Speech at the Memorial for the Montreal Massacre – December 1, 2012.

This speech is dedicated to [names have been removed].

I am Breaking My Silence.

Our silence is their protection.

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  A quote by Audre Lorde, Activist.

I was a little reluctant to share. I decided for the first support group session, I would take a back seat and observe. Then a beautiful woman said something that changed my life. She said clearly, “I was molested as a child.” I froze. That was the first time in the 13 years I’ve been seeking counseling that a human being has said that, out loud with me in the same room. It wasn’t from a book or from the television. Finally, I knew someone else that was molested, thus already learning the first advantage to group support: You are not alone. I was not alone. This woman in front of me was proof of it. She was real. She had a name, a story, a purpose in life.

I once spent an entire lunch hour in high school in a bathroom stall. I just stood there feeling completely alone. I didn’t want to be around my classmates who were stressing about boys or math equations. I had a real life problem – an unsolved one. A problem I believed at the time was mine alone, that there was not a single person in the entire Universe who had experienced my pain.

I remember this particular instance in math class where I was asked to approach the chalkboard to solve a mathematical equation. What I desperately wanted to write was:

Solve this.
I am 17.
The other day I was sexually assaulted by a stranger on the way to school.
I told zero people.
3 years prior, in the summer of 1994, I was molested by my paternal grandfather, Adriano. I was 14.
The first time he molested me, was, metaphorically, the day I died and became someone else.

On one occasion he said “Please don’t tell anyone about this. Do you want to ruin your family?”

I told zero people.
That’s 5 years of abiding to his Code of Silence.
When I told my parents, I was surprised that they believed me.
Every 24 hours that go by, I remember less and less of what my life was like before that first day he molested me.
Where did my childhood go?
It’s missing. And I have a right to reclaim it.

A monster took my life before I had a chance to decide what I wanted for my life.

Years after that day in math class, I had more to add to my life equation. At 25, I was in a domestically abusive relationship with my then alcoholic boyfriend, Jose, who not only abused me, but the baby that I was pregnant with. A product of a machismo household with Neanderthal attitudes towards alcohol and women, he became a part of the vicious cycle, and dragged me on the disturbing merry go round. It is a miracle that I am even standing here, with my arms and legs in place, with my 5 senses intact. I would end up having to give birth to my child 1 month before my due date, for the abuse had taken a toll on my 4’11 frame. He would go on to walk out on us 12 days before the baby turned 1. His parting words were “Good luck trying to get a penny out of me.”

Peer support breaks the barriers of loneliness and isolation, has made me feel less of a statistic, and has transformed the way I perceived the word “therapy”. In a confidential environment, we felt safe to address our fears and anxieties. Through mutual aid and the sharing of literature and methods of coping and healing, week by week, we unpeeled layers of our broken spirits and tired bodies. We’ve offered support for each other by attending court and giving feedback on a woman’s victim impact statement. Through each other, we have reconnected with our innermost selves, asking questions we have not thought of until someone had asked it of them self. Sharing stories of sorrow, survival and hope has erased the clear demarcation of our skin colour and socioeconomic status, and has clearly showed but we are more alike than we are different.

I felt empowered when I shared stories of how much dance and Hip Hop have been my saving grace all these years, and how the only time I can ever be truly myself, be the closest I am to that 14 year old girl, is when I’m dancing. I felt I had a purpose when I shared stories that were able to give the women understanding and perception. I looked forward to meeting with these women every week, for I finally felt like all my range of emotions was being validated. These women understand how hard it is to wear a smile in the morning, after crying all night. Although this session is over, there is no “graduation date”. In this case, there is no such phrase as “get over it already!” or “you’re still thinking about that?”. I have learned through group support that this is a lifelong process, that any kind of abuse especially from childhood takes a long time to get through.

If that moment when I heard “I was molested as a child.” was all I ever took with me from support group, it was worth it. Fortunately, it wasn’t. These remarkable women that I’ve grown to love as sisters, have changed my life. I am proud of their strength and growth beyond their painful experiences and want to honour them individually for we are a thriving sisterhood forming an unbroken chain of support.  For them, I will be their lamp, lifeboat, or ladder, for these 4 women have become a life-altering plus to my 32 year equation.

I finish off with the last verse and chorus of the song “Babygirl” by the Hip Hop artist Brother Ali. The following lines of poetry are what pushed me to give support group a chance.

She said if I was meant to die he would’ve killed me.
There must be a reason that I still breathe.
I don’t have the tools to rebuild me.
But I still believe that one day I could feel free.
And my body could be mine again.
My eyes can learn how to shine again.
My inner child won’t have to hide and then
When I’m strong then Love can be invited in.
Sweet God that’s all I ask of thee.
I’m willing to give you what you demand of me.
I’m learning to embrace the reality
That life doesn’t always turn out how it’s planned to be.
I didn’t deserve what was handed to me
Only one who can grant happiness is me
What it takes for her to face the day
I can only hope to be half that brave.

Don’t run babygirl, don’t run.
You gotta face what you’re fighting, head on.
Only one thing I could say in truth.
You gotta deal with the demons before they deal with you.

My name is Jodie and I have just Broken My Silence.


One thought on “Speech at the Memorial for the Montreal Massacre – December 1, 2012.

  1. Congratulations, Joan, on speaking out and placing the shame on those that truly own it. This is a big step, moving in positive, uplifing directions. I am a stranger but still very proud and will pray for your continued strength. All the best to you, my friend.

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