A victim's story

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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Sexual assault ordeal does not end with incident

Sexual assault victim ‘Susan’ is planning to move from her home in Parrsboro as she deals with the wake of an ordeal that has seen her and her past become a part of public debate.

(Editor's Note: Due to a publication ban, the name of the victim cannot be printed in this article. A fictional name has been used.)

PARRSBORO - On June 8, 2011, ‘Susan' was sexually assaulted. But her story does not end there.

The incident sparked a police investigation, charges, and the trial and eventual conviction of a local man, and the circumstances have brought the case out into the public eye.

Life in her small town since the much-discussed sexual assault trial has been tough.

Through it all, ‘Susan' has had her past dug up, her character judged, and an end to her emotional upheaval is not yet in sight.

"I have to walk by his house every day when I go downtown," she said of her attacker. "It's destroyed my whole life."

The trial was a stressful and humiliating experience. Life here following has been no better.

‘Susan' recalled spectators laughing in the crowd during her testimony. But she said she got through it with support from her family and friends.

Local radio station manager Ross Robinson was convicted of sexual assault, while two other charges were dismissed. He remains manager of the station, and Parrsboro Radio Society president Don Jewers said there are no plans to remove him.

In fact, the radio station broadcast its own news coverage of the trial after a lawyer convinced ‘Susan' to allow a publication ban to be lifted off Robinson's name.

The detailed report, which included the evidence about ‘Susan's' past convictions of theft and prostitution, was played throughout town.

She said she thought she was doing the right thing by having the ban lifted, but now feels betrayed, as if the report was done to somehow justify Robinson's actions.

"Because I was charged with a couple things in the past? So I deserved it?" she asked. "I'm still scared my son is going to go to school and get bullied... I felt horrible for my kids, because they have to live in this town and go to school."

Radio station reporter Bruce Wark, an experienced journalist and retired journalism professor at the University of King's College, defended the report by saying the public has a right to know.

"Sexual assault cases are never pleasant and this one certainly wasn't, but I felt people should know what the testimony was and how the judge ruled," said Wark. "It would have been a lot easier, I guess, to say our hands were tied by a publication ban and then let the thing drop, but I couldn't bring myself to do that."

Even though she was the victim, ‘Susan' said she felt like all eyes were turned to her, as if she was the one on trial.

THE BEGINNING

It was a walk downtown with her son that started the whole incident last June.

‘Susan' was pulling the two-year-old in a wagon, and the lively youngster proceeded to throw the contents of the wagon onto the ground. It was after she got home that she realized her wallet was missing. She went back to look, but was unable to find the missing wallet. Someone suggested she ask the local radio station to make an announcement about it.

She went to the radio station and asked Robinson for help. He took the information and her phone number, and agreed to put an ad on the radio for her.

According to testimony from ‘Susan' at Robinson's recent trial, he then asked her on a date. She declined, but he showed up at her home later that evening. She testified that, during that visit, he sexually assaulted her with uninvited touching.

Soon after Robinson and his friend left, ‘Susan's' estranged boyfriend arrived to visit their son. He said he found her visibly upset and crying.

"She doesn't cry very often," he said. "She's been through a lot in her life, and she's not much for drama. She's had enough of it in her life already. The fact she was crying was one thing right off the bat... I knew something was happening."

He told her to call the police, and then he went to the radio station to confront Robinson, only to find the doors locked and no answer to his knocks. Robinson's home and the radio station are located in the same building. The police arrived on the scene, and Robinson was charged later with sexual assault, and was also charged with confinement and unlawful entry.

‘Susan' was hesitant about calling the police, and dreaded going through a trial. She has been in trouble in the past, and didn't want to deal with the legal system. But friends encouraged her to seek justice.

"I was sick to my guts before the trial," she said. "I didn't want to do any of it. I just didn't want to have to sit there and have him in the same room with me."

While on the witness stand, she said she just told the truth about what happened, even when the defence attorney brought up some difficult times from her past, including arrests for theft and prostitution when she lived in Hamilton, Ont.

LIFE CHANGES

In 2002, Susan was a mother of three and going to school with plans to pursue a career in massage therapy.

During that time two of her small children died in a fire and she suffered serious burns and lung damage in her attempts to rescue them.

In the wake of the ordeal, she was prescribed pain medication, and soon found herself addicted to OxyContin.

She spent six months living in Amherst with a pill dealer, who then relocated them to Hamilton. Four days later, he kicked her out.

"I ended up on the streets of Ontario, fending for myself, meeting other addicts fending for themselves," said ‘Susan'. "I bounced from house to house, stayed at shelters and women's homes... I did what I had to do to survive as an addict."

She turned to theft and prostitution, and went to jail three times. On her third stay, she joined Narcotics Anonymous, and during that process, she called home for help.

When she was released, a family member brought her home to Nova Scotia. She began a methadone treatment program, and has not used drugs or been in legal trouble since.

"I just want to live a quiet life with my kids," she said. "I've been through hell and back for a long time. I did not need this in my life."

Colleen Collins, a women's support counselor at Autumn House, said it is called "re-victimization" and is all too common in these situations. In this case, she said it could have been heightened due to Robinson's status as a public figure.

"Often, to make sexual violence about the perpetrator is not an easy thing to do," she said.

"Even if (the victim) is a sex worker at this time, a sexual assault is a sexual assault, and if it takes away her sense of self and her sense of power over her own body... then it's not about who she is as a person, or if she's deserving or not."

Such experiences can often deter victims from coming forward, according to Collins, who said it is up to women and men in positions of power to have the fortitude and ability to support those women.

"We can't expect all women to act as role models in those moments, because they are very difficult moments," said Collins. "But for those who choose to (come forward), we have to rally around them. It's a lot about young men showing other young men these behaviours are not acceptable, and young women showing other women they need to support one another."

Susan and her boyfriend said they believe that if she had not gone to the radio station for help that day, none of this would have happened. As far as their experience with the justice system, they are not sure if it has been worthwhile.

Ross Robinson will be sentenced on April 3.

But for Susan, the ordeal will not even end there.

"We have to move," she said. "We can't live here now. I can't even go out in my yard and play with my kids without wondering if he's watching me."

 

Organizations: University of King's College, Robinson's, Parrsboro Radio Society Autumn House

Geographic location: Hamilton, Amherst, Ontario Nova Scotia

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