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Former Thompson resident recounts her experience with sexual assault

Throughout the last five months, the #MeToo movement has sparked a world-wide conversation about sexual harassment and assault, where countless women have publicly identified powerful men that have allegedly wronged them in the past.
Laurie Ravenhorst as an adult and as a teenager.
Laurie Ravenhorst as an adult and as a teenager.

Throughout the last five months, the #MeToo movement has sparked a world-wide conversation about sexual harassment and assault, where countless women have publicly identified powerful men that have allegedly wronged them in the past.

While this social phenomenon was kicked off after accusations surfaced against prolific Hollywood produced Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the ripple effect has not been limited to the entertainment industry.

In fact, several high-profile stories have also centred around doctors abusing their patients, which is why former Thompson resident Laurie Ravenhorst decided to talk to the Thompson Citizen about her own experience that happened over 40 years ago.

The encounter

Ravenhorst was born in Dauphin in 1959 and moved to the Hub of the North when she was nine years old.

In March 1976, a teenage Ravenhorst visited the old Burntwood medical clinic to see a doctor about severe lower abdominal pain she had been experiencing for years.

Ravenhorst said her mother selected this particular physician because he previously delivered a family member’s baby, which, in her mind, was as good a recommendation as any.

However, this trust was quickly shattered when Ravenhorst was left alone in an examination room with this physician, where she alleges that he began, without warning, to rub her genitals with his bare hands.

“He never wore gloves, he never called anybody to the room, and then he fondled me and told me I needed an orgasm. That would cure me,” said Ravenhorst. “And, of course, I didn’t know what that was.”

Ravenhorst claims he also “rubbed himself against me through his clothing” before leaving the room without a word.

After staying put for a couple minutes, Ravenhorst got dressed and returned to her mother in the waiting room, where she told her exactly what had happened.

“Instead of going to the desk and complaining it was all hush-hush. She just took me by the arm and took me out of the office. She didn’t report him. She didn’t say anything. And I didn’t have a voice for myself to do that.”

Because of her mother’s reaction, Ravenhorst was discouraged from talking about this incident any further with the rest of her family and friends, and did not file a report with Thompson RCMP.

To make matters worse, Ravenhorst’s severe pain continued to go untreated, which turned into a legitimate health hazard a week later when she visited a gynecologist.

During this second examination, Ravenhorst was diagnosed with an advanced form of endometriosis—a condition that involves the development of uterine-lining tissue outside of the uterus— that required immediate surgery.

Unlike the previous doctor, this new physician was professional and identified the problem almost immediately: a grapefruit sized tumour located on her ovaries.

“As soon as he did the internal examination he rushed me to the hospital for surgery. It was that bad,” she said.

Ravenhorst said the problem was so apparent that any competent doctor interested in diagnosing the source of her pain should have been able to spot it right away.

The physical and emotional pain resulting from the first doctor’s violation took its toll and coloured the rest of Ravenhorst’s high school experience, forcing her to miss graduation.

“It was hard. It was difficult and I felt a lot of distrust with boys. And I never did go into any dances. I didn’t go hang around where there was guys. I was afraid.”

Ravenhorst eventually moved away from Thompson, married and resettled in Cranbrook, B.C., but she still thinks about that incident to this day and only recently started talking about it openly.

As for the physician that allegedly committed the assault, he also left Thompson some years later and settled in Abbotsford, B.C., where he died in 2004 at the age of 67.

The Thompson RCMP and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba couldn’t find or disclose any reports of misconduct filed against him in this province.

However, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia told the Citizen that this physician was scheduled to appear at a disciplinary hearing Jan. 31, 2005 regarding complaints of sexual misconduct involving a young female patient between 1983 to 1992.

He died about a month before the hearing.

Bigger picture

While Ravenhorst’s story is more than 40 years old, widespread incidences of sexual assault and gendered violence are still a persistent reality for women living in Thompson and Northern Manitoba.

According to data compiled by Discourse Media, Thompson has the ninth highest rate of police-reported violence against women in the country.

Recent data collected by the local RCMP detachment shows that reports of sexual assault jumped by 26 per cent from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, domestic assaults also spiked during this time, going from 188 to 282 incidents in the space of a year.

Incidents of gendered violence also affect youth. According to a 2016 Youth Behaviour Survey, which polled Grade 7–12 students in Thompson, 18 per cent of female respondents (and 15 per cent of males) reported experiencing some level of physical abuse or assault.

This unfortunate trend also disproportionately affects the Indigenous community, with a recent Statistics Canada report revealing that Aboriginal women represent 24 per cent of all female homicide victims.

With numbers like these, Thompson YWCA co-ordinator Nina Cordell says their women’s program receives daily visits from individuals trying to escape violent situations at home.

The Thompson YWCA aims to provide counselling, housing and general support services for women in surrounding communities as well as Thompson.

“We want our focus to be on resourcing and support services for women in the north in general, not just Thompson,” said Cordell. “We get a lot of women from right across the north who come through our doors.”

However, Cordell admitted that casting this wide a net puts a strain on their ability to accommodate everybody who comes through their door.

“It is so much harder in the north,” she said. “We are severely under-resourced here in Thompson with our population, never mind the fly-in communities where one flight is $500.”

Small-town atmosphere

On top having access to sparse resources, Susan Manning, a PhD student from Dalhousie University, said that assault survivors living in isolated communities like Thompson face another set of unique challenges.

“The size of the community means that everybody knows everybody, and often everyone knows your business,” said Manning, who spent three years working for the Feminist North Network and is currently conducting research in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.

“That complicates things, because lots of people don’t want to disclose that they’ve experienced sexualized violence, because they’re afraid of being judged or being blamed for it, or that the person who perpetrated violence against them will somehow try to get back at them or will do it again.”

Manning went on to say that this dynamic really takes its toll on younger people when they decide to come forward.

“Unfortunately, lots of people are not believed when they disclose it to a parent or a family member, especially when it’s a person who is well-respected in the community, and is in a position of authority.”

In Ravenhorst’s case, the man who allegedly assaulted her definitely fit that bill.

Not only was he an active member of the community, but according to an issue of the Winnipeg Free Press from October 1970, he also served as a trustee on the local school board.

Editions of the Citizen from the late 1960s and early 1970s also reveal that this physician was constantly at community events and frequently mentioned in stories related to serious northern health issues.

One issue from July 1969 details how he and other local health care professionals met with then-minister of health Sidney Green to go over the north’s medical shortcomings.

Now that the cultural conversation about gendered violence is out in the open, Ravenhorst told the Citizen that it is especially important for young people living in small northern communities to speak up if they are survivors of abuse, regardless of who the perpetrator is.

“I didn’t have a voice back then. My mom had a voice but I didn’t … and it was swept under the rug,” said Ravenhorst. “If this happens to you, this is not right. Speak up about it. And that’s what I want [people] in small communities to know.”