August 12, 2020
“You’re the reason”
Names in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.
A year later, Ella still sleeps fully clothed and with the lights on.
Still, she is willing to talk about what happened to her. Eager, actually. Many others aren’t.
“I have told my story so many times, and I feel I have to keep telling it,” says Ella, 17. “I’ve had people say to me ‘you’re the reason I decided to talk about what happened to me.’”
Meet Ella. Hers was one of roughly 4,000 cases of child abuse investigated in Manitoba in 2019 by Child and Family Services.
In February 2019, Ella—then 16—slept over at her best friend’s house, across the street from her own father’s home. As the evening was winding down and Ella prepared to fall asleep on the couch, her friend’s father approached while the other girls were upstairs. He was a man she had known for years. A man she trusted. With no one else around, he sat beside Ella and sexually assaulted her.
“It didn’t last long, but it felt like it lasted forever,” says Ella of the horrifying, life-changing incident. “(My friend) and I grew up together. This was a safe place for me, but in just a few minutes my place of safety turned into a very bad place.”
Ella knew she had to tell someone what happened. So, she composed a long descriptive text and sent it to another friend who was also in the house. Confused and frightened, unsure of what to do and where to go at that late hour, Ella fell asleep.
When she awoke, she copied and pasted the same text and sent it to her mother, Jackie, disclosing the abuse that happened the night before. The text arrived at 7:37 a.m.
“I was shocked, I was scared, and I was angry,” says Jackie.
Throughout the year that followed, Ella and her family experienced their fair share of shock, fear, and anger as the cumbersome—sometimes chaotic—process played out.
There were multiple meetings and calls with the police, with Child and Family Services, Victim Services, and eventually the crown attorney. There were numerous delays. Long stretches where Ella and her family didn’t know what would happen next. Or when.
Everyone along the way did their job, but it seemed clear to Ella and her family that people were not working together. There was not one person Ella or her mom could contact to get definitive answers and support. Too much mystery. Too much uncertainty. Too many delays.
Jackie was relentless in seeking updates and information, but often felt dismissed and alone. She was scared as she watched the daughter she knew disappear. She needed help understanding how to support her and knowing how to manage her own anger and despair.
“What I needed was someone to help us navigate the whole thing,” said Jackie. “I needed somebody to call in those times when I didn’t know who to call, I needed someone to say that we didn’t have to do this alone.”
The court date finally arrived, a year following the incident, almost to the day. It was a two-day trial. The verdict? Not-guilty. It was a long stressful year of intimidating investigation rooms, frequent questioning, and long delays to arrive at an unsatisfactory verdict.
But for Ella, this awful journey has revealed her exceptional strength of character. While she is haunted by the abuse itself, what followed strengthened her. She came forward. She and her family persisted in the pursuit of justice. She continues to share her story. She is focusing now on healing. And she is inspiring others to step forward and tell their own stories of abuse. She is the reason.
Let Ella’s story be the reason you step forward today to support the Manitoba Child Abuse Response Centre. Let’s fix a damaged system. For children. For families. For Manitoba.