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.

Get­ting help

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.”

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