When the police came, they stepped inside wearing black polished boots, dripping salt and slush on the floor. The officers were both young white males and stood with their hands on their hips as if they were entering a combat zone and not a Montreal apartment. They were both Francophone and their English was poor. I had explained on the phone I was visiting from the Yukon and my French was not good.
When I had to describe the assault — when I had to say “This is what he did to me” in detail — I had to repeat myself several times because they could not understand me. The one officer, slightly older than the other, asked the questions. The question he asked over and over until his partner told him to stop was a simple one:
If things were so bad, why did you stay?
I had no idea what to say.
* * *
I got together with James* because the girl I loved — loved deeply, loved like air or light or rain — had broken my heart so badly that the only logical next step seemed to be to throw away my natural inclinations and start dating men. James was the only man I’ve ever been with.
We met picking morels in the bush near Barney Lake. He was handsome and he told me I was beautiful.
That was important — as anyone who has ever been cheated on knows, an infidelity leaves you asking why you weren’t enough, makes you feel ugly. That everyone in the camp seemed to be wary of James, that he had no friends to speak of and had a reputation for temper, that he had no money and no job, that he had lost his driver’s licence, that he drank heavily did not alarm me when he looked at me and said I was beautiful. When you do not feel beautiful, to hear someone say that you are seems like a miracle. James knew that.
He moved into my camper with me and we went off to a bush job on the Cassiar Highway. James was very adamant we go alone, just the two of us. Having gotten me away from everyone else, James began to reveal himself. It started out very small — he stopped sharing the chores, became confrontational, started big fights with me over tiny things. It was not that he was a shadow of the man I had met. Rather, I had fallen for the shadow and was now seeing the man in the full light of day.
We moved to Whistler and things got worse. He became controlling, jealous and angry. He accused me of cheating on him and punished me with silence if I went out without him, but refused to meet my friends. His moods were unpredictable, icy periods punctuated by unexpected tenderness which dissolved into episodes of explosive temper.
These fights would be over as suddenly as they began and if I would try to talk about them later, he would deny they had ever happened or claim he had not said and done certain things I knew he had. He would tell me he could see why my ex had left me, that I was unstable, emotional, selfish, that he was only trying to help me and I was unwell and couldn’t trust myself. This happened so often that I eventually believed him. It became normal.
One night James came home drunk. He stood in the doorway with his shirt off, saying the usual things — that I deserved it when my ex cheated on me, that no one could possibly want me or love me the way I was, that I was crazy, a stupid woman, ugly. I lay in bed and stayed quiet because I knew better than to try to talk to him when he was like that. It was November and it was cold in the camper but he was sweating from the liquor. He got in bed with me and I could smell the whisky on him. He started to touch me. He was very rough.
I said I didn’t want him to touch me because he was too drunk. He exploded. Something very bad happened. I told him to stop and he yelled and bullied me and hurt me until I submitted. When he had what he wanted he passed out.
I got up and got dressed. I took my dog and left my camper. It was two in the morning and raining. I called a friend but she was asleep so I wandered around, looking for a hotel. There was a conference in town and they were all full. I was wet and cold, sore where James had hurt me. I had no choice but to return back to the truck. I didn’t sleep.
In the morning James cried and said he had been so angry with me lately because he loved me so much and I was so difficult. He had gotten it out of his system now and could forgive me. I told him I was sorry. I felt guilty. I didn’t want to fight anymore. I apologized to him.
Two days later, James came home drunk again. I had to lock myself in the cab of the truck and he pounded on the glass with his fists and screamed at me while I huddled under a coat on the front seat, curled up in a ball, weeping. When he went to sleep I walked around all night because it was too cold in the truck. In the morning he would deny this fight too and explode again, still drunk from the night before, throwing things around, tearing my camper apart. When he calmed down he said I had driven him to it and I begged his forgiveness. He told me to drive him to Vancouver; he wanted to go home to see his family on the Island. We stayed in Vancouver for several days, during which time he acted as if nothing had happened. When I dropped him off at the ferry terminal he kissed me and told me he loved me. The terrible thing is, I think he really did.
This is what I was being asked to explain when the police officer asked why did you stay?
* * *
It would take me two months to understand what had happened that night was rape, that what had been going on for several months was abuse. When I confronted James about it over the phone, he denied the whole thing ever happened. I called the police. After I gave my statement and they left, I sat down on the couch and sobbed until I was sick.
That was on Jan. 9, 2017. The Montreal RCMP had to report to the Whistler RCMP because the assault had occurred in their jurisdiction. It would be a month before that detachment got in touch with me, because the Montreal RCMP had incorrectly recorded my phone number. I then had to repeat the statement process again over the phone. I told the RCMP I was afraid of James, that if I ran into him in the bush anything could happen to me. I was informed that James had a complaint on his record similar to the one I was making, where the charges had been dropped by the woman for unknown reasons.
It has been four months since I reported. At this time, not only has the RCMP not pressed charges or enacted the peace bond I said I needed to feel safe, they have been unable to tell me if they will be pressing charges at all. I am stunned and disillusioned.
As a journalist, I recently did a series of stories for the News on sexual assault and domestic violence in the Yukon. A women’s advocate said something that really stuck with me during an interview. She explained to me that the police and the Crown aren’t really interested in the well-being of a woman in a sexual assault case; what they are interested in is whether or not the law has been broken. It seems to me this is very true. Neither the police nor the Crown, still mostly men, truly understand the events they are dealing with.
It is estimated that, nationwide, only one in 10 sexual assaults are ever reported, but it is thought by some organizations that the actual rate of reporting may be even lower. And this is why.
*Not his real name.