Karen Kuntz, was our Rose Campaign keynote speaker on December 4. She is the founder of Whisper For Now– a website dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault. It shares supportive advice and provides a safe space for victims to tell their story.
“It was a privilege to part of such a prestigious event. Humbly I thank you for allowing me to share my story. I was treated with such dignity I will never forget. It’s through people like you at the YWCA that change happens.”
At our Rose luncheon Karen shared her personal journey while discussing the facts and myths surrounding sexual assault, and the deep impact it has on the victims. The day prior, our Outreach counsellor Moira Groeneveld, had the opportunity to sit down with Karen to hear more of her story:
An Interview with Karen Kuntz
By Moira Groeneveld
On December 4th, 2014 we were fortunate to have guest speaker Karen Kuntz at the YWCA Banff’s Red Rose Luncheon. The day before the annual event I spoke with Karen, a surviving victim of sexualized assault(SA), which happened when she was a young woman.
The sexualized assault is not what defines Karen. She has been married 20 years, and is a proud mother and grandmother. She is a business owner, a program coordinator for Victims Assistance in Bow Island/Foremost, AB, and does speaking engagements for training/awareness. She is also the creator of the website “Whisper for Now,” a place for surviving victims of sexualized assault.
In discussing her own experience, Karen feels fortunate she received such positive social responses from family and the RCMP. Karen shared that immediately after the SA, she hid in a closet and called her parents, they called the RCMP and told her they were coming to be with her. In trying to protect her privacy in her small town, Karen’s parents fought for a publication ban, which was not granted. The RCMP officer who took her statement was also supportive and non-judgemental from the beginning.
On her website Karen writes “there is a stigma and a misconception that holds a victim prisoner or in some way makes them feel accountable for what has happened.” Despite very different experiences, many surviving victims have similar feelings, a big one being shame. Despite the support of her family and the RCMP, after the court proceedings and sentencing for her case, Karen became silent. When I asked why she stopped talking about the SA afterwards, she remembers filtered or trickled negative social responses. People around her would tell her of other people “victim blaming” and perpetuating the common myths. These messages planted the seed of doubt and became internalized, turned into self blame, and they became Karen’s mind game. Self blame became her monster. She would question herself when going out with her husband to functions and parties, asking herself if she was dressed too sexy, was she being too friendly, being careful not to drink too much. She never asked her husband what he thought, she kept it all inside.
One day with support of family members Karen started talking. She was amazed at the stories she heard from friends who had also stayed silent. She says the more she speaks, the more others open up. Karen shares once you release the burden of shame, the silence, letting it go makes you stronger. Karen told me she feels the change. It is hard to live with the story of sexualized assault, to be afraid of people’s reactions, afraid of judgement. When she first started speaking out she had been unable to go anywhere alone, then shortly after the first time she spoke publicly she was walking down an alley to her business and realized she was doing it on her own. It was freeing, and empowering for Karen.
The support Karen experienced in reporting and through the legal system is unfortunately not every victim’s experience. Karen feels the system and society seem to have gone backwards. She shares her disappointment with the responses to her niece’s recent sexualized assault. Her niece is still in the legal process and her experience has been filled with negative social responses from the nurses at the hospital, the RCMP officer she reported to, and the court system and the messages from the community. On top of all this add in the responses through social media, something which did not exist when Karen was violated. All the negative responses make the victim out to be somehow responsible for what was done to them, to lay blame at the feet of the blameless. Perpetrators of sexualized assault are the only ones to blame, and they choose to commit this crime.
Perhaps the only similarity in their experience is that Karen’s niece also had support from family. Her niece has Karen to stand by her and walk this hard path filled with obstacles. Karen says her niece told her if not for her support, she would have backed down and retreated into silence.
We touched on her hopes to see change brought about for victims of these crimes. I asked Karen ideally how would society and the system respond to surviving victims of sexualized assault she stated “you don’t need to fix me, hold my hand and listen more.” She explains in the court system there would be a bigger place for the victim’s story; currently the perpetrator is given more opportunity to speak than the victim. An improvement from when Karen went to court is the Victim Impact Statement (VIS), a victims only voice, (which can be read by victim or crown), yet it is strictly about the effect of the sexualized assault. Ideally the police statement and the VIS would allow the victim to voice all the ways in which they resisted the assault, illuminating the seriousness and deliberate nature of the violence perpetrated against the victim. Despite Karen’s disappointment in society and the system, she still believes in the importance of fighting the good fight. She believes in reporting, to get it on record that an individual has committed a sexualized assault. She explains it’s harder to ignore if another report is made down the line when one is already on their record.
What I got from talking with Karen is healing can happen faster if a victim feels they won’t be judged for speaking out. We can create a safe space for victims to share, we can think before we speak and write on victim’s reports of sexualized assault. Check your responses to media coverage. Do you blame or disbelieve the victim, do you justify the actions of the perpetrator, do you make off hand comments or jokes making light of sexualized assault. It is likely that an off hand comment to a friend or family member, may be an off hand comment to a surviving victim of a sexualized assault, the numbers support the possibility.
On stepping out of the silence Karen says “it is so important to me for you to hear my voice and what I have to say…but more importantly it’s for me to hear my own voice and know that I am okay.” Let’s work on creating a safe community for surviving victims of sexualized assault to share what they have to say, hear their own voices and know they are okay.