Cheri DiNovo is an NDP MPP in the Ontario legislature for Parkdale-High Park, in Toronto.
I’ve been sexually assaulted twice. Both instances were in my 20s. I didn’t report. To me it’s no surprise that women don’t report, because the person who assaulted them is usually a man they love, respect or fear.
The first time was what today we would call “date rape.” This is a classic scenario, now that I look back on it. He was a boyfriend, I’ve known him since he was a teenager. When the assault happened, we’d been dating for a long time. It was very serious. I broke it off, and he wasn’t happy. But he came to my apartment so that we could divvy up all our stuff. That’s where it happened. I didn’t want to have sex with him, and I said so. I told him no. He chased me around the house, and I tried to fight him off. It was clear that wasn’t going to work. He was absolutely aggressive. I wouldn’t say he was violent exactly, but it was violence without having bruises. Finally, I just kind of succumbed. It was rape. There was no question about it. I didn’t tell anybody. I walked away and life went on. I’m a Baby Boomer, and I think for my generation it was just a common thing.
I felt really humiliated, embarrassed and horrible after. I want to think that he was embarrassed and humiliated, too. We’ve never talked about it. It never happened again. I would never report him, and I would never say his name.
The experience made me more guarded. It makes you—and this is probably true of a lot of women of my generation—you never really trust men. And I think that’s a pretty sad statement. I also felt a lot of guilt. I felt guilty for breaking up with him and breaking his heart. Maybe, somewhere deep in my psyche, I believed that this was what I deserved.
I’ve been thinking—if he reads this article, will he recognize himself? I think he will. And I thought about what that will do to him. This is so typical too. As women, we still care about what our attackers feel! It’s just so bizarre. I think of myself as a pretty damn strong woman. I always have been. I don’t put up with a lot of s–t. So the fact that I felt that way is pretty telling. That’s rape culture.
The other time, I lived in the neighbourhood of the St. Jamestown social housing project in Toronto when it was still relatively new. I was walking home late one night, around 11:30 or midnight. There was a very dimly lit little alleyway and this guy ran up to me, held a knife to my neck, fondled me and said, “Don’t scream.” I was in shock. I screamed, expecting to be dead the next second. But he ran off, luckily. So I’ve experienced both the “stranger danger” version and the “best friend” version of sexual assault.
As a mother, you really want this to change. You really hope it has changed for the next generation. And the really sad reality is that it hasn’t.
If anything good is to come out of this, it’s that lots and lots of women are talking about experiences they’ve never talked about before. I hope men recognize the women who are telling these stories; that they suddenly wake up and see, “Oh my God, that was me.” That might have an impact that the courts can’t.
The best solution, if there is such a thing, is for people to know that it’s not going to be quiet anymore. This is not going to be hush-hush. This is going to go out on social media. I’d like to see men coming forward next. Maybe #RapedNeverGotReported should be the next hashtag.
— As told to Genna Buck. This interview has been condensed and edited.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.