CALGARY – As she was driving to a rally to raise awareness about violence against women, Amanda Lindhout started to have doubts about her plan to speak publicly for the first time about how she had been raped and tortured while being held captive in Somalia.
“I just didn’t know if I was going to have the courage to do it,” she said Friday.
“Those are words that I have never said in public before, that I have said only in the confines of my therapist’s office and with close friends and family. So for me, just like for any woman that has experienced this kind of abuse, to stand in front of people and say that publicly and really own that experience was extremely difficult for me to do.”
But buoyed by a feeling of safety at the One Billion Rising event in Calgary, the 31-year-old writer and activist who hails from Red Deer, Alta., and now lives in Canmore, Alta., chose to reveal the repeated sexual attacks that she suffered during her captivity with the aim of showing solidarity with others dealing with the same issues.
Lindhout has spoken before of her time being held captive by a group of Somali youths who had kidnapped her off the side of the road outside the capital of Mogadishu in August 2008. At the time, she was working as a freelance writer.
When Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were abducted, their parents first turned to the Canadian and Australian governments for help, but eventually hired a private hostage negotiation group and paid a ransom to secure their freedom.
“When I came home from my experience as a hostage three years ago, I never felt an obligation to share publicly any great amount of details about the abuse that I suffered,” she said.
“I shared what I felt was an appropriate level of detail with the Canadian public, who I did feel some responsibility to, considering how engaged the nation was during the 15 1/2 months I was a hostage.”
Lindhout turned her attention to writing a book about her experiences and founded her Global Enrichment Foundation, which has a mandate of supporting vulnerable Somali women.
An articulate and composed speaker, Lindhout always seemed to exude confidence, but she admitted that surface belied the ongoing difficulties many survivors of sexual assault would be familiar with.
“There are still days that are really hard for me,” she said. “I have pretty severe post-traumatic stress and it’s something I live with every single day. I’m still afraid of the dark and I’m afraid of loud noises.”
Adding to the complexity of her recovery was her work, which put her in daily contact with the subject of her greatest fears.
“Every woman who has experienced sexual abuse knows how hard it is to get up every single day, but then on top of that I have the public looking at me and the media asking questions about what happened to me,” she said.
She may not have used the words rape and torture, but she said they often ended up in the headlines of stories about her.
“Every time I saw them and read them, I felt like I was victimized over and over again. Those words touched a raw part of me that was still unhealed.”
But she became determined not to be a victim.
“I’m a survivor of rape and I’m a survivor of torture,” she said. “I choose to walk the road of healing. It’s been a long journey over the last three years, but it’s something I choose every day.”
She has learned the process of healing will likely take the rest of her life — she works with psychologists and therapists and nutritionists “to put both my physical and my emotional self back together.”
She said the support she received after going public about her sexual abuse was heartwarming.
“I have been overwhelmed and extremely touched by how many women have reached out to me,” she said. “If I’m in a position to have my voice heard because of what happened to me in Somalia and share my story and my experiences … then I feel a bit of responsibility to do that.
“That wasn’t easy for me to do yesterday. But it was worth it.”