Woman testifies against alleged attacker in first day of historical sexual assault trial

Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench -- Herald file photo

** Ed note: This story contains graphic content that some readers may find upsetting.

Tears flowed at Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday at the first day of a trial into an alleged sexual assault from 47 years ago.

The Daily Herald is choosing not to name the accused to protect the identity of the alleged victim, as family relationships are central to the series of events presented in court Monday.

The Crown’s case centres around the testimony of the accuser, who is now in her 60s, described what she said happened to her in the winter of 1973.

The age of the case classifies it as a “historical sexual assault,” court heard Monday.

“It isn’t something we should treat differently than something that happened more recently,” the Crown prosecutor in the case told the jury.

The allegations are not yet proven in court.

The accuser was the first witness called to testify against the man. He was the husband of someone very close to the accuser.

She was at times soft-spoken, pausing to compose herself, tissues in hand to wipe away tears as they came.

The woman said she had only been living with the accused and his wife for a few months at the time of the alleged attack.

She was pregnant and had been kicked out of her home by her then-husband after going out one night and taking the wrong bus home.

She says she then left her mother’s place. She described her mother as very religious.

“She ruled with an iron fist,” the woman said. “Fire and brimstone.”

The accused’s wife moved out at 17. The woman idolized her and spent a lot of time with her, in part to escape her mother’s home.

“I basically worshipped her” the woman said.

She was given a room off of the kitchen. The accused, his wife and their young child lived down the hall in the kitchen.

The woman said that for the first few months, she felt welcomed and at home.

One night, she remembered, it was cold. Sometime in late February or early March, she said, something woke her up.

She said she looked up to see the accused standing at the foot of the bed in his underwear, illuminated by the light coming in from the kitchen door.

The door closed behind him and the room was cloaked in darkness.

The woman said the man shoved her into the bed, shushing her. She didn’t realize what was happening until he pulled her nightgown up.

“I didn’t say no, but I said ‘what about (his wife),’” the woman said.

He shushed her and pushed her legs open with his own.

She was worried that if she fought back too hard, it would hurt the baby. She closed her eyes and turned her head towards the wall.

She tried to lift her arms but felt them pinned down to the bed at her sides.

“I was scared to open my eyes for quite a while,” she said.

After some time, she did open her eyes, she said. She was once again alone in the dark room.

The next morning, she testified, she was afraid to leave her room.

Having been kicked out of her husband’s home, and feeling unwelcome at her mother’s, four and a half months pregnant, she said she felt like she had nowhere else she could go.

“Where am I going to go,” she remembered thinking to herself. “What am I going to do? I thought, ‘my life is going to be wrecked.’”

She thought about his wife.

“Her life is going to be wrecked too,” she remembers thinking.

To protect the accused’s wife, the woman said, she decided to keep it a secret.

A month later, she was in her room again and heard that same noise. She looked up again to find the accused standing at the foot of her bed.

She threatened to tell his wife if he ever touched her again.

He didn’t.

When questioned by her lawyer, the woman says that the only thing her attacker ever said was “shhh.” They had no further conversation.

She was asked whether she ever consented.

The woman responded forcefully, with a single word: “No.”

Years after the alleged assault, the woman said the accused’s wife died. At that point, she felt like she could finally tell people what she alleges to have happened to her.

She told her common-law husband first, and then her siblings and a few friends.

One day, she was watching TV when she saw an ad for the Listen Project, a pilot project which provides survivors of sexual violence up to two hours of free legal information and advice.

It’s hosted by the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan.

“It didn’t matter when. You could contact them and get advice.”

The woman reached out.

She thought it was too old to be tried. They encouraged her to go and file a police report.

Giving that statement to the police, the woman said, “I’d felt like I’d finally got it off of my chest. Like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.”

She never told the accused’s wife what happened.

“I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want to hurt her,” the woman said.

“She has no idea what he did to me.”

The woman will return to the witness stand this morning to be cross-examined by the accused’s defence lawyer.

Her accusations remain before the court and have yet to be proven.

The Crown has one more witness to call to the stand.

The trial is expected to wrap up by Friday.