This week, as part of the Phoenix Campaign by ADVAS, we met Katja.
Managing her full class schedule has been challenging for Katja, and she has found ways to stay on top of the work that she needs to be doing. She has a regular routine, every week the same, where she gets together with friends and classmates to go over notes and talk through the struggles they are having. Not everyone is studying the exact same things, but this group is full of like-minded people and they support one another. For Katja – that’s exactly what she needs right now. “I didn’t want a tutor or an expert telling me the answer, I wanted someone who understood why I was struggling with something so that they could talk me through the problems. That’s what this group was – just a group of people who knew how to look at problems together,” Katja said when sharing her story with us.
Being a regular customer at the café where she studies, Katja has gotten used to saying hello to many of the same people each week.
There are many things that can add stress to our lives while also being challenging. It’s OK to be stressed or not be excited about everything.
But it is not good for your health if the stress is impacting your life.
Help is available.
On Tuesday evenings Katja studied alone. With her study group members all off doing other things, this was her weekly solo focus sessions, “I would always get so much done on Tuesdays. There was a switch that just flipped once a week and I knew that I could get through my list.”
Even though Katja was productive on Tuesdays, she was still feeling stressed about her school work. Some Tuesdays felt lonely, “That semester, there really was no socializing. I saw my study group, but we didn’t hang out for fun. It was all business, and that didn’t always feel good.”
One of the regular customers at the café has introduced himself and bought Katja a coffee, and Katja has managed to stay focused on her school work. “He was nice enough that day – he didn’t say anything wrong. I felt bad asking him to let me work that night, but I was behind on a group project and I was worried that the other people in my group were thinking I was slacking.”
It is important during times of stress to practice good self-care. Take some time to focus on your needs.
Not sure where to start? Check here.
Back at the café the next week, Katja is greeted by the man who bought her a coffee last week. He invites her for dinner and offers to help her study. “That week I had a bit less to do, so I figured there was no harm in a conversation over dinner. It’s not like I thought he was dangerous – he was just a nice guy from the café.”
Katja agreed to join the man at his home for dinner, just a few blocks from the café. As Katja closed the door on the well-kept home on the quiet street, her host moved toward her. “He got really handsy, and I tried to laugh it off and say that I needed to study first. He didn’t stop, so I said no and told him to stop. But he didn’t stop.”
“No one knew where I was, and I was scared.”
Thousands of women are sexually assaulted every year in Alberta. Sexual assault is a crime, and is never OK.
It is a good idea to make sure that someone knows where you are, especially when you are not where you would normally be. Make it part of your daily safety plan.
Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. It is always and only the offenders doing.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, we can help.
Katja has been attacked and violently sexually assaulted. She tried to fight off her attacker, but he was able to overpower her and hurt her.
After the assault, her attacker behaved as though nothing had happened. “It was so strange. Here I am crying on his floor, and he’s going on about my classes. That made me even more scared – it was like he didn’t even acknowledge what he had done.” Katja gathered her things and made her way out of the man’s home. As she was leaving, he tried to kiss her and said that he would see her again.
Katja felt like this was her fault for going with the man. Her Mom has warned her about men like this before, and she thinks that she should have known better.
Feeling like she has done something wrong, Katja chooses not to tell anyone about the violent sexual assault. Instead, she does her best to act normally.
Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. If you have ever been touched in a way that hurt you, it was not your fault.
It can be hard to judge the true risk of a situation, especially when you are focusing your attention elsewhere. That’s why it’s important to have a safety plan for everyday – know what questions you are always asking, and who always knows where you are going.
We know how hard it can be to tell someone what happened to you. We have members of our team who have survived rape, too. Silence can hurt. If you’re not sure what to do, call us. We can help you.
Doing her best to keep to her routines and not think about the violent sexual assault that she survived, Katja returned to the café the following Tuesday for her study session. When she saw her attacker in the café at the table she would use every Tuesday, she tried to run away but the man gave chase. Terrified, Katja screamed. With the attention of all of the staff and customers in the café, the man speaks to Katja as if they are a couple in the midst of a disagreement. “He kept calling me sweetie and asking me to calm down. He said we needed to talk and reached out for me. Every time I stepped toward the door, he would come closer. The look in his eyes was the same one he had at his house when he raped me. I was looking around for someone to get me out of there when this big guy stood up – I thought he was going to go after my rapist. He took my arm and we walked out without saying a word – he just nodded at his wife and we left.”
Making it out of the café, Katja asks the man to help her get home. On the drive to her apartment, she is again feeling like this is her fault because her attacker knew her routine. The helpful man asks Katja if that was her boyfriend, and she tells him that he’s not. But she doesn’t tell the man what happened. “I didn’t say a whole lot, but I guess he could tell that something big wasn’t right. He said that he’d help me today and that he may not be there next time. He said that if I wasn’t safe then I needed to get real help. I sunk down in my seat. I knew he was right.”
That night, Katja called 911 to report the sexual assault. She was connected with and ADVAS Advocate, who helped her book appointments for counselling sessions and even talked through how to tell her profs that she needed extra time for some of her assignments. “I didn’t need a hero, I needed someone who could hear me and who understood what I was trying to say. My Advocate from ADVAS was that person for me, even more than my family. Even if I couldn’t get a sentence out, they knew what I was saying.”
An arrest was made, and ADVAS helped Katja understand how the justice system works in Canada. “I was studying science, and I have never known a cop before. I had no clue what was going to happen. But they helped me understand that I have rights, and how everything was going to go. They helped me understand where I could get involved if I wanted to.”
Through counselling, Katja also began to believe that the assault was not her fault.
“People ask what it’s like to heal from rape. It’s nothing, because fully healing from rape doesn’t exist. Some wounds never close. Some scars never fade. I accept that.”Katja
Through her recovery, Katja has gained a new perspective on her health and her own power. She understands how immeasurably strong she is, and how much control she has over her life. While she is grateful for everyone who has helped her, Katja is grateful that she has been in full control of her recovery.
Sexual assault is a crime. It is never OK. If you or someone you know has been hurt, help is available.
Stalking is a crime. Stalking hurts. It is never OK. You have been the victim of stalking, help is available.
Katja’s story reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. Her attacker looked calm and friendly, and her helper looked to Katja like someone who could cause harm. It is important to have a safety plan, and to take time to make thoughtful decisions about your safety.
Throughout Katja’s story, we heard from her about how she felt to blame for her attack. It took a lot of time for Katja to realize that this was not her fault. If you are someone who has been sexually assaulted, please know that it is not your fault. Help is available.
The criminal justice system can be complicated. Having assistance from ADVAS Court Coordinators can help a person who is a victim to stay involved in their own cases.
Katja says that she believes she will never heal from her attack. This is normal. The injuries caused by sexual assault are significant and are often life changing. If you or someone you know is struggling to heal after being hurt, know that everyone heals differently and help is available. It is not uncommon for people who have been hurt to still experience their injuries decades later.
Resources related to Katja’s story:
Self-Care Tips (from Youthab)
Safety Tips for all Women (from Cosmopolitan Magazine)