A survivor’s tale

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Athabasca woman shares about her survival of domestic violence

She suffered isolation, manipulation and abuse in all of its ugly forms by the hands of her lover for three years.

The abuse was so severe that Sally Parker – who prefers to go by an alias for her safety – at one point was pregnant with their baby, and her ex-boyfriend kicked her in the stomach while wearing steel-toed boots. The child was lost.

“He promised me the moon and the stars that he would change. Nothing happened. (He) never changed. It just got worse, and all I could do was go to work (and) come home,” Parker said. “I wasn’t allowed to talk to anybody.”

Chelsea, Parker’s’s outreach mentor from the Thrive Relationship Abuse Prevention and Outreach Program in Athabasca, can account to the abuse Parker suffered, saying Parker’s ex gave her several concussions throughout the relationship.

Parker is only one of 25 individuals in Athabasca that Chelsea is currently supporting who are in violent relationships. Parker’s case is the only one in Chelsea’s current caseload that has seen a judge hand down a sentence to the abuser.

Oftentimes, Chelsea said victims are stuck in the cycle of abuse, and they choose not to get the police involved or will recant their statements.

It has been almost a year since Parker’s ex was picked up by Athabasca RCMP and subsequently charged and sentenced, and Parker is encouraging victims in similar situations to “get out.”

In January 2016, Parker and her ex-boyfriend moved from a nearby community to Athabasca.

Despite financially supporting the whole household and struggling to pay the bills – due to her ex’s alcoholism – Parker said he would consistently use expletives to call her “useless.” Along with physical and sexual assault, she was also abused in basically every way possible, including financially and psychologically.

“If I didn’t do exactly as I got told to do, he would literally push me against the wall until I did exactly what he wanted me to do,” she said.

Chelsea echoed Parker, saying her ex seriously restricted her activities.

“The isolation – she was unable to go anywhere, speak to anybody. She was allowed to go to work and come home, and he was an alcoholic,” Chelsea said.

Parker said there was a long list of violent incidents involving her ex. On three separate occasions, others made complaints to police about the abuse she suffered, and she gave statements.

Twice, Parker recanted her statements. Her boyfriend was in jail for 48 hours the first time and overnight the second.

“(I feel) guilty, because I shouldn’t have dropped (the charges). I should have made him pay for what he did. But he was whining, and crying, ‘Drop those charges, I don’t want to get caught.’ She said her situation didn’t become better after she recanted her statement, but worse.

Last June, a co-worker’s boyfriend asked her what was going on and she confided about the abuse at home.

“He asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told him, and the next day he called the cops,” she said.

Athabasca RCMP took her statement the day after at her place of work, and when she got home her boyfriend was taken away.

Parker’s ex was released on the day of his sentencing in August, as the judge deemed his 35-day sentence served by his time spent in custody.

“It’s frustrating, because how does anybody learn that what they did? A month in jail? For three years of being abused,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea said about 75 per cent of the victims she deals with are still with their abusers. She added that the ones who are not avoid police involvement and leave the relationship on their own.

Chelsea said it is common for victims to recant their statements to make the problem go away, as Parker did twice.

“There’s so many times that somebody like (Parker) will go back in and say ‘I’m sorry, I lied. I want to drop the charges. I want him to come home.’ It’s a never-ending cycle.”

Chelsea said there are actually laws that prevent charges from being automatically dropped if a victim recants their statement.

Ron Bumbry, RCMP media relations for the East Alberta District, said if a victim recants their statement, it is essentially out of the officer’s hands to drop the charges, even if the victim desires.

“All we can do is refer to the victim to crown prosecutor, who makes the final decision on how to proceed before court,” Bumbry said.

Should a victim try and leave their abuser, Chelsea said there are roadblocks in the way. She noted Athabasca’s lack of a women’s shelter, or second-stage housing.

“That’s the hard part of being in rural Alberta. We don’t have those resources here,” she said.

The closest shelters to Athabasca are the Hope Haven’s Women’s Shelter in Lac La Biche or the Northern Haven Women’s Shelter in Slave Lake.

“A lot of these women have kids and don’t want to traumatize their children by leaving the community. That’s why a majority of them stay,” Chelsea said.

Parker continues to recover from the extreme trauma she experienced, dealing with severe anxiety as a result of it. She said she hopes that by sharing her story, more victims will leave their abusive relationships.

“For all the women out there in that kind of relationship, get out of there as fast as you can, because it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” Parker said.

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