(COURTESY AMY-LEIGH PATTON)
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Last week, a Twitter account was created for Kahnawa’kehró:non to anonymously share their stories related to sexual violence and trauma.
In less than 48 hours, around 70 posts were shared on the Twitter account Ktown’s Finest (@Finestinktown) before it was taken down on Wednesday night (July 29).
A second account was created shortly thereafter, where more stories have since been shared, and previously deleted ones re-added, as people have been named and accused.
The response to the sexual assault allegations by community members has been visceral, with many expressing shock and horror on other social media platforms, including Facebook.
For Amy-Leigh Patton it was a trigger.
Patton is a survivor of sexual assault who first shared her story 16 years ago in the documentary Mohawk Girls, and said that reading the stories on Twitter made her relive her experience.
“Re-traumatizing is what I experienced when all of this came out, and I cannot be the only one that it triggered,” said Patton. “I stumbled backwards for a few days. I wasn’t sleeping. I was pacing. I wasn’t eating because I was relieving this trauma.”
“What transpired last week is going to absolutely impact people who are survivors of sexual assault and the people who disclosed themselves, that is a given,” said LoAnna Zacharie, a support counsellor under the psychological services department at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services.
“You can’t help but be affected by what you are hearing because it is violent, and it makes people uncomfortable to recognize the reality of our community, our safety has been compromised. It causes people to start thinking about their own experiences in their lives and different encounters. I think it would be difficult for people not to have a story that they know, whether it be from themselves or someone they love or that they know closely,” said Zacharie.
Talking about traumatic events and discussing details with other people can sometimes re-traumatize not only the person disclosing, but also the individuals who are present or who hear and read the stories if there is no proper support in place.
“I’m concerned for people to continue disclosing to each other without any access to support. I think us talking and sharing is so important, but how we do that sharing is also important because if we are just sitting and swapping stories, there is no talk about how to take action and move forward.
“So, while the disclosures are one piece, it is very important to have that next step support, and that is going to depend on what people are comfortable with, whether it be Western or traditional healing. But definitely, there is a next step, it doesn’t end at disclosure,” said Zacharie.
Patton said that the issue related to sexual assault has always been present in the community and called it eye-opening for many.
“The difference is that putting it in such a public platform, I think, really caught people off-guard. People who are unprepared to read some of those anonymous stories, people who may have suppressed a lot of their own traumas, or who have dealt with it, it really triggers.
“I think it set a lot of people off. And I mean calling out individuals in that manner, I’m not sure I would have gone that route just because it gives them too much room to deny. It doesn’t hold them as accountable as if they were to go a different route seeking justice or healing the legal way,” said Patton.
Before publicly sharing her experience, Patton was in therapy and said that the documentary became part of her healing process.
“I was coming to terms with what had happened. I think a part of me was in denial that I was sexually assaulted, and through therapy and realizing the manipulation that occurs, the stigma attached to it. I felt there had to be more girls like me.
“There had to be someone else that experienced that feeling of hopelessness, of fear, shame, shame is a big one. And I felt at that time, I was 16 years old, I had this amazing platform that I don’t think many women often get, and I used it to share my story and even if I helped one person, it was worth telling my story,” said Patton.
Patton said that it was the encouragement of her late grandmother Beverley that helped her begin her healing process and seek professional help.
“It was more or less tools to survive. Understanding that it is not something to be ashamed of, understanding that it has nothing to do with me as a person. Understanding that nobody took my power away and from there, I was in therapy for about two years steady until I graduated high school,” she said.
For Patton, therapy was an essential component of her healing process.
“Often, after disclosure, people are even more distraught, or they might feel exhausted, or they might feel like they want to isolate themselves. They might use acting out behaviours to re-numb what they kept inside for so long. So, people might try to use alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food, working, smoking – it can come in many different forms. It is whatever behaviour you do in excess in order to distract you from what you are feeling,” said Zacharie.
Patton, who is now 34 and the mother of five children, called the healing process “ugly” but said that it is essential in order to move forward.
“You have to face those demons. You have to reflect back on the situation and come to terms with it. And when you can start talking about it, and it doesn’t make you sick to your stomach or cry, it’s the most amazing feeling ever,” said Patton.
Zacharie believes that the Twitter account created a situation where the community has no choice but to talk about a difficult topic and said that had it not come to light, “maybe we wouldn’t be aggressively combating it.”
“We received our first complaint of the page on the 28th (July),” said public relations officer at the Kahnawake Peacekeepers Kyle Zachary. “A file was created, and any other complaints were added to this same file. It is a shocking amount of accusations,” he said.
Zachary said that Peacekeepers investigate sexual offences when they are reported and therefore are aware of the problem.
“Every file is investigated thoroughly, and when appropriate, charges applied. The file then moves into the court system. We don’t usually report when sexual assault files come in to the press. It’s hard enough on a victim to open a report,” said Zachary.
He added that some of the officers in the department have specific training to handle cases related to sexual assault, harassment and abuse.
“They are trained in the specifics of the laws applicable, interview techniques, identifying abuse,” he said.
Last Friday (July 31), a joint statement was released by the Kahnawake Peacekeepers, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) and the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre addressing the allegations.
“While it is common knowledge that this serious problem does exist within the community, the sheer number of allegations may come as a shock to many,” the statement reads.
“As community organizations who hold leadership positions within the community, we collectively acknowledge the hurt, trauma and negative emotions that have been brought forth by the disclosures,” the statement continues.
MCK chief Rhonda Kirby, who is in charge of the Health Portfolio, told The Eastern Door this week that a working group was created with representatives from all four organizations to find a resolution.
“We are taking this whole situation very seriously,” said Kirby. “We realize the severity of everything that is going on, and we want to ensure everyone who needs any services that they receive it. There needs to be more community awareness about this situation,” she said.
“We want to make sure that we cover all of the issues that need to be addressed. It’s not going to be a quick solution. We want to make sure that we do it in a respectful way for everyone that is involved. There is a large range of issues we are looking at, so we want to make some short-term goals as well as long term goals,” she said.
Lisa Westaway, executive director at KMHC, said that the hospital also plays a big role in addressing sexual assault issues since patients sometimes disclose their stories to physicians.
“The physicians are available, and they are aware of all of the resources that exist, so if that is an area that is considered a safe place to disclose, then we urge people to use that avenue,” said Westaway.
Westaway added that the hospital is working in collaboration with the other organizations in town to address the issue brought to light by the Twitter account.
“We see what a huge need and what a gaping hole we have in the community with respect to allowing people to feel safe and be able to express themselves, no matter which side of the fence they are on,” she said.
Communications officer at KSCS Doug Lahache said that resources to help victims and survivors of sexual violence have been updated and are easily accessible on their Facebook page and website.
Although KSCS offers counselling services for all community members, Lahache said that they also wanted to provide options for people who want to use external services. The prevention workers at KSCS called all the numbers to make sure that they were still operational during COVID-19.
The topic of sexual assault and misconduct was brought to the forefront three years ago with the #MeToo movement.
Earlier this summer, accounts similar to Finestinktown were created on Instagram for Quebec victims of sexual violence to share their stories online.
“I have to say that for me working out and running, that is my therapy,” said Patton. “Grounding myself with my children, looking around at what I can control, what I am grateful for, how far I have come, realizing that I am not alone.
“I have some pretty amazing friends who have talked to me, listened to me, told me to get the hell off of Twitter. I have a really amazing support network. My husband is my safety. He’s got me,” she said.
To people struggling with sexual assault or abuse, Patton had a message:
“Stay strong. Don’t give up. There is always hope. You are going to have to dig deep and plow through it, but you will get through it.”