Read Ashley MacDonald’s Keynote Take Back the Night Speech

This is the story of what can happen when people listen to you, believe in you, and support you – it is a tale of possibility, potential, and post traumatic growth.

I would like to begin by extending a warm thank you to the walk organizers and volunteers, for their passion and dedication in bringing us together for another amazing year. I’d also like to thank everyone here for coming out to support each other and demonstrating support for survivors. Your presence is important and a beautiful reminder of the strength of our community.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I wanted to say here today, what message I wanted to convey, what I wanted you, and I both, to take away from this, and what it is about my experiences that  brought me to be in this space with all of you tonight – filled with fear, excitement and pride.

I can only liken it to the fear I had moments before skydiving, and how I felt sitting in a small plane waiting to jump into the clouds. Quickly followed by excitement and pride as I left the edge of the plane, tested my limits, pushed myself, and landed safely on the ground, all the while knowing my instructor was with me, backing me up, reassuring me, and ready to step in if I needed a hand – much like how I feel here with all of you tonight.

I have decided that I should share another story with you, the story of the life that began after I was assaulted, of  people who supported me,  places I went, things I experienced, of learning and growth, and of how I came to jump out of a plane. This is the story of what can happen when people listen to you, believe in you, and support you – it is a tale of possibility, potential, and post traumatic growth.

In the days after I was assaulted, I shared what had happened with those closest to me – family and some friends –  they heard my story, and began their own process of coming to terms with what had happened to me, confused, angry, and sad we moved forward together and the overwhelming message I received was that I was believed and that they were with me.

They believed me with unwavering faith, without questioning, no queries about my clothing or how much I had drank – in fact it was a friend who made me acknowledge the possibility that I had been drugged.

Calls came, messages were sent, quiet solitude was granted as needed. I napped on couches, in spare rooms, in the passenger seat of a car as we drove. A new bed was ordered and my old one disappeared, food was cooked – so much food, I often wonder if I would have eaten at all if not for the culinary wizardry of a dear friend. My doctor asked that all too important question “are you thinking about suicide?” and hugged me as I sat in pieces crying in her office.

In the weeks and months that followed, there were days I struggled to work, and my co-workers covered for me. My doctor continued to see me whenever I just showed up at her office. My birthday came and my friends planned a party at home knowing I wasn’t ready to revisit crowded bars or parties with strangers.

When I decided I needed to file a police report a friend was by my side, and celebration dinner was waiting when we finished.  Whatever I needed seemingly appeared without asking, sometimes things I hadn’t even realized I needed came my way and I was grateful, I am still grateful.

During this time a friend and I had lunch, and she told me she knew this was going to be a long process, and that was okay, and that I should take as long as I needed, that I might never be the same but my friends would still be there when I was ready – and that they were.

As time passed I would cycle between feeling depressed, afraid, broken, ashamed, ready to move forward, and angry, but mostly I felt frustrated. I was frustrated with acting the way you act after this happens, I wanted to be bigger than this, I wanted to scream out what had happened to me, I wanted to feel better, I wanted to feel normal. I couldn’t remember what that was, but more so I knew that my old normal wasn’t good enough anymore.

At first I whispered, I did an anonymous interview about sexual assault. If you asked that interviewer if she thought the sobbing and terrified woman who met with her that day would ever be speaking in front of all of you tonight I am sure she would have thought definitely not. She also probably never thought that interview would be the first step towards these words tonight.

Let me be clear, that this was not a linear process, it wasn’t even a circle, my steps moved forwards, and sideways and backwards.

Before I continue, let me be clear, that this was not a linear process, it wasn’t even a circle, my steps moved forwards, and sideways and backwards, sometimes I simply turned around and at others I refused to move. But what is most important to remember is that each of us will do this differently, there is no right way or wrong way to feel better – and whatever it takes for you to get through today is what you have to do to get through today.

And know that if you are supporting someone who is surviving that they can be a victim or a survivor from moment to moment and that is not a sign of weakness, some of the strongest moments they will have are the ones when they are quiet and getting by.

We can not forget in our rush to get people better that to be a survivor you must first be a victim and it is important to allow space for us to grieve what might have been. And even when we feel better we can still feel sad, and angry, and vulnerable.

I started hiking, and on the trails I found it easier to breath – there was space for my thoughts, there was room for me to mourn what I perceived I had lost – the person I had been before, someone I recalled as carefree and strong-willed.

This new version of myself climbed Gros Morne mountain, explored Newfoundland’s beaches and communities, sat alone by a campfire listening to a nearby river through the trees.  This self went back to school and completed another degree, she learned to be alone, to enjoy silence and solitude. Somewhere  between the mountains of Alberta, a tent in Terra Nova, and jumping out of a plane I started to find peace in what had happened.

I realized my experiences were useful. In my work they taught me how to navigate systems and kept me aware of protecting victims from experiencing further harm. I learned the importance of language and how the word rape can echo through someone’s day. My experiences made me happy to have survived, thrilled to see a sunrise and a sunset, excited to try new things, and perfectly content to sometimes fail.

It may have been that this new self was in fact more adventurous and determined than the previous.

In the midst of my metamorphosis, the media was reporting about Rehteah Parsons, Gomeshi, Brock Turner, Cosby, cab drivers, the women impacted by their violence and the world started talking about consent and sexual violence

In the midst of my metamorphosis, the media was reporting about Rehteah Parsons, Gomeshi, Brock Turner, Cosby, cab drivers, the women impacted by their violence and the world started talking about consent and sexual violence.

Then we discovered we had our own Jane Doe fighting a battle in the courts – and St. John’s erupted just ahead of the #metoo movement (little did we know that the conversation was about to take over).The public debate exploded, media, social media, dinner parties, no where was safe the entire city was a trigger and I couldn’t find it in me to be quiet any longer – so I spoke, not an anonymous whisper this time, not a social media post that got lost in the threads of twitter. I spoke loud and clear.

It started as a call for cards, thank you cards for Jane Doe, to show support and let her know that we believed her.But for me personally it grew into so much more, building on this community of support I felt safe to speak and share my story in hopes that I could add to the dialogue in a positive way, offering a voice where they may not have been one before.

And this brings us here, to today and this chapter of not just my story, but our collective story as survivors. Today I scared myself a little by standing here and speaking, and today you listened to me, you believed me, and you supported me and today I feel a little different than yesterday. If not for the steadfast support of those around me I can’t be sure how far I would have gotten.

My friend Bryan Power wrote a song for me At the point when I spoke publically about my own assault,and I swear I have never heard this song without crying.This is the kind of support I wish for all of you,

A hidden song’s forgiven if only sung alone. But if you sing we’ll join in the chorus because fortune favours the bold. The long crooked case can arrest you and make you question the goal. Reach out your hand we’ll stand together because fortune favours the bold. When their words are curt and graceless cast to pierce and hold and you want to walk then will march in numbers because fortune favours the bold.

I however, would argue that I am bold because I am so very fortunate.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity and thank you all for sharing this moment with me.

Bryan Power’s “Fortune Favours the Bold”*
*Though recording under the name of Civil Sheppard here, Bryan is best known for his moniker, Pilot to Bombardier, which you can find on streaming services, or a record store near you

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Relevant Links: The Journey Project is an ongoing partnership between the Public Legal Information Association of NL and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, to enhance supports and responses for survivors of sexual violence in Newfoundland and Labrador within the justice system. The NL Sexual Assault and Prevention Centre’s 24 Hour Crisis Support & Information Line is 1.800.726.2743m and is available throughout the province to anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence in any way.

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2 Comments

  • It’s fine to expect “unwavering” support from friends, family, doctors, and trauma counsellors, but the judicial system still needs to be guided by things like fact, evidence, the presumption of innocence, and the principle that an accused person must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    • One point I would like to add:
      It’s fine to be supportive… it’s HEROIC to come forward and make sure the same happens to no one else. It is IMPERATIVE NOT to wait to file charges (YES, I understand trauma and pain (firsthand experience of rape) but you have to DO SOMETHING to stop the bad person who did it (In my case, it was an ex-girlfriend) to you from doing it to someone else.
      PLEASE, do not WAIT to file charges/make a complaint. Act as quickly as you can to prevent others from suffering.

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