Published in The Hamilton Spectator. Link to article here
He was her friend. She liked him and thought he liked her too.
After a night of drinking the then-20-year-old found herself being led into his basement. She was on the verge of blacking out. She has short, but clear memories of what happened next.
In the morning she awoke without pants and he drove her home, like it was nothing, liked they’d just “hooked up.”
It took Olivia Cifarelli four years to understand and process that she had been raped.
Now 28, she is sharing her story both to empower herself and show other sexual assault survivors they are not alone.
Cifarelli’s story is one of several featured on Survivors Voices of Halton Region (survivorsvoices.ca) that launched in May. It features resources, along with personal stories and art by survivors.
It’s an initiative of the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, a collaboration between Halton police and advocates in the area, and a subcommittee of the Halton Violence Prevention Council.
Most sexual assaults are not reported to police and victims often fear they won’t be believed or don’t want to go through the justice system process. The point of the website is to give survivors a place to find support, knowledge, awareness and a voice.
Cifarelli said the website is amazing. Each story is unique, but there are also so many common elements.
Like many survivors, Cifarelli was assaulted by someone she knew and blamed herself. It’s what prevented her for years from understanding what happened.
About eight months after the sexual assault she met someone who she thought was the love of her life. In hindsight she recognizes red flags, but she was already in a dark place and he “love bombed” her.
She now sees the earlier sexual assault directly led to that dangerous and violent relationship.
“I accepted that he was probably going to kill me,” she said, adding that she was financially dependent on him, making it hard to leave.
But eventually she reached a breaking point, called police and went back to her parents’ house.
In 2017 she joined SAFE Halton, a women’s support organization that raises awareness and aids people in crisis. She began sharing her story at events.
It was while writing her story for a fundraiser that she said she finally realized what had happened to her previously was sexual assault. This awakening was significant.
She put it in her speech and read it to the crowd that day.
In her powerful message on the website, Cifarelli recounts the assaults and violence that happened so many times she “lost count.”
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve felt alone and unworthy and disgusting, but I am none of those things,” she said.
Her ex-boyfriend was eventually convicted of assault charges and sentenced to 34 days in jail, she said.
She never reported the sexual assault to police.
Now she finds other survivors’ stories comforting because she’s not alone.
“It’s very important to forgive yourself,” she said. “I think it’s a myth that you need to forgive who hurt you, it’s more important to forgive yourself.”
She’s finally at a point where she’s fully processed what happened and no longer blames herself.
She doesn’t consider herself a victim, but a survivor.
“When I realized there are so many other women who didn’t make it out, that’s when I stopped calling myself a victim that’s when I started to heal,” she said.
- Halton Women’s Place: 24-hour crisis line, shelter and outreach
- 905-878-8555 (North Halton Shelter)
- 905-332-7892 (South Halton Shelter)
- 24/7 chat with trained counsellors: haltonwomensplace.com/chat
- Nina’s Place: sexual assault and domestic violence care centre
- Includes access to sexual assault forensic evidence kits, police involvement optional but not mandatory
- Joseph Brant Hospital Emergency 905-336-4116
- Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres
- 24-7 nurse-staffed navigation line 1-855-628-7238 sadvtreatmentcentres.ca
- Sexual Violence and Intervention Services of Halton (SAVIS)
- 905-875-1555 (crisis line)
- 905-825-3622 (office) or 1-877-268-8416
- SACHA: Hamilton’s sexual assault centre
- 24-hour support line at 905-525-4162 or sacha.ca.