Like many victims of sexual assault, Melina Stoutt was ashamed and reluctant to speak out about what had happened.
The Orillia woman was choked and raped in a downtown parking lot in August 2011. Her attacker was a stranger.
“I was in shock at first and didn’t want anyone to know,” Stoutt told an audience Thursday at OPP General Headquarters. “I felt I made a poor decision to walk alone.”
Julie Doucette, the police officer who responded to Stoutt’s 911 call, reassured Stoutt she had done nothing wrong.
“She told me it was not my fault and that I should feel safe to walk alone at night and that no one has the right to do that to anyone,” Stoutt said. “It was then I realized she was absolutely right. Instead of making excuses of why I was walking alone, I knew I wasn’t to blame. This didn’t happen because of my choices. She kept me focused on what was important: my daughter.”
It took a while for Stoutt to contact North Simcoe Victim Services for support, but she’s glad she did. Part of the reason she was able to deal with the traumatic situation was because she reached out.
That was the message Thursday, when the OPP Central Region Victim Response Support Unit launched the #BecauseIReachedOut campaign, ahead of Victims and Survivors of Crime Week, which runs May 26 to June 1.
The goal of the campaign is to encourage victims of crime to seek help and to know there is an army of victim services workers ready to assist.
“The ability of police to effectively battle violent crime would be severely hampered without strong partnerships with dedicated victim support organizations and individuals,” said Supt. James Smyth, director of operations with OPP Central Region. “These are the people who are there for victims from the time the incident is reported, through the arduous and difficult process of investigations, hearings and trials, and long after.”
Stoutt can attest to that.
“I was able to face my attacker because of the endless support I have received,” she said. “I wanted to feel comfortable in the courtroom because I wanted to be the one to read my victim impact statement. So, my support team and I, which consisted of my family, friends and a detective, attended every court date, which totalled more than 20 times.”
After receiving so much support, Stoutt decided to pay it forward. She has worked with police during their training and has spoken multiple times to new victim services volunteers.
“Nothing I say before you today can ever be enough to describe how grateful I am to have the support of these women in my life,” she said. “They have helped me through my darkest hour and continue to support me. They simply have changed my life for the better.”
Lucas Thibodeau, of Orillia, served almost seven years in prison for the attack on Stoutt.
During Thursday’s event, victim services volunteers as well as staff with the Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka were recognized with certificates.
The Central Region Victim Response Support Unit also showed a video as part of the #BecauseIReachedOutCampaign. It can be seen here.