‘I’m not your victim.’ Sexual assault survivor goes public to help others
An NWT sexual assault survivor whose court case is drawing to a close decided now is the time to lift the publication ban which protected her identity, hoping she can empower women who have had similar experiences.
Cynthia Grandjambe spoke to Cabin Radio outside Yellowknife’s courthouse after a sentencing hearing for Peter Charlie Tsetta. In August, Tsetta was found guilty of sexually assaulting and forcibly confining Grandjambe. At the same time, he was found guilty of the separate sexual assault of a woman who has since passed away.
Grandjambe said she opted to go public to “help past, present and future victims.” She hopes to give other women encouragement to come forward.
Grandjambe said she also spoke publicly to help previous victims of Tsetta.
“They couldn’t do what I did and come forward. They asked me to fight for them, so I did,” she said.
Warning: This report contains details of a sexual assault case, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Earlier on Thursday, Grandjambe gave a victim impact statement during Tsetta’s sentencing hearing. She said the opportunity to do so was “empowering” as she spoke and faced Tsetta, who was present in the courtroom.
Grandjambe read her statement to the court while standing between Crown prosecutor Annie Piche and a victim services worker. In her statement, she detailed how the assault had left her with a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, paranoia, nightmares, and depression, for which she remains on medication.
After the assault, Grandjambe said, her life spiralled downward. She could not sleep and began drinking heavily. “My drinking was out of control and I no longer cared what happened to me. In other words, I became suicidal,” she told the court.
During one drinking episode and while still taking medication for the effects of the assault, Grandjambe said she began having flashbacks and stabbed her longtime partner. She ended up in jail.
When out of jail, she described being found “face down” in Frame Lake near Yellowknife City Hall. Her face was frozen and she was taken to hospital where she ended up on life support, in a coma. She had to re-learn everything, she said, including how to walk and talk.
“I want you to know what a wreck you’ve made of my life,” she told Tsetta. “But I’m a strong woman and doing everything I can to put my life together.”
With her voice raised, she aimed her last words directly at Tsetta: “I’m not your victim, I’m a strong survivor.”
Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau remarked on Thursday that similar forms of sexual assault, in which a victim drinks until they lose consciousness or memory and awake to being assaulted, are all too common in Yellowknife.
“A staggering number of sexual assaults in this jurisdiction happen in this manner,” Charbonneau said.
Grandjambe said she has met many victims of such assaults. However, she said, many of them do not come forward due to the time these cases take “and having everything exposed, what happened to you.”
Grandjambe’s case has taken over two years. “It’s been a hard journey but it’s been well worth it,” she said.
The trial continued throughout the summer for the 50-year-old Tsetta, during which he testified that he did not commit the crimes in question.
Grandjambe also testified at an earlier court date about the June 27, 2017 assault, which she said lasted “for hours.”
She testified that she took a taxi to Tsetta’s house that evening, where she remembers drinking and falling asleep. She woke up, she told the court, to find him having forced intercourse on top of her.
She eventually broke free and attempted to exit through the front door but could not open it, she said, adding she believed there was a hidden latch. When she could not escape, the “very rough” sexual assault continued until she talked her way out of the situation by promising not to tell the police what had happened.
“She had been through, basically, torture, for a long period of time,” prosecutor Piche said during the trial.
The attack on Grandjambe happened while Tsetta was on bail for an unrelated assault which occurred in March 2017. The decision to release him on bail sparked an outcry by victims’ advocates at the time.
The March 2017 charge has been stayed by the Crown.
Tsetta has a criminal record dating back to 1987, including one case of aggravated assault for which he received a three-year sentence. Piche argued to have information about the case read out in court to “establish a pattern of behaviour,” a request opposed by defence lawyer Evan McIntyre, who said it would be unneccesary and “inflammatory.” The information was admitted as an exhibit for the Chief Justice to read.
A victim impact statement relating to the other woman Tsetta attacked – a statement provided by her former partner, as she has since passed away – described her as a “strong, caring woman” who helped the partner turn his life around.
“I’m concerned about what the future holds for this community when [Tsetta] is released,” the man told the court. The second woman’s identity remains protected by a publication ban.
Thursday’s hearing concluded with the Crown and defence far apart on the sentence they recommend. The Crown is calling for a 10-year sentence, while the defence wants Tsetta to spend five years in prison.
The judge is expected to deliver a sentence on November 18.
Grandjambe now hopes to start a sexual assault support group in Yellowknife, working in partnership with local non-profits, and wants to speak publicly about her experience.
She told Cabin Radio she wants victims to know they can get in touch via her Facebook page or by calling her at (867) 445-0216.