LETTERS: Young women show great courage under challenging circumstances

Gratitude expressed for standing up to share their stories in the face of great trauma

To the Expositor:

I want to thank Destiny Douglas and Brooke Williams-Manitowabi for sharing their harrowing stories of being sexual assaulted and the challenges that they faced in the aftermath. I am in awe of their courage, their ability to think clearly in the face of danger, and their choice to share their stories. I see both of these young women as trail blazers and life changers. Through breaking the silence, they shed light on the injustices victims of sexual assault suffer on Manitoulin Island and help encourage the necessary changes we need in our society.

As a registered social worker who worked as a sexual assault counsellor for two years at Manitoulin Family Services, I am encouraged by their ability to fight even when I know it would have been really easy to give up. It warmed my heart that their stories included how loved ones surrounded them and helped them find safety in in situations that were traumatizing. I want to thank them for allowing readers to get a glimpse into the aftermath of re-traumatization; curling up, crying, and hiding away can very necessary parts of the process, especially with the psychological wounds they would have endured. Despite the grievous harm that they have both endured I can, through The Manitoulin Expositor’s well written articles, see that both young women have strong spirits and the internal fortitude necessary to help guide them along their healing journey.

According to Statistics Canada, one third of Canadian women and over one half of Indigenous women have been sexually assaulted. Most women are sexually assaulted between ages 11 and 18. Likewise, one in five men have been sexually assaulted. Once a woman has been sexually assaulted, the possibility of being revictimized is high. Sexual assault can negatively affect a person psychologically, physically, and economically which sets in motion long-term collateral damage not only for the victim but also for her family, employment, future health and economic stability.

Common psychological issues that survivors experience include: an inability to trust their own perceptions, intense fear of rape-related situations, distrust of one’s surroundings, inability to understand and express emotions, and reduced self-esteem. Common mental health issues experienced by sexual assault survivors include anxiety, depression, personality disorders, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For anyone healing from the trauma of sexual assault, know that the path can be difficult, it can have some rather interesting twists and turns, and there are myriad of ways of walking it. Know that you have the right to your healing and to be heard. Trust your gut and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions.

Over a year ago I left Manitoulin Family Resources so I could research how to lessen sexual assault and train further on helping people heal from trauma. I found some really interesting programs that could lessen sexual assaults by half, even for women who had been hurt before. Unfortunately, I could not find any evidence-based programs for Anishinaabek women. So, I devoted my master’s thesis to developing one. I worked under the supervision of two local elders. Our preliminary model and program were shared with a focus group of local Anishinaabe helpers. Their findings can be found in my thesis which should be published this fall. My next goal is to find means to test and refine the model and ensure that within a few years, all Anishinaabe women could have access to the program that culturally relevant, evidence based and adaptable for their own communities.

All of this to say, there is hope, and sometimes, together we create it. Years ago, I worked with Dorothy Wassegjiig-Kennedy to support a sexual assault talking circle at the Wikwemikong Healing Centre. In that space I offered sharings from western best practices and latest evidence to support women’s wisdom. I do believe that sharing circles like this are an essential piece of sexual assault healing for some women. They help break the silence, offer information that helps break down rape myths and foster post traumatic growth. If any elder or agency would be interested in developing a healing circle program, I am available to help in any way. I am committed to assisting women who have been sexually assaulted along on their healing journey and to find means for lessening sexual assault on this beautiful island home that we share. I can be reached through my email at michellehrynyk7@gmail.com.   

Thanks again, Destiny and Brooke. You are amazing women and I hope you find a way to shine your lights brightly in our world.

Michelle Hrynyk HBA, BSW RSW