email, your phone, your medical files and your sexual history may be all opened up in front of a room of people, in front of your perpetrator, and used to undermine you. I’ve done nothing wrong.

During the recess of this court date, the crown attorney reminded me that I had the option for a peace bond—an agreement that leaves the accused with no record and a one-year restraining order. If invading my privacy is so essential to a fair trial, then isn’t suggesting to me to take a peace bond to avoid having my privacy invaded a complete contradiction of justice? We go so deeply into people’s privacy that crown attorneys, just by having a heart, suggest, “You don’t have to do this”—but he was guilty. If I had taken that peace bond, he would have walked; no record. He’s not necessarily a safe person. It all gets so theoretical. It was weird. It was paternalistic. I wasn’t even allowed in the room at that hearing—I wasn’t allowed in the room for any of the hearings of this, except for the trial date itself. For most of that trial date, I was not allowed in the room—only for my testimony, cross-examination and afterwards. It felt like there was a group of parents speaking about what their kid had done. It was really strange, and I don’t think anybody here would want that.

Then there’s cross-examination. I’m going to get a bit graphic here, but I need to lay down for you where we are at in our system. After the requests for medical and sexual history were denied—therefore, it was not okay for the defence to ask me about these things—the first question I was asked was what pharmaceuticals I was on at the time of the crime and what their interaction would be with alcohol. The crown said nothing. I was in a position where I had to start answering, because you’re not allowed to not answer, and eventually the judge stepped in, within a couple of minutes, and said, “This isn’t appropriate,” but it still happened. The power of suggestion is huge. What he did right there was plant the seed of my mental health and whether I’m reliable or not in everybody in the gallery’s mind: “Is she crazy?”

I was then asked where the perpetrator was in my vagina. If I recall correctly, the average depth of a vagina is two to five inches. I’m no different than anybody else. How does a question like that get into our system? It traumatized me—answering a question like that. He asked me about my tights, my leotards, the difference between tights and leotards, socks, crotchless tights and pantyhose. He asked me about it again the next day—this is the defence lawyer. He asked if I was embarrassed and had made it all up. I’m trying to give you a picture of what being able to suggest anything looks like. I had to answer these questions in front of my family, in front of my husband-to-be and my loved ones.

He was found guilty. It has been six months since this happened, and he still hasn’t been sentenced. I’d love some peace of mind, but the worst is over. I’ve said my victim impact statement. I’m still here and I’m not dead.

My main suggestions are to please improve communication with the federal government, to ensure that social transfers get made. As an ODSP recipient, I could have really used that money. I have never seen my ODSP worker because she is so overworked.

We need to improve our communication between agencies. Agencies are scrapping for money. There’s cross-fighting. There is a lack of time and energy for them to integrate and come together and provide better services.

However, there is something that’s working. The Sexual Assault Centre for Quinte and District, which I truly wish was here—and maybe they were in Ottawa; I’m not sure. But they’ve created what is seemingly—across race, class, gender and sexuality—integrative, holistic healing programs funded solely by fundraising. They have a state-of-the-art facility that they bought in Prince Edward county which was a former yoga retreat. They host survivors, male and female. The groups are gendered; there are male groups and female groups who go for a week at a time, for free.

The retreats include rigorous group therapy, physical activity, art, wholesome meals, outdoor activities, and community integration. It’s a week of free healing. This is unheard of. Anyone from Ontario can apply. They’re just Quinte, but they have reached out and made it available to everybody. That’s what I mean when I see people really investing themselves in this effort. They’re not just taking the funding they’re receiving and doing the most with it; they’re going the extra mile.

I participated in this healing program. I went for a week, and for the first time in years I saw myself. I felt myself feel normal in my body again. I was able to smile and have it feel honest. If I had had a month of this, I think I would be as right as rain right now. To not ensure that this group was here today—maybe they’ve spoken to you, but if you haven’t heard from them, please speak to them. They know so much. They have initiative, motivation, information and an effective model of both therapy and, apparently, fundraising that works. It’s incredible.

I think that survivor panels are really important. It’s hard for us to understand what goes on for people, because SA is so bound by shame that nobody wants to talk. I don’t want to be here today. I’m happy to on one hand, but on the other hand my kidneys feel like they’re going to explode, I’m so stressed out.

We need to get survivors talking. I think that this panel is amazing. I’m always skeptical of political interest, especially—even though you guys are the province’s—in the year before a federal election, but I do think that we should run with this. I really think that this should be the new “no coal.” I think we should try to put ourselves on the map as being different than other provinces. I think we should really get moving.

I’m ready for any questions, if you want.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing so much of your personal story with us.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Thank you.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): We’re going to start with MPP Peggy Sattler, with our NDP caucus.

Interjection.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Oh, I’m sorry. Was it going to be Taras?

Mr. Taras Natyshak: No.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Oh. I saw your microphone on.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: I think we all want to give you a collective hug, because that was really important. Your courage and bravery are so valuable and significant to us, so thank you for presenting that story.

You mentioned something about how many of the services that you initially went to for support aren’t here today. Were you referring to the Quinte and district sexual assault centre? We will definitely make the commitment to follow up to find out about them. Were there other services that you found particularly helpful in your experience following your decision to report?

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Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Yes. Thanks for asking. Firstly, I think just getting everybody to the table is really important, but in terms of services, the Kingston neurofeedback clinic is incredible.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: What’s that called?

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: The Kingston psychotherapy and neurofeedback clinic. What they do is they offer—oh, boy, explaining this in its entirety is a bit too much.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: Only what you’re comfortable with.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: They offer types of therapy that help to retrain brains so that you operate less out of your amygdala and more out of your neocortex. A lot of trauma survivors mostly operate in a sort of reptilian brain. So they have some really effective therapies where you do not have to talk, and they’re affordable. It’s an investment in software and technology.

I wish I could have more of a chance to talk about what they are, but they’re effective and survivors should just be going there right after trauma, because you don’t want to talk after something like that happens. Their early childhood sexual assault and trauma centre—the links to these places, because I’m bad with names. But SWAG, the sex work interest group in Kingston, the Queen’s Sexual Health Resource Centre, Queen’s Legal Aid, all of these—there are a lot of little, little groups with next to nothing who do a whole lot.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: And how did you connect with these organizations? Were you basically on your own sort of trying to—?

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Yes. They offer referrals to SAC; I believe SAC receives funding from the government, so I think it’s more likely that V/WAPs would be aware of them. But it’s like, they give you a number, and people who have just been traumatized are generally sitting in their basement, holding their head, shaking back and forth and not really picking up the phone. The integration involves facilitating survivors getting to the help they need, but also, yes, every community has a bunch of small resources. If we could integrate more, that might even save money, which is always cool.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Thank you. Our next question for you is from MPP Kiwala.

Ms. Sophie Kiwala: Jennifer, I want to thank you so much for being here today. One of the things I do want to say is that I’m just not sure if you realize what a very powerful place you are in right now. As MPP Sattler said, we all feel as if we want to just give you a giant hug, and I thank you for what you’ve brought forward to us today so articulately. We’re very fortunate to have you here.

Just to pick up a little bit from what MPP Sattler has said in terms of organizations, I’m wondering if you can tell us, if you had a wish list of a way that, as a province, we could institute a first organization to reach out, what would that organization look like? Would it be—

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: To reach out to survivors?

Ms. Sophie Kiwala: Exactly, right after they have been victimized so that they can have a better experience than what you had.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: I guess there are a number of different answers to that, depending on what happens to a person. For myself, I had one of the better receptions. The police were at my house when I arrived home from the assault—that’s a weird way to put it. The Toronto police are the most progressive cops in a lot of ways when it comes to SA in Ontario. My police officer was by no means a bigot or discriminatory, but—it was a dude; I had just been brutalized by a male. I was disoriented. I was confused. I beli

was a dude; I had just been brutalized by a male. I was disoriented. I was confused. I believe I was on drugs, and I was so stressed that I threw up on my floor, and he asked me, “Are you drunk?” I was asked things like, “Do you need a rape kit?”

Coming from a police officer, the word “rape,” if you even use it, feels like you’re making an allegation. You don’t know, if you go for these tests to get the essential evidence for your trial, if you’re going to be forced into a trial, and you’re so scared. So in this instance, if there had been a female officer present, or if we don’t want to see all of our female officers entirely consumed by SA calls, maybe a social worker present working in conjunction with the police—because if you think about it, the cops are an institution that essentially uses authority and it’s not really based on principles of social work or care or intersectionality. It’s a lot to ask a cop to go from overseeing safety in a more aggressive way to being there right with someone in their experience ready to catch every piece of data by being a social worker. He used the word “rape kit” when he asked me if I needed an SA test, and I lost all my evidence because I didn’t want to accuse anyone of rape.

If we can let women know that calling the police after an assault is not going to force them to report it—that you can call the police and talk to them about what has happened and try to make a collective decision about whether something needs to be reported. Women often think that anything they do at first response will push them into the court process, and that’s a terrifying thing to take on. If it’s underlined at first response that anything you do right now will not force you into a trial, the likelihood of getting survivors to the SA test will go up. If you can have a social worker or a female officer—although, again, I don’t want to peg female officers in one way—it would hugely improve the chances of survivors coming forward and making it into the system.

From what I’ve come to understand, cops even know how hard the system is and almost act like a filtration process from the get-go by informing survivors of their likelihood of making it to trial before they’ve even reported—“Well, you were drunk.”

We really need to understand that offering care isn’t just pats on the back. Offering sensitivity at first response isn’t just a hand-hold; it’s actually a critical part of making our justice system work.

Is that sort of what you were getting at? I don’t know.

Ms. Sophie Kiwala: Yes, excellent. Thank you.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Thank you. Our final question for you is from MPP Scott.

Ms. Laurie Scott: Thank you very much for coming here. It’s incredible that you had the strength to tell your story.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Thanks.

Ms. Laurie Scott: We had so many questions among us, we were trying to figure out what we could drill down to. You gave amazing testimony and information. The other members have focused on some of the questions I wanted to ask you.

You made some comments that you were told to stop journaling; you mentioned the application code 279. Some of what you said was—yes, your eyes are crossed, and you can do it better than I can. I was like, “Oh, my God.”

You had to go and hire your own lawyer at a certain point. Could you just drill that down a little bit? If you are okay to do that; I would appreciate that. Take your time. You can even email after if you want to add anything.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: I would happily write out a non-emotional breakdown of how it works from what I understand.

But yes, it was pretty trippy. It was about a year before the actual trial date, and I had to sort of fight to get meetings with the crown attorney. Most people don’t even see the same crown throughout the entire process. You don’t really meet the crown. Due to my privilege, I kind of have a sense of entitlement, so I really made sure to meet with my crown attorney. He and the VWAP worker eventually told me they had made a request—“We don’t know for what files, but files, so it will either be your phone, your email, your medical, your therapeutic”—like, they don’t even tell you what area of your life they’re going for.

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So I wiped myself off the Internet for a year and a half. I used to be a fashion model who was all over the Internet; it was my job. So when they apply for your paper files, if the crown were to defend you, what I’ve been told is that that would be the crown essentially paying—the state paying a witness.

There is legal aid available, but a lot of the legal aid isn’t that great. I made it my mission to get a really good lawyer, and I did. I got the top lawyer for these applications in the country. Three days before the trial, the defence switched the nature of their application to being a request simply to be able to ask me questions about my sex life and my head. That meant that all of that work, months and months and months of work to retain this lawyer, who I had managed to get pro bono—and it was so much work to do this—mattered not. It was not necessary because the crown then represented me at the last minute. It appears that the defence pretty much has free rein over what happens when. I don’t know; that’s what I seem to gather from it.

The crown was basically trying to talk to the judge about why it was not relevant to ask me about my sexual history or my mental health. During the recess of this hearing that I was not allowed to sit in on, the crown came and reminded me: “This could go either way. After this hearing, you can’t really call the trial off. If they do win, you are going to have to answer these horrible questions. So do you want to just call a peace bond?

I’m just like, “But, but, I’ve been living knowing this is the case for over a year now. I’ve been sitting knowing that my privacy is going to be invaded for a long time. Yes, the defence is scary, but my head is way scarier than him.” So it’s the psychological terrorism that comes before, where you’re just living, being like, “What did I do and why is this relevant, because my sex life doesn’t actually relate to what happened?”

Then there’s the process where justice gets derailed by trying to spare the complainant from potentially having these applications accepted.

So it’s complicated, yes, but it seemed the whole way through to be completely wrong.

Ms. Laurie Scott: I think my colleague wants to follow up specifically, because that’s what we’re trying to figure out. This is too hard on victims. It’s revictimization over and over again, and we’re trying to use your experience to figure out, because this is way too hard on—

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): We have time for one more question.

Mr. Randy Hillier: Thank you very much.

When you were telling us your story, there was a part where it sounded to me like the crown or the system was encouraging you that your therapy and your mental well-being and the things you were doing to help yourself physically and mentally were a detriment to the justice side.

If we can figure that out and find out what it is in our system that we can change—seeking justice should be of great benefit to your mental and physical health, not a detriment; it should not be negative. So if you could just maybe give us a little bit clearer picture. I know you mentioned about no journaling, but there were a few other things there that I couldn’t write down fast enough.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: They didn’t say “no journaling,” but what they said was, “Be aware that anything that you write that we find out about will have to be submitted to the defence’s evidence.” That in and of itself kind of encompasses—like, you could draw a picture and they could submit that.

Mr. Randy Hillier: Yes.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: It’s broad, but sexual violence is different than having your house broken into, because it’s your body and there’s so much shame. There’s so much shame. You don’t want to talk about it. It happens, and you’re, like—it’s so confusing.

So, then to do everything you can to come forward with it and then be told, “No, don’t speak; whatever you do, don’t speak,” it sort of reinforces the silence, the shame. So it just seems like there’s a competing interest between healing—

Mr. Randy Hillier: So would this be, if you were seeing a therapist or other forms, that the defence could then apply for those records as well?

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Yes.

Mr. Randy Hillier: That was why you’d be cautious about helping yourself?

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: Yes. I felt a little sneaky, but I had to say to my therapists, “Don’t write notes on me. Don’t write notes, because I need to talk to you.” I needed my support teams. I had nothing to share that was nefarious or against the trial. It was just me being, like, “Hey, my life is decimated. What do I do?”

To me, it just seems that we’ve somehow come to believe—in this system, on a very deep level—that it’s characteristics of the complainant that lead to sexual assault.

The Chair (Ms. Daiene Vernile): Jennifer, I want to step in here and say, on behalf of this committee, that we are very grateful that you have shared your personal story with us. We wish you much success in the future on your journey of healing. Thank you so much.

Ms. Jennifer O’Neil: No worries. Have a good day. Cheers. Thanks


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One comment

  1. I’m so sorry for what you went through. You are very brave for reporting, and thank you for speaking about the reasons why you chose to report. You’re right – people rarely ask that question and it’s an important one. I can relate to what you mean about being the “perfect victim.” I’m not sure if that’s one of the reasons I went forward ultimately, but I did acknowledge that, like you, I’m white, innocent-looking, and educated. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experiences. Keep using your voice. Much love – speak766

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