“There’s big pieces of a life she can’t remember.
Her mind shuts down it’s trying to protect her.”
-Brother Ali, “Babygirl”
When she was 14, Jodie was molested by her paternal grandfather.
A girl who already felt as though she didn’t quite fit in, had her self-esteem shattered and innocence stolen by someone she should have been able to trust. “He betrayed my trust, invaded my personal space and body, stripped away my feelings of self-worth and love, shattered my self-esteem, and he stole and murdered my childhood,” Jodie said. She would try to fight him off but he would grab her wrists and threaten to go to her sister. “The tightness of his grip is still, even after 19 years, very fresh in my memory,” Jodie said.
Going through something so traumatic led to memory loss.
It was only through therapy that she discovered she had been molested before she was 14.
“My Mom caught me talking in my sleep, it was me talking, but in younger voices. We pieced my sleep talking to the times when we either visited my grandparents, or when they visited us,” she said.
“My method of survival was forgetting.”
It wasn’t just the memory of being molested before she was 14 that Jodie lost. “There are chapters in my life that I cannot remember. Loss of autobiographical memory is very common among sexual abuse survivors, particularly childhood sexual abuse survivors,” Jodie said.
“I can’t remember my prom, how my parents were when I was a kid, or my high school graduation, among countless of other childhood “milestones”.”
The aftermath of being molested as a young girl was difficult- Jodie didn’t know how to deal with what had happened, and it wasn’t something that was talked about at school.
“I spent many years “sleepwalking” through life, creating a circus of chaos around me so I would be too busy to deal with what happened,” she said.
Eventually she found Hip Hop, which would prove to be her saviour.
“MC Lyte’s “I Am Woman” from her “Lyte as a Rock” album became my anthem. Since no one knew of my secret, and no one knew how tormented I was, I had to develop a persona, become a tough girl so no one could see my inner fragility,” Jodie said.
She went through high school just trying to keep busy and trying to survive each day.
“In the morning and on my way to school, I’d say to myself lines from MC Lyte’s song … “I am Woman, hear me roar, when I get on the mic, it’s never a bore …”
She would repeat those lyrics to herself until she became that rapper.
“A far cry from this lost girl in high school who felt so misunderstood and lonely she once spent an entire lunch hour in a bathroom stall to avoid talking to classmates,” she said.
One day, her Law 12 teacher told her class that in ten years one of them would be dead. Jodie thought to herself that it would most likely be her.
“I didn’t know how much more suffering in silence I could take, wondering how much longer I could keep it all together, wondering who would catch me on the day I would fall apart,” she said.
Her parents eventually discovered what had happened.
“I didn’t plan on telling them, it just happened to spill out,” Jodie said.
She had been watching a movie at a boyfriend’s place when she randomly burst into tears. After passing out from crying so much she awoke to hear her boyfriend on the phone with her parents saying: “I think Jodie was molested by her grandfather.”
The next thing she remembers is her mother saying “I believe you.”
The aftermath of the revelation was a nightmare for Jodie.
“[It] included nightmares, self-injury, under eating, over exercising, having to cut ties with a boy who I was in love with, and silently realizing that memories of childhood and adolescence were slowly fading to black,” Jodie said.
A few years later, in her mid-twenties, Jodie found herself pregnant and in an abusive relationship.
Her partner knew that she had been molested as a young girl and used it against her.
“In hindsight, that was part of his plan. He painted this picture of a horrible upbringing and it made me sympathize with him and I thought “wow, others had it much harder than me”,” she said.
“I later learned that step one of an abuser in a domestic violence situation is to charm your victim. One way he did that was to create the illusion of safety by charming me. He was a con artist.”
Later, in court, he would use the fact that she was molested to try and paint a picture of her as an unfit mother.
“This, coming from a violent, alcoholic, con artist,” she said.
While her ex-partner turned physically abusive when she was pregnant, the signs of abuse were more subtle at first.
“Abuse comes in many forms. In most cases, like mine, the verbal, emotional and financial abuse came first,” Jodie said.
“Abuse also comes in the form of isolation,” she said.
“When he saw that I was starting to exercise in the mornings outside with the baby and when he found out I had been in touch with an organization that helps women with post partum depression, the internet and landline got cut off in the house.”
At this point, Jodie had no connection to the outside world.
“He manipulated me into staying in our room with the baby, the whole day,” she said.
“I was trapped.”
Along with being molested by her grandfather and abused by her partner, Jodie had been sexually assaulted by a stranger on her way to school when she was 17.
A man followed her, grabbed her and threw her to the ground.
While he was on top of her, Jodie caught a glimpse of a pair of black heels walking by.
The black heels did not stop to help- they didn’t even hesitate.
They just kept moving.
Black heels have become symbolic for Jodie of the passivity of the bystanders who knew what her abusers were doing and didn’t do anything to stop them.
Black heels have come to represent Jodie’s grandmother, who knew she was being violated by her grandfather, and the family of her ex boyfriend, who knew that he was being abusive.
Jodie is not alone.
Every 17 minutes a woman is raped in Canada.
More than 50 per cent of rapes, battery and sexual assaults take place at home.
A quarter of Canadian women will be raped at some point in their lives- most by someone the victim knows.
A third of girls and a sixth of boys experience unwanted sexual acts, and 95 per cent of children who are sexually abused know their perpetrator.
Of those girls who are sexually assaulted as children, 67 per cent will go on to have at least one violent relationship in their lives.
Jodie’s advice to the survivors of sexual abuse:
“You are not alone. It is never too late and there is no expiration date when it comes to breaking your silence. If you find there are people who are unsupportive, “defriend” them … off of Facebook and from your life. Sometimes it takes people having to lose you so they can learn to appreciate you.”
Jodie now speaks and writes publically about her experiences with abuse in the hope that it will help others out there feel a little less alone and a little less helpless.
Hip Hop has played a large and important role in Jodie’s recovery. It is a culture born from struggle, something Jodie is no stranger to.
The song “Babygirl” by Brother Ali inspired her to try group therapy. It was largely through that woman’s support group she ended up joining and through art therapy that she was able to find the courage to break her silence and talk publicly about being abused.
It has not been an easy journey, and still isn’t, even now that her grandfather has passed and now that she is no longer with her abusive boyfriend.
Memories can be triggered anywhere.
She had a flashback when she was helping out at a woman’s shelter and there was a room that was set up in the exact same way as the room at another woman’s shelter where she, herself once ended up.
She had another flashback when answering phones at a crisis line and a woman who had been molested called in.
A private and reserved person, Jodie is nevertheless determined to share her story.
“I know that I could’ve chosen to stay absolutely private about my experience with sexual abuse and domestic violence, but it’s really important to me to share these chapters in my life so that others can understand that you can get through something traumatic like this and that you are not alone,” she said.
“I am 100% out of my comfort zone, and it is indeed scary, but you know what scares me more? Not being able to help others who are suffering in silence, who are cutting themselves, who are afraid to sleep at night so they sleep during the day.”
*Jodie’s story has reached people all over the world through her public speaking engagements and interviews of her that have been published online, one of which has reached over 10,000 hits.
She spoke at the inaugural Victor Walk Vancouver, a movement founded by Theo Fleury and has been honoured by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.
As a Hip Hop dancer, one of her most rewarding achievements has been teaching Hip Hop to adults with mental health disabilities and music and dance to toddlers with down syndrome.
She can be found on Twitter @dontrunbabygirl, where she started a 365 Days of Gratitude journal.