“I had to deal with the impact of facing criminal charges incurred because I didn’t want to be murdered . . . At the end of the day, I know this system won’t believe me or protect me. I want something better for myself, for my daughter, and for my community.”: Elissa Robertson.
(The following is an account told to JOURNEY Magazine Ptbo by Elissa Robertson of Belleville, Ontario. Warning: This article contains descriptions of violent assault.)
It was on a winter’s night a little over a year ago (Dec. 2019) in Belleville, Ontario, that Elissa Robertson, two months pregnant, asked her then-partner to take her to the hospital because of complications. Instead, she was strangled, kicked in the stomach with steel-toed boots, punched, and cut with a knife. He left her screaming for help on the floor, bleeding out, and telling her, “I hope you bleed out and die, waste bitch”. She was left with a traumatic brain injury, and a back muscle injury.
During the assault, she used dog spray to defend herself. It was not the first time he had assaulted her.
Belleville-born and raised, Robertson, 27, is currently enrolled in a full-time paralegal program in Belleville; she is a graduate of a college Community and Justice Services Worker program and part-way through a Bachelor of Psychology degree; she has been working in the social services field since 2017.
A few months after the attack, in March 2020, Robertson decided to report the attack to Belleville Police Service (BPS), fearing that if someone didn’t intervene, she would be murdered. She says her abuser was present during the report to police and agreed with her statement. He was charged with assault with a weapon and assault casing bodily harm. She says she was told she did nothing wrong and that they had no grounds to charge her.
From there, though, her experience with BPS spiraled downward. Robertson recently outlined the full extent of the events in a facebook post on Warrior Women of Quinte, an advocacy website which she created in 2017 and of which she is the co-ordinator:
- A week later the investigating officer told me that they had “gotten my medical records and they surprisingly matched my story”. Surprisingly. I was shocked to discover that, despite my abuser and I agreeing to my version of events, she didn’t believe me.
- I made a formal video statement at our police department, to be sent to the Crown, outlining why I no longer wished to participate: the multiple inappropriate comments, victim-blaming, and lack of belief I had received from officers within seven days of their investigation were re-traumatizing and it truly felt like I was being victimized again
- June 2020: I called police to report my ex-partner’s breaches of a no-contact order. One of the officers called me “fucking stupid” for “letting him breach his conditions”. I argued with him and asked him to leave my residence because I had changed my mind about making the report. I told him that officers like him are the reason women don’t report.
- Two days later, the original investigating officer phoned me while I was at work and told me I had to come in to make a video statement regarding the allegations I had made to the other officers about the breaches of the no-contact order. So, I did. She questioned why I wouldn’t just leave him. She told me “you just don’t seem scared enough”. I told her that she clearly did not have a very good understanding of domestic violence. She decided they would charge him with two counts of breaching the no-contact order. I returned to work.
- An hour later, she phoned me again and told me that I must come back to the police station. She tells me that three months after receiving the report, Belleville Police are charging me with assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes for macing my ex-partner in the December, 2019 incident. She told me that they just couldn’t determine who was the primary aggressor in the incident.
- This is where things went really downhill for me. I had been struggling to cope with the challenges my brain injury poses, struggling to cope with the grief and trauma from the 15 months of violence I had experienced, and was struggling to cope with never feeling safe, fear of losing access to my child, career, housing, and potentially going to jail . . . Now I had to deal with the impact of facing criminal charges incurred because I didn’t want to be murdered. I was dealang with waves of cripping depression and suicidality.
Robertson hired a lawyer. After two months of repeatedly requesting a judicial pre-trial and being denied, they told the Crown they were consulting experts to give opinion evidence and ready to go to trial.
To Robertson’s surprise, in late December, the crown contacted her to say they were withdrawing charges. “I went into the courthouse and signed a peace bond, and will not have charges on my record. It was officially put on court record that my abuser had repeatedly victimized me and charges were being withdrawn because I was acting in self-defence. Just as the investigating officer knew when she decided to arrest me.”
“I had been hiding this experience while it was on-going,” Robertson told JOURNEY Magazine Ptbo. “I was so embarrassed and ashamed, and was focused on fighting my case, and it was a relief to be able to openly discuss it (on facebook). I shared it to give voice to what so many women experience with our police while reporting domestic or sexual violence in our community.”
She said, from her experiences and the experiences she has heard from so many others, police still engage in victim-blaming, are hesitant to believe survivors of gender-based violence, don’t understand trauma bonding or cycles of domestic violence and rely on myths about how a victim looks and acts to inform their decisions.
“At the end of the day, I know this system won’t believe me or protect me. I want something better for myself, for my daughter, and for my community.”
Staff Sgt. Mike Kiley of the Belleville Police Service, who responds to media queries, said he could not comment on Robertson’s case.
Robertson has filed complaints with Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director regarding the conduct of three BPS officers in her case.
By Melodie McCullough