Life after rape
Sexual assault victim encourages others to seek help
“It was my fault,” was the first thing Courtney Dunne thought after she was raped by two males as a 16-year-old.
She was at a hotel with a group of friends one evening, but at the end of the night she was left alone with her two attackers.
Although it was never used, there was a knife on the nightstand. She didn’t scream and she didn’t run, but she also didn’t consent.
It has been a long battle, but Courtney, now 19, no longer believes it was her fault that she was the victim of a sexual assault. But for months she questioned herself about that night. If she had not worn that short dress, if she hadn’t have been drinking and if she hadn’t lied to her family about where she was going, would it have happened?
Many go unreported
The website for the Canadian Department of Justice confirms the majority of sexual assault crimes are not reported to police. Reasons for not reporting included taking care of the matter in another way, believing it wasn’t important enough to report or too personal, and not wanting to get the police involved. Some also believed the police couldn’t help.
Courtney was one of the minority who reported the attack. Unfortunately, there was no DNA evidence to tie the two men to the crime, but there was evidence of a physical and sexual assault.
“They knew what they were doing,” Courtney told The Compass during an interview at a coffee shop in St. John’s. “They threw me in the shower afterwards.”
Only a week prior to her interview with The Compass, Courtney was a contestant at the Miss Newfoundland and Labrador pageant in Harbour Grace. Her speech was on consent. She told the audience at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium without hesitation about her experience. She had lived it over and over in her head for years, but can now talk openly about it.
“I was reliving it for the first six months,” Courtney said. “I was having torturous nightmares. I would wake up and I’d be back in that hotel room.”
During that time, Courtney refused help. She thought she was strong enough to handle it emotionally, but she couldn’t sleep.
After she reported the attack, there was taunting and negativity by others, something she sometimes still hears.
“I was known as the girl who cried rape,” she said.
Finally, she reached out for help, something she says is the best thing she has ever done.
“Even if you don’t think you need help, you need help,” Courtney stated.
Once she was assessed by a psychologist, it was determined she had post traumatic stress disorder and began treatment. She now sees a psychologist regularly and, on occasion, a psychiatrist, and is on antidepressants.
Once Courtney began her treatment, things began to change. She completed school, began post secondary and is on her way to becoming a rehabilitation assistant.
But things were not always great. In fact, just last year, Courtney tried to take her own life.
“When I said in my speech (at the pageant) I was a statistic, I meant it,” she explained. “One in four women (who have been sexually assaulted) attempt suicide.”
She has since been on a positive path.
“I have a good support system,” she noted.
For Courtney, the biggest support system is her young nephew. She wanted to be a good role model for him, so when she finally realized she needed the help, it was a no brainer for her. She reached out.
If you’re a victim
There are plenty of stigmas around rape, including the idea that the female was asking for it, she dressed provocatively and no one would believe her anyway. But regardless of what someone believes, it’s important to get help, said Courtney.
There are many different services Newfoundland and Labrador offers for victims of sexual assault, including the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program. It’s a patientcentered program to treat sexual assault victims and collect forensic evidence for police if they desire. Eastern Health offers this service at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s, where a nurse is available 24 hours a day to all genders age 16 and older.
During the assessment, the individual has the choice to get a forensic examination up to five days after an assault, but they don’t have to report it to police.
Information can also be provided for ongoing support from the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre (7477757), the Mental Health Crisis Line (1-888-737-4668), Victim Services and more.
Courtney recommends at the very least chatting with a friend or someone you trust. It is the first step to recovery.
“What happened to me was not OK,” Courtney said. “But I’m trying to take the negative that happened to me and try and turn it into a positive for someone else.”