HUNTSVILLE – Nov. 13, 2007, is a day Jane will never forget.
Adopting a shelter dog that needed some rehabilitation helped Jane with her journey to heal after a violent sexual assault.
/ Mandi Hargrave
A violent sexual assault turned her world upside down and her life was forever changed.
When she awoke that fateful fall day, Jane, whose real identity has been withheld at her request, was anxious about a morning dental surgery; little did she know that anxiety would pale in comparison to the memories she would be forced to live with for the rest of her life.
Upon returning home from her dental appointment, Jane decided to take her dog for a walk on one of her beloved local trails, the Hunters Bay Trail. After making her way across the boardwalk, she noticed a man a short distance away. After giving a polite smile she turned her back to call her dog to come along, and the man launched his attack.
While being violated and repeatedly beaten, Jane prayed for someone, anyone to come along and stop the torture. He threatened her with death, threw her to the ground and all she could think about was survival. She knew she had to remember her attacker – remember anything that would help identify him – if she made it out alive.
Although hidden behind a black hoodie and sunglasses, she caught glimpses of his hair and eyes.
Fifteen or so minutes into the rape, someone did come along and scared the assailant away. She knew the person, but he wasn’t immediately able to recognize her due to the damage done to her face.
“When I saw what people saw, it looked like I was in a boxing match,” she recalled.
But she said her body seemed to protect her from the pain, likely because her focus was on escaping. But those 15 minutes of torture left Jane with a lifetime of psychological trauma.
For the first two years she was tormented by “what ifs.” What if someone hadn’t come along? What if the attacker had had a knife? And she was tormented by fear, she felt unsafe at home, and afraid to take out the garbage or run ordinary errands.
After his arrest on Nov. 15, 2007, she feared that he would escape. Those fears came true when the OPP knocked on her door late one evening and told her she had to vacate her home as her attacker had escaped custody.
Steven Edward Yearley went on a destructive rampage during his escape. He stole a Hydro One truck and broke into five residences before being rearrested.
“Not feeling safe is my worst psychological injury,” she wrote in a statement to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in 2009.
Physically, she’s healed, but not without marks. She’s missing a small patch of hair and has a scar on her nose.
The first two years after the rape were the hardest for Jane. She was unable to work for the first 11 months due to her physical injuries, and her emotional and psychological traumas were even harder to overcome.
She was determined, though, not to let it ruin her.
“I reaffirm in my mind a promise to myself to heal. It will be difficult, but I will not allow the rapist of my body to rape my life and my family too, by not recovering well,” she wrote in her statement.
Part of her healing came through the adoption of a second dog from a shelter.
“She needed me. She was a wild dog, so I had to be assertive,” said Jane. “I enjoyed rehabilitating her because it rehabilitated me. I’ve had to become the boss and walk tall.”
Five years later, she still lives with a certain amount of fear. But now it’s different.
Jane has gone through various phases of healing, all while the man who attacked her remained behind bars.
However, Yearley will be released on March 6, and Jane will be entering a new phase in her fight against fear.
At the time of the attack, Yearley was just days shy of his 18th birthday, but due to the violent nature of the crime, was charged as an adult. Conditions of his sentence included a 10-year weapon ban, that he provide a DNA sample, and he be placed on the Sexual Offenders Register for 20 years.
Jane accepts that he has served his sentence, but not without frustration.
“It’s scary to think he has the same rights I do, a very scary thought … He’s in my life for the rest of my life, whether he ever comes near me or not,” she said. “It is a life sentence that way for me, and really anybody who knows me … That’s a big life sentence, having a new fear, I’ve got through the fear up to this point. Now this is a whole other thing, ” she said of his release.
Telling her story is also part of Jane’s healing. She hopes it will help other women who are victims of violence, whether sexual in nature or not, and to make the people around them aware that the damage doesn’t end with the crime.
Jane suffered a substantial financial loss too, and had to take strong medication to stop the spread of any potential STDs or HIV, something she said people don’t think of when they hear of such an assault.
“I think it’s important to speak about it, it’s healing to speak about it. Also, I think people need to know,” said Jane. “They want to know what could you do, what should you do and they say, ‘well, I never walk on that trail.’ That’s the biggest one I get from women.”
She doesn’t want people to be afraid of the trail, or any trail, or to stop living their lives. However, she said, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to take precautions.
“Know that it does happen in Huntsville, and it’s not outsiders; the offenders and the victims are not necessarily outsiders,” said Jane.
Time is a major factor after the recovery from any kind of assault, she said, and people who haven’t experienced an assault tend to think healing can be done in months.
“Anybody’s recovery from anything is a personal thing,” said Jane. “I felt numb from myself. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I made a goal for myself to get up and get dressed … did whatever I had to do to get better.”
She said her family and friends were wonderful and supportive.
“Yesterday is gone, whether it was good or bad. Wishing for yesterday isn’t going to happen. I’ve had to accept that, that was a big acceptance, ‘this happened and this is what I’m going to do about it, this is the plan,’” said Jane.
She said it’s easy for people to get caught up in the details of the crime, but that it’s not really about the details. It’s about how the violation makes you feel.
“I have forgiven him and that was for my own sake,” said Jane. “We all had to kind of let it go because we were all pretty angry about it.”
This week she will support One Billion Rising, a global dance event that takes place on Feb. 14 at 1 p.m., where people hold their own events, whether with a group or alone, to show their support to end violence against women.
“What makes things better for anyone is to enjoy yourself today and do what you can do about today. That’s what will affect your future,” said Jane. “You have to be a participant in your own recovery, you need to be willing to accept help.”