From the time she was a toddler, Patricia knew she had to be good girl.
It was simple logic even a small child could understand: If she was well-behaved, her dad might be in a better mood. And if he was happy, her brothers and mom would receive fewer beatings.
But being a good little girl meant never complaining. Never raising her voice. Never showing her fear.
Even when her father was forcing her to have sex with him.
“I always felt I had to be the peacemaker, the mediator, to stop the violence in the home,” Patricia says. “So that’s why I allowed it to continue.”
One of nine siblings – the second-oldest and only girl – she learned early on to follow the path of least resistance. She was three when she bit her mom because she wouldn’t pick her up. Her dad delivered a beating she never forgot.
“After that, I never felt safe getting angry. So I just made sure I did everything right.”
Though her dad’s sexual advances had been happening for as long as she could remember, by age 10 she began studying the Bible and knew what her dad was doing to her wasn’t right. To protect her little brothers, she remained silent.
At 14, her parents took her out of school to be a “second mom” for the growing family. She did half the housework and was charged entirely with the care of one of the babies. Her father’s sexual abuse continued unabated, but still, Patricia could say nothing.
At 17, however, life as she knew it changed. On her way out of town to visit grandparents, she found out she was pregnant. It was her father’s child and she told the doctor so.
When she returned home, her dad informed her the doctor’s office had called, offering to perform an abortion. Her father punctuated the offer with a punch to her stomach. He then marched her back to the doctor’s office and forced her to say she was lying about him being the father.
A sheltered teen with religion as her only moral compass, Patricia never considered having an abortion and quickly changed doctors. And although it was her dad’s, the baby growing inside her provided her with hope and a reason to live.
“It kind of was a saviour for me because I was quite suicidal up to that point,” she recalls. “When I realized I had my own child to take care of, my mothering instincts kicked in and I was going to look after her totally.”
Her father continued to abuse her throughout her pregnancy and after she brought her baby girl home. Patricia stayed – still worried about her little brothers’ safety – and withstood the continued violation and shame.
Finally, just before her 20th birthday, she moved out with her daughter. Her life of rape and incest – the only one she’d ever known – was behind her. But it would never stop haunting her.
For years, raising her daughter on her own, Patricia never spoke of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The shame was crippling. It wasn’t until she was in her late 30s that she shared her horrendous past.
“When I started talking, I told everybody. I didn’t want to hold it in anymore. It was like, ‘I don’t have ownership of this anymore.’”
But it would take another 20 years for her to seek justice.
Four years ago, Patricia went to police in Ontario, where she had grown up, and told them everything. Because there was obvious DNA evidence linking her father to her daughter, he was criminally charged in 2012.
It tore her family apart, most of her siblings resentful she’d chosen to dig up the past.
“This was 40 years ago, why are you doing this?” they’d ask.
Faced with the undeniable evidence of having fathered his own granddaughter, Patricia’s dad pled guilty. He is currently in jail.
Now 62 and a grandmother of three, Patricia remains confident she did the right thing. Her father won’t be able to hurt anyone else.
Her story is one of several highlighted by Surrey Women’s Centre (SWC) to commemorate National Victims of Crime Awareness Week this week.
Though hers is a troubling story to share, Patricia does so to prompt others to speak out and seek help.
“When they can see the worst case scenario and someone surviving and healing, then maybe it’ll give them the courage to do the right thing for themselves.”
• • •
The SWC has set up a website called Voices of Change that features stories of survivors of abuse. It’s similar to a site the women’s centre launched three years ago called Faces of Courage, but this time around, it includes also the perspective of anti-violence workers in the community, such as nurses, lawyers, police and counsellors.
Winston Sayson (left), for example, is a prosecutor with Crown counsel who often takes on cases involving violent crimes against women and children. He says it’s of utmost important to show survivors of violence compassion and support.
“These victims are damaged, traumatized, and in some cases, terrorized. What I do first is to seek to understand where they are coming from, and understand their hurt and fear,” Sayson says.
Success, by his definition, isn’t necessarily a guilty plea or conviction, but to see crime victims “free from a life of abuse and a life of suffering.”
Supt. Dave Attfield, operations officer for the Surrey RCMP, has been a cop for 22 years, but knows domestic violence situations require special care.
“You’re not investigating an incident, you’re investigating a situation that occurred in the context of a family that probably had things that happened before, and will probably have things that will happen after,” he says. “It’s extremely important how you approach and treat the victim from the very first interaction. Understand that they may not be ready to tell you everything just because you said ‘tell me what happened’.”
Adriana Azzolini (left), a youth care counsellor, also shares her experiences working with teens between 13 and 18 at risk of sexually exploitative relationships.
Some of them, she says, engage in sexual activities in exchange for basic needs such as money, food, clothing and shelter.
She’s works with the SEY (Stop Exploiting Youth) team at Pacific Community Resources Society. Her role, she believes, is to let youth know they are valued.
“They are worthy of my time, they are worthy of my presence – they are worthy of sharing their story, they deserve to feel better.”
Lynn Gifford is part of a team that provides specialized care to anyone who has been physically or sexually abuse. As coordinator of forensic nursing services at Surrey Memorial Hospital, she has the chance to not only care for a patient’s physical injuries, but their emotional and psychological wounds, too.
Gifford and her team partner with the SWC to provide 24-hour crisis response through SMART (Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team) for women and girls who have been assaulted and a need medical treatment. She says SMART ensures everything from a women’s hospital visit and beyond is coordinated.
“We need to make changes so that people feel safe,” Gifford says.
Sonya Boyce, executive director of the SWC, says there were a few reasons she wanted to include the stories of service providers alongside those of survivors. She hopes it demonstrates that counsellors, police, nurses and lawyers are regular, approachable people and that the work they do is more than merely a job.
But first and foremost, she wants abused women to know there are myriad people waiting, wanting to provide support once victims are ready to ask for help.
“Silence perpetuates the violence,” says Boyce. “When women learn they’re not alone, then they can take the next step.”
Though it took Patricia decades to speak up, she encourages others to do the same, no matter how long ago the abuse may have occurred.
“Go ahead with it because pedophiles never stop abusing… and you don’t want that on your conscience.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour crisis line at Surrey Women’s Centre at 604-583-1295.
For non-emergencies or further information, phone 604-589-1868.