Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

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I’m feeling frustrated today about how survivors of sexual violence and abuse survivors in general have to constantly justify their existence to everyone on this planet, especially to people in authority.

We have a legal system which states that perpetrators are innocent until proven guilty.

But what about survivors?  Where are our rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty?

Why is it when a survivor comes forward and says “He raped me,” she is often met with doubt, blame, judgment, disbelief and then faced with barrier after barrier to being believed and getting support?

Doesn’t this strike you as wrong?

I’m here to suggest a radical position.  Our legal system can still consider perpetrators innocent until proven guilty, while at the same time survivors can be believed, validated, treated with respect and not accused of fabricating.

It’s very unlikely that a survivor would make up claims of abuse, especially considering the lack of support and validation in our society.

A few years ago my psychiatrist told me something I’ve been thinking about this week.  During the session I had been speaking a lot about my negative self esteem, my guilt, my shame, my body hatred, my struggles with anorexia and so on.  He asked me a question “If you were guilty of committing sexual abuse how long would you go to jail for?”   I answered him “Probably I wouldn’t go to jail, and if I did it would be for less than a year.”

He looked at me and said “You’ve been punishing yourself for more than 15 years for crimes you didn’t even commit.  Even if you were as guilty as you say you feel, you would have been out of jail long ago.  Stop punishing yourself.  Even criminals wouldn’t receive a 15 year sentence!”

It was a good point and I thought about it some.  I haven’t thought about it again until this week.

Honestly, my doctor was missing something in his analysis.  Maybe survivors, myself included, would have an easier time recovering and forgiving themselves, if they did not have to spend years justifying their experience and trying to convince others that the abuse really happened.

Maybe if women weren’t labelled as crazy or mentally ill.  Maybe if police treated women who report with respect and investigated their concerns quickly, thoroughly and with dignity for the survivor.  Maybe if the legal system wasn’t founded on white patriarchy.  Maybe if sexual assault conviction rates were higher.  Maybe if sentences for assault charges took into account the amount of harm that was done to the survivor.  Maybe if our society didn’t worry about “how it will impact his career” and instead considered “how it will impact the rest of her life.”

Because make no mistake.  Sexual assault impacts people’s lives.  It is not a crime that lasts for “just a few minutes”  it lives on in people for years, maybe forever.  The impact IS that voice inside the survivor which whispers “it’s your fault, you are dirty, you should be ashamed, nobody will believe you.”

Maybe we punish ourselves because there is no other option in a society that doesn’t validate what actually happened.  Maybe we doubt ourselves because society blames the victim.

I think that a large portion of the guilt and shame carried around by people like me was caused, not just by the perpetrator, but by a set of systems which are designed to blame us.

At this point in my life, I feel I have suffered an equal amount of trauma at the hands of systems that were supposedly designed to help me, as I ever did at the hands of my abusers.   This is a part of rape culture that we need to be talking about.

It was “just” sexual abuse…


I’ve been thinking about the barriers I faced in coming forward about being sexually abused, as a child and as an adult.  For people who have not experience sexual abuse, the most immediate response to someone disclosing is often: “why didn’t you tell someone?”  or “why didn’t you tell someone sooner?” or my personal favourite “why didn’t you fight back/scream/run?”

The reality is I didn’t even realize I was being abused until long after the abusers had intertwined their lives with mine.

The reality is that abuse in relationships does always not look the way you might expect it to.

The reality is that I spent a long time, as an adult, in counseling, volunteering at a women’s centre etc…stating to other reasonable adults “it was ‘just’ sexual abuse.”  I made all sorts of excuses for why it didn’t count, why it wasn’t important, why it wasn’t real abuse, why I didn’t deserve help, why other people had it worse off, why I was making a big deal over nothing, why I didn’t want to tell anyone and ruin his life etc.

Because they never hit me, it wasn’t abuse.  Because they didn’t threaten to kill me, it wasn’t abuse.  Because I said yes some of the time, it wasn’t abuse.

I was (and am) pretty mean to myself and a lot of my perceptions were just plain wrong.

I think it takes a lot of strength and courage to really come face to face with the fact that your romantic relationship is unhealthy, abusive and actively making you sick.  It’s not something that comes easily, turning your back on the father of your children.

I told myself the abuse didn’t count.  I knew I felt uncomfortable, I knew it very early on in both relationships.  I saw the red flags, but somehow I interpreted them differently.  I wanted to believe that things weren’t really that bad.  I wanted to believe I could help the abusers change.  That they were depressed, that they needed me.  That their needs were more important than my own.  I wanted to believe that love would be enough.

I did start to talk about the abuse.  I did tell people.  In some ways, I wasn’t really challenged by those people.  I think many of them instinctively knew I wasn’t ready to leave.  They knew I needed time to come to the realization that it was abuse and that I needed to get out.  For the most part they didn’t push me.  I was still ambivalent about the abuser and I still wanted things to “work out.”

One day someone I volunteered with called me out.  I mentioned something about it being “just” sexual abuse.  She challenged me.  She sat there and said “what you are saying doesn’t make sense.  It’s not ‘just’ sexual abuse.”  I think it was the first time someone had openly called me out on my own denial.  This was in the month or 2 leading up to my decision to leave.

At the time I left him I still believed it was “just” sexual abuse.  I told almost nobody why I was leaving.  I thought that moving would solve the problem, because since it was “just” sexual abuse I would be safe.

I was wrong.  Sexual assault is not about sex.   It’s about power and control.  It’s about a level of narcissism that exists in this world that allows one person to disregard the consent of another person.  Within any type of relationship it’s about manipulation, it’s about gaslighting, it’s about making the victim feel crazy, worthless, broken, damaged, and most of all dependent on the abuser.   The sex is a tool of control.  It rarely happens in isolation.  Emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, threats, coercion…it’s all part of the same package.  Even if the package is wrapped in a disguise that makes you believe that sex is the only issue and that otherwise the person is “basically a good guy.”

At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t respect your consent sexually, they don’t respect you.  They aren’t “basically a good person.”  They are a person who does not value your basic right to say yes or no in a given situation.  They are a person who puts their own needs before yours, and possibly even denies your needs are real, valid or even exist.

It’s a long road back from that place.  The place where you question whether your needs are reasonable, valid or even exist.  It’s a long way back from the place where you believe that your consent is not relevant, where your needs are not relevant.  Where you are blamed for not wanting to consent, even in a situation where there is no trust, no safety and almost no relationship left.

I’m writing this to tell you:

  1. if you have been abused, it’s never “just” anything.  Your experience is valid and real.  If you are uncomfortable, afraid, hurt, feeling crazy then trust yourself.  It’s abuse.
  2.  if you have been abused and even if you have not, please remember that there is no specific way an abuse survivor looks, copes or experiences violence.  There may be no physical marks, there may be denial, there may be almost no signs at all.  Trust yourself, if you have the feeling something isn’t right in your relationship or in the relationship of someone you care about, reach out.  Get help, talk it over, ask gentle questions, be there to support yourself or the person you care about.
  3. believe the survivor.  If you are the survivor, believe yourself
  4. if you still blame yourself, or the person you care about is blaming themselves, tell them it is not their fault.  Repeat step 3.  Repeat step 3 again.  Repeat it again and again and again.

I believe you.  It’s not your fault.  It counts.  It’s is real.  You deserve support.


No uniformed officers please.


It’s Pride Week and I want to write about why I don’t think uniformed police officers should be in the Parade.   The police should be welcome, but they should attend the parade as civilians, dressed in ordinary clothing.

I’m not anti-police, so much as pro-safe spaces.  There are a number of groups of people and communities that may feel threatened by uniformed police officers (no matter how nice those officers might be!).  I know some LGBTQ* folks who have declined to attend Pride this year because they don’t feel it is a safe space for them.

Some communities that have experienced marginalization, violence and oppression perpetrated by police include (but are not limited to): Trans* folks, People of Colour, Indigenous communities, sex workers, immigrant and refugee folks, lesbians, gay people, queer folks, survivors of sexual violence, people with disability and people with mental health and addiction diagnoses.  Especially people who embody any of these intersecting identities in a visible or public way.   The police have a lot of power and privilege and this has often been used against, and not for/with, marginalized groups.

My own experience, and the focus of this blog, is related to my experience of living with a mental illness that does not always allow me to “pass” as normal or neurotypical.

I will describe one of my interactions with the police, as an illustration of my own preference not to have uniformed officers at Pride.

When I used to self harm and attempt suicide on a regular basis, I used to get to the hospital by car, bus, taxi or on foot.  Near the end of the years of regular ER visits, a doctor told me she didn’t think it was safe for me to drive myself to the hospital after cutting myself deeply.  I thought about it for a while and figured she was right.  The next time I hurt myself I was suicidal, not just cutting as coping.  I was home alone and I decided to call 911 rather than a taxi.   During the 911 call I told the truth to the operator.  I told them that I had cut myself on purpose and that I wasn’t feeling safe.  I sat on the staircase in the front entryway and waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and I could see tall people in dark uniforms outside.  I opened the door and two huge uniformed police officers stood there.  I was confused, already upset and I started panicking.  I asked where the ambulance was, I told them I changed my mind, I didn’t need police.  They came into the house and told me to sit on the steps.  They started asking me what seemed like hundreds of questions and told me I couldn’t move.  They asked me if there were weapons in the house, if I was alone in the house, if there was medication in the house, where the tools I had cut myself were, whether I had a doctor, what medications I took etc.

I felt more and more panicked.  I knew I couldn’t visibly keep panicking because I knew they wouldn’t leave until they felt I wasn’t a danger to anyone. The feeling of being out of control and knowing you can’t properly show your feelings is an unsafe and triggering one for a survivor of violence.

I felt like I had no choice but to do exactly what they said.  They told me the paramedics couldn’t come into the house until they were sure it was safe.  I tried to explain that I had harmed myself and had no intention of harming anyone else.  I was crying.  I offered to get the things they wanted (the blade, the medication) but they wouldn’t allow me to move.  I had to explain where the items were and one uniformed officer walked around my house collecting them, while the other stood and watched me.  They both had guns.  Generally, guns do not make a suicidal panicky person feel calmer.  Just FYI.

Then they were both back in the room.  I was sitting on the couch, now in the living room.  They asked me questions about my treatment and my medication. I didn’t want to answer them.  They were taking notes in a small black book.  I was keenly aware that this information could be used against me in the future.  I was scared I might have a police record, when what I really needed was medical attention.  I was confused and I didn’t understand how harming myself was a police matter.

Finally, at some point they determined the situation was safe.  Two paramedics, one man and one woman came into the house.  At some point the police left and went outside, making further notes in their cars.  I was embarrassed and ashamed because I knew my neighbours would see the commotion.  I felt my face burning with shame as I walked to the ambulance with the paramedics.  I begged them not to turn on the sirens because I was so embarrassed already.  I’d spent every minute since I opened the door to the house wishing that I had never called 911.     The female paramedic drove the ambulance and the male sat inside with me.  He was calm and kind and he didn’t have a gun.  I felt safer once the police were gone.

In the past, I’d had security guards sit by my bed, or just outside the door in the ER.  Ensuring that I didn’t run away before being assessed by the doctor.  That was associated in my mind with feeling unsafe and not being trusted.  Being a prisoner within a hospital rather than a patient.  That’s how I felt in my own home that day.

The ambulance took me to the hospital and I received treatment for my cut.  I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, because nobody really took my self harm seriously by that point.  They had labelled me borderline and didn’t believe I would ever actually kill myself.  I was often treated like a misbehaving child.

This memory is one reason why I don’t feel safe around uniformed police officers.  The other reasons, related to reporting violence, I will talk about more in future posts.

If I have a serious mental health crisis again in the future, I hope nobody will call the police.  I can’t think how that would calm me down or de-escalate the situation.  I would feel more at risk, rather than safer.

So, for this reason and for many others, I believe there are other ways to create safer and more inclusive spaces.  And LGBTQ* police officers, please feel welcomed by me at Pride…just leave the uniforms and guns behind.




Depression meets PTSD. Crash.


I’ve realized over the past three years that depression is often more of a secondary problem for me.  It’s very situational and very linked to PTSD.  By the time depression flares up, it generally means that I’ve been coping with PTSD triggers for too long and I’ve started to crash into exhaustion.  Depression sometimes means feeling literally nothing, while PTSD can mean feeling everything and things that are from the past vaulted into the present, clear as day.   This can be a confusing progression.

Lately it’s hard to tease out whether I have a whole host of mental health diagnosis or just one (PTSD) causing a host of symptoms.

Abuse triggers can lead to negative feelings about my body which can then trigger my good friend Ana…yes, PTSD comes first and anorexia is a symptom.   For me anorexia is mainly a series of obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviours which are linked to extreme anxiety around changing my food rituals.   So anorexia comes first, and OCD traits follow.

When I have a lot of PTSD symptoms and flashbacks, I start to have trouble sleeping and I have vivid nightmares.  Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night to a full panic attack.  Flashbacks can lead to panic attacks during the day as well, and also to anxiety in crowds and enclosed spaces.  So PTSD comes first, and anxiety and panic symptoms follow.

At the end of the line comes depression.  DEPRESSION.  It feels so heavy.  Depression to me leads from coping to constant suicidal and self harm ideation in what seems like mere seconds.  For me, suicidal thoughts are often the first real indicator that I’ve slipped into depression again.  This may seem backwards, but for me the most severe symptom tends to come right at the start, even if I’m depressed for only a few days.

When I’m depressed I feel like I’m walking through a thick soup of fog.  Every fibre of my being hurts and feels heavy and leaden.  Sometimes I have to lie down after just showering and getting dressed in the morning because I feel too exhausted to continue with the day.  When I’m depressed I have no energy.  I want to crawl into bed and hide.  Unfortunately, I’m a single parent and I have a full time job.   It’s not an option just to crash.

So I keep going, but the time crawls by.  I feel unsure if I can get through the day.  I feel unsure if I can stay safe, and resist the negative thoughts.  My self esteem crashes.  I start to feel a lot of feelings from the past.  Or maybe that is backwards, maybe I feel the feelings from the past and it triggers depression.

When I feel out of control of important aspects of my life, I am triggered and I think about suicide.  This is the way my life is.  It’s been this way since I was 17 years old.   It’s both normal to me, and completely terrifying every time it happens.

The depression always lifts and these days it lifts more quickly than it ever did in the past.  The lights come on again, I see the world clearly and not through a haze.  I feel connected and I feel like I am competent at some things.  When I’m depressed I feel alone and I feel utterly worthless.  I feel like a burden and a problem and someone that people I know put up with, rather than care about.  I have trouble making small talk.  I spend a lot of time silent.  I feel an immense amount of social anxiety and discomfort in social situations, especially those involving food.  Depression, anxiety, anorexia, PTSD….it’s a perfect storm of misery.  I’m caught in the middle of a storm of symptoms and I don’t know when they will abate.

Right now I’m triggered because I’m worried about my children.  I’m triggered because of the way my ex-husband treats my children and me.  I’m triggered because this is the time of year, 3 years ago, leading up to my physical separation from him, when things were at their most tense and scary.

I’m triggered today because my daughter told me that her father’s avatar/icon for me on his phone is a piece of raw meat.  Raw chicken.   The father of my two children sees me as nothing more than a piece of meat.





In the summer of 2001, I overdosed multiple times.  Some of these stories are described in other blog posts.  After the last of that series of suicide attempts, my psychiatrist put me on a Form (sectioned me, 72 hour hold).  He refused to release me from the hospital unless my parents came to collect me.   I remember my father driving down to pick me up.  I don’t really remember being released, but I ended up back home at my parents house, many hours away in another city.   The past few months felt like a bad dream.

I remember my parents had hidden all the pills in a bag in their bedroom closet.  I remember that there wasn’t a lot of trust, and for good reason.  I tried to relax, but the thoughts of self harm were propelling me forward.  I was caught in a vicious cycle, medication induced self destruction.  I would feel unsafe, hurt myself, go to the hospital seeking safety…then after a few days panic, feel trapped and beg to be released.  It went on over and over.  I always wanted to be where I wasn’t, I was chasing the feeling of safety, of quiet in my mind, of escape.

I remember walking up to the plaza by my parents house.  I bought an exacto knife at the dollar store and sneaked it into the house.  I was always buying, hiding, and throwing away tools during those years.  I often hide them in various places for safe keeping.  Intellectually I knew that having them in the house was the opposite of safe, but somehow their presence simultaneously calmed and panicked me.   It’s rare, even today that I don’t have something hidden.  Even though I don’t use the tools, I sometimes feel compelled to buy and keep them.   Sometimes I’ve called friends and asked them to help me throw them out.  I’ve handed them over to therapists and doctors.  I’ve hidden them and felt ashamed.  Even writing this brings up a feeling of shame inside me.  This is the power of addiction, the constant push and pull between the promise of safety and the threat of disaster and destruction.  Back then, I thought I was in control.  I thought the cutting kept me in control, but in reality the urges controlled me completely.

I had the knife at my parents house, I cut myself with it.  Deeply, but not deep enough to require medical attention.  I told my parents and asked them to take me to the hospital.  I told them I felt suicidal and I wanted help to control the urges.  I remember sitting in the ER waiting room, in a different city.

I don’t remember everything that happened.  I remember talking to a Dr, I was sitting on a stretcher, it wasn’t a special psychiatric emergency, just a regular bed.   The doctor agreed to admit me.  Then nurses came and gave me a gown, they took my clothes and items and put them into a white bag with a plastic drawstring labelled “patient belongings.”  This was different, the anxiety began, “why are they taking my things?”  Apparently this was the protocol at this hospital.

I was taken up to the 4th floor, to the Mental Health Unit.  It was a different layout and different style that the hospital I’d been in only a few days before.  It seemed larger and was laid out more like a large rectangle, rather than a long straight line.   I was shown to my room.   Outside the room was a cupboard and the nurse locked my things in there.   I was allowed to keep my teddy bear, but not my clothes.  In this hospital there were 2 beds to a room and each room had it’s own bathroom with a toilet and shower.

I stayed in the hospital for a few days.  It was the last week of June.  A few friends came to visit me.  I was given my clothes back and allowed to leave the hospital on passes.   During one of the passes I went to visit the psychologist who had treated me as a teenager.   To be honest the appointment was not helpful.  I don’t think she had a good understanding of me.  She didn’t understand why I was sick (because I’d been abused) and she didn’t understand why I was cutting myself and suicidal (because of the abuse and the medication cocktail).  I felt that she shamed me and threatened me to stop my acting out.  I don’t really remember exactly what was said.  I only remember feeling desperate when I left.  I think my parents dropped me back at the hospital.  I was in the lobby of the hospital, where there was a pharmacy and I considered buying a giant bottle of the medicine I had been told would kill me if I overdosed again.  I felt hopeless.

Somehow I managed to go back upstairs to the ward without incident.  I remember a few days later I wanted to leave, as was my usual pattern.  It was the weekend, I believe it was July 1 and I wanted to go home to see the fireworks.   I did as I would have in the other hospital, starting convincing them I was okay.  But somehow it backfired.  They didn’t believe me and they said I couldn’t leave until my doctor returned the next day.  I started panicking and becoming angry.   They told me they were holding me involuntarily because they thought I would just leave.  I was crying and banging my head.  I went into the washroom in my room, took off my earring and scratched my skin with the sharp end.  It wasn’t even enough to draw blood, just to cause pain and leave angry looking scratches on my body.   I remember being at the nursing station.  I was given a cup with liquid medication inside.  I was told it was Nozinan, a medication I’d used for panic before.  I drank it and soon after I realized something was wrong.  I became extremely drugged and when I asked the nurse had given me 5 times my usual dose.  They took away my clothing again and gave me a hospital gown.

Before I fell asleep or settled into my bed I realized what had happened.

I’d been chemically restrained.

They didn’t want to deal with my acting out and so they drugged me.

I felt betrayed, I felt scared.  I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and I felt like my life was out of control.

The next day my doctor returned and agreed to release me.  The only useful part of that hospital admission was the doctor switched my medication to one that I still take today.  One of the few I’ve found over almost 20 years that actually makes me more, rather than less, sane.   For that I was thankful.

I soon went back to my home.  The cycle continued.  Looking back I realize an important lesson.  It’s not possible to keep someone else safe.  If someone is determined to harm themselves they will find a way.  Short of restraining someone and drugging them, it’s impossible.  The person has to want to help themselves, and they have to find both a purpose for living and a direction to move toward.  A goal, a passion, a reason to fight.  This is unique and can’t be forced or given to someone.  Believing in myself happened over time.  The psychiatric system is a crisis management system and nothing more.  The true help I’ve received over the years has come from other places entirely.