CAROL, 45, DOESN'T WANT HER LAST NAME USED: "I don't want people calling me and having to tell the story over and over."
Early in February, Carol, a 45-year-old Toronto corporate lawyer, was attacked on the Toronto waterfront, the second attack she's suffered in the area in months. (Just this week the police staged a re-enactment of the crime in an attempt to solicit leads in the case.) "Why would she keep running there?" I wondered.
"It's beautiful to run down there -- you see the lake," she explained when I tracked her down. (It turns out Carol is a woman I know socially.) "The first time it happened was in October [at Lakeshore and Spadina at 7:15 on a Sunday morning] ... I could see a guy running towards me. I assumed he was a runner, but as he got closer, I saw that his face was covered with a white cloth."
The attacker grabbed Carol, sexually assaulted her, and shoved her into the bushes. Then he ran, and that was the end of the attack. "When I went to the gym the next day," she tells me, "I told people what happened, but from what they could see, I wasn't hurt, so I didn't get the reaction [of shock and sympathy] that I expected."
The most recent attack, on Feb. 2, was a different story. "I was really beaten up," she says. This attack also happened on a Sunday morning, shortly after 7, this time in front of the Queen's Quay Terminal building.
"I stopped to stretch on a bench, and I was grabbed from behind. I went down, and he punched me in the face a number of times. He was wearing a hood and saying, 'If you scream, I'll kill you.' He repeated this over and over again, 'I'll kill you.' "
I can see the fear on Carol's face as she is describing what happened. "Then he asked for my money, and I emptied my pockets, hoping it was over. There was a pause," she says, "and then he started to sexually assault me [holding her down while he groped her and attempted to remove her jogging pants]. I thought, 'This is going to be bad if I struggle or not,' so I struggled and shouted at him to get off."
Carol tells me she works out a lot with weights, as well as doing a regular program of Pilates. "I think he had more than he bargained for." She credits her strong mental and physical conditioning with preventing a further assault, and prompting the attacker to give up and flee. "It helped me a lot; I was stronger than he thought I was. Also it helped in terms of the way I felt mentally," she says.
Despite her injuries (two black eyes, a cut eyelid, a swollen nose, bruised arms, and back and rib pain that lasted over a month), Carol decided to wait until the next day to see her doctor, and actually spent the remainder of her Sunday in her Bay Street tower office. "My [law] partner came in, and asked, 'How's it going?' I said, 'I've had better days,' and I turned to face him."
Everyone this time reacted with shock and concern, she says, especially back at her health club. "I was all beaten up. That got to people, because now there was something to see -- even people who didn't like me were sympathetic," she says with a laugh.
But Carol wonders about other women, rape victims, for example, whose injuries aren't visible. "When I think what these women have gone through," she says, "and most of them aren't talking about it."
When people found out she was assaulted, Carol was approached by other women who'd had similar things happen to them but had never told anyone. "I was shocked at the number of people who have suffered violent attacks," she says. "It's now an enormous part of who I am."
Carol thinks these violent crimes against women occur because women are vulnerable. "This wasn't about sex," she says. "It was about power and control." Perpetrators, she says, rely on the fact that "we're too humiliated to talk." Of her most recent attack, she says, "the police think he's done it before, but the victims didn't report it, and so he was on the streets waiting for me."
Still, she understands women who haven't gone to the police. "After the first attack, I could hardly talk. I didn't want to have to deal with it, but the police were persistent and focused on getting the information."
I ask Carol if she will now change her running schedule. "I won't be going down there that early in the morning, and I'll be going when I know that there are lots of people around. But I'm bitter about that. I loved my morning run, watching the early morning sun. The solution can't be that I can't move around the city safely."
If she was willing to talk to me about the attack, why won't she let me use her last name, I ask her. "I don't want people calling me and having to tell the story over and over, but even the police suggested I do this interview. The more exposure we get, the better."
From her own perspective, Carol says, "I'm talking about it because attacks happen in areas we perceive to be very safe, and it's a signal to other women [about] the importance of reporting this stuff. As humiliating as it is to have to talk about it, it gives you some closure by thinking you might prevent it from happening to someone else. As women we have to protect each other. You can't prevent things from happening, but you don't have to take it."
The after-effects of the attack, she tells me, include nervousness -- "I'm afraid to have my back exposed, even in this restaurant [where we are having lunch]" -- and maybe some surprise, since there are those who placed blame on the victim.
"Some people have said, 'You shouldn't have been wearing headphones, you shouldn't have been out so early in the morning, you shouldn't have been alone.' But that's not the point," she says. "Mostly I feel resentful. People are telling me that I shouldn't be running on the waterfront, but isn't my attacker the one who shouldn't be running on the waterfront?"