Warning: This report contains details of a sexual assault case, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Her “great friend” of over 25 years offered an invitation to go to his place to continue drinking.
“He told me don’t worry, I’ll be safe,” said the 48-year-old woman, sitting in a witness box in Yellowknife Supreme Court on Monday. “We were talking and joking and laughing and sharing shots.”
Her one-time friend, Peter Charlie Tsetta, 50, sat a few metres away beside his lawyer, facing charges of sexual assault and forcible confinement against her and another woman – who is now deceased – in an unrelated incident.
“I trusted him. As sad as it is, I trusted him,” she said, through tears, as a woman sat beside her for support.
June 17, 2017 started out as a fun day of socializing in downtown Yellowknife for the woman, who enjoyed hanging out and drinking with friends on the streets around Centre Square Mall.
She had just a few weeks earlier emerged from three months of bed rest, after undergoing cancer surgery in February.
The woman testified the group of street friends had heard that one of their own, Tsetta, had done prison time for savagely beating and raping a woman some time ago, but they still associated with him.
“Peter raped her, held her hostage, beat her up, broke both her arms, both her legs,” the woman testified, at times breaking down.
The woman who suffered that horrific assault is the same one who later rejoined Tsetta in a relationship. And she is the woman who the Crown alleges was sexually assaulted and forcibly confined by Tsetta on May 14, 2017 – just over one month before he allegedly attacked the woman on the stand Monday.
“The only difference is that he didn’t break my arms and legs,” the woman testified.
Tsetta, wearing a white sweatshirt and a necklace with a large cross on it, sat looking down at the desk. He pleaded not guilty to all four charges at the judge-only trial, expected to last into June.
The woman recalled that she and Tsetta – who she recalled “has a glow on … but was not drunk” – took a taxi to his Ndilo house.
Once there, he began pouring glasses of vodka, a beverage she normally avoids as her kidneys are damaged and it causes her to become very intoxicated.
“I woke up, I was on his bed and he was on top of me,” the woman said, her voice shaking with anger. “I asked him, ‘What are you doing? Stop! Why are you doing this to me? We’re friends.’”
The attack didn’t stop “for hours.” The woman, who testified she is 4 ft 11 in and was 120 pounds at the time, said she could not fight off her attacker.
“He wouldn’t listen to me; he just kept raping me.”
She eventually did break free but, when she ran half-clothed to the front door, she couldn’t get it to open. She later told court she believed it had a hidden latch.
The “very rough” sexual assault continued – with Tsetta laughing at her, she testified – until she managed to talk her way to freedom.
“I had to beg and plead with him and promise him I wouldn’t charge him,” she said. “I used my friendship to gain my freedom.”
She walked to her downtown home, where she lived with her long-term common-law husband. She went to sleep in her clothes and called police the following day.
Back to school
Crown prosecutor Annie Piche read into evidence an agreed statement of facts.
On June 18, 2017, police received a complaint of a sexual assault from the woman. Police took her to Stanton Territorial Hospital where she underwent an examination for rape.
She was found to have bruising and abrasions to her groin and to various parts of her body. Her clothing was also kept as evidence.
Tests were later conducted by the RCMP forensics lab in Edmonton.
Later that day, she provided a statement to police. Tsetta was arrested the following day at his home in Ndilo.
The woman testified that in the time following the rape, her already steady drinking became much worse.
When her father died one year ago, things began to change.
“Before my father died, he told me to go back to school,” the woman said, noting she will be graduating on June 20, “with top marks.”
She says she now drinks “on and off,” but school is her focus.
However, she suffers nightmares about the rape related to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She is in therapy and is on prescription medication.
Both of the attacks before the court on Monday are alleged to have happened while Tsetta was on bail for an unrelated March 2017 sexual assault.
That move by a justice of the peace sparked outrage from the public and victims’ advocates in the NWT. The March 2017 charge has since been stayed by the Crown.