When Christine Ambrose was a child, she hugged a man she knew as “uncle,” who would later become her stepfather.
He was sitting on the porch crying and she had never seen him cry before. The hug was an act of comfort, an act of kindness and a moment Ambrose would come to bitterly regret.
Looking back, Ambrose said she believes that hug opened the door to the years of physical and sexual abuse from Raymond Wallace Olsen.
What started out as fondling and french kissing when she was in Grade 4, escalated to rape by Grade 9.
“I recall so clearly wanting to have sex with someone my age – so I wouldn’t have to admit that I was no longer a virgin because my stepfather had sex with me,” she said. “Maybe then, I would fit in and not feel like I had a big secret.”
|Christine Ambrose at 18, one year after her stepfather sexually assaulted her for the last time and she was permanently removed from her home. (Submitted)|
At 17 years old, Ambrose was living in a foster home, but agreed to move to Revelstoke to live with her family when her mother promised Olsen wouldn’t assault her anymore.
But he did.
It was the final straw. Olsen touching her without consent, again, made her realize the assaults wouldn’t stop as long as she lived with him.
She called a children’s helpline and was removed from the home, permanently.
Until that point, she had not reported the sexual assaults to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, despite being apprehended several times before.
“I just couldn’t,” she said. “I thought, at that time that, I was the only one in the world that had this happen to them.”
More than 30 years later, the opportunity arose for Ambrose to seek justice.
Her mother, who has Alzheimer’s and dementia, ran away from the home in Revelstoke, where she had continued to live with Olsen all those years. She is now at a care home in Vernon.
Ambrose suspects Olsen was psychologically abusing her.
“I wouldn’t have reported as long as [my mom] continued to live with him because I felt she wasn’t safe there,” Ambrose said. “I didn’t know what he would do to her.”
It is not uncommon for sexual assault survivors to delay reporting to the police.
Another report, from Statistics Canada, found victims who know their attacker were nearly twice as likely to delay reporting the crime if they knew their attacker, versus if their attacker was a stranger.
Ambrose filed a report with the RCMP in 2016, spurring a two-year investigation.
|In May 2019 Ambrose returned to Revelstoke for the preliminary hearing. She now lives in Victoria. (Submitted)|
Aug. 1, 2018, Olsen appeared in court to face the charge of sexually assaulting Ambrose 39 years before.
A Statistics Canada report from 2017 found between 2009 and 2014, four in five sexual assaults reported to RCMP did not go to court.
However, Ambrose’s case never made it to trial – Olsen pleaded guilty.
Ambrose said she was surprised at the plea; he had never before taken responsibility for his actions.
“You have never said sorry,” she said in a victim impact statement that was written for the case. “You did the opposite, you told everyone I was crazy, that I was a liar, the black sheep of our family.”
Olsen was given an 18-month conditional sentence for his crime, which requires him to stay on his property in Revelstoke from 2 to 12 p.m. He is also required to never contact Ambrose and is banned from owning a firearm, consuming alcohol and is a registered sex offender for 10 years.
Ambrose said the sentence seemed like a slap on the wrist.
However, “To have this kind of closure, I feel blessed in those ways.”
Of all the sexual assault cases across Canada in the 2016-17 fiscal year, less than half of adult, criminal cases resulted in a guilty verdict, according to the federal Department of Justice.
Of those found guilty, 59 per cent were jailed and 10 per cent were ordered probation as the most serious sentence.
In the years following her escape from Olsen, Ambrose built a life for herself, all while struggling with an eating disorder and PTSD.
At 18, Ambrose married and started a family. Swearing to end the cycle of secrecy, she told her husband as well as her children what her stepfather had done.
But it wasn’t until a professional development day, amongst colleagues in Williams Lake, that she spilled her secret to people other than close family.
She was 29.
A year later, after working closely with a doctor, she overcame the cycle of binge eating and purging.
“I think it was telling the secret to people I really respected and admired, to people who were my coworkers,” she said. “Being open and honest with them I think was what lead to me being able to heal myself from the purging and binging part of the eating disorder.”
The memories of what Olsen did continued to haunt her, sometimes jolting her awake at night, jaw clenched, body shaking.
It has also been a struggle to build an emotionally and physically intimate relationship with her husband.
“What you did affected every aspect of my life, I learned not to be present, especially during intimacy,” she said in her victim impact statement to Olsen.
The court system
When it was finally time to see her abuser in court, Ambrose said the publication ban, which was put on the case during the preliminary hearing and nullified once the accused pleaded guilty, reinforced the shame of what happened to her.
“All of these other horrible people can be named on this court list, but what happened to you is so horrible we can’t even list their name,” she said she remembered thinking.
Publication bans are court orders preventing the publication or broadcasting of any information that could identify a victim, witness or other person(s) participating in a case.
|The court proceedings took place at the Revelstoke Court House. (File photo)|
“The publication ban is intended to allow victims, witnesses and others to participate in the justice system without suffering negative consequences,” the Canadian Ministry of Justice’s website reads.
However, even if there is no publication ban in place, any admission or confession from a preliminary hearing can’t be published, in accordance with Section 542(2) of the criminal code, which automatically applies to every preliminary hearing.
Despite the ban being lifted, Olsen’s name was not listed on the court docket when he was scheduled for sentencing and the case is not searchable on Court Services Online.
“Nobody will know about it,” she said, regretfully.
She said survivors should be asked whether or not they want a publication ban on their case.
With the case now closed and the story published 41 years later, Ambrose said she still feels shame, but she is not letting that stop her.
“I need to not be ashamed of it because I didn’t do it,” she said.
In case of an emergency call 911.
Revelstoke RCMP 250-837-5255
Victim LinkBC (referral services for all victims of crime, crisis support for victims of family and sexual violence): 1-800-563-0808
Child Abuse Helpline: 310-1234
Mental Health Support 310-6789
Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention: 1-800-784-2433
Kids Help phone: 1-800-668-6868