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I awoke to the clicking of my apartment door opening. Then, two shadowy figures were standing at the foot of my bed. I could smell the cigarettes and alcohol even before they flicked the lights on.

The only barrier separating me from the two men who had entered my apartment was a feather duvet.

They climbed into my bed on either side of me. I was sleeping in the nude; I tried to wrap myself in the covers.

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"Come on, don't be like that," one of them said, grabbing my arm. I tried to mentally prepare for the fact that I was probably about to be raped.

To this day I have never been able to shake that feeling of powerlessness and terror.

I was 22, a fresh and eager university graduate who had just landed her first teaching job, in a community of 900 people. I was determined to prove myself in a place that had a high teacher-turnover rate.

But no degree could have prepared me for this.

The men continued to paw at me, tell me how pretty the new teacher was. They harassed me, confined me and terrified me. But it was not their intent to rape me. I was lucky. So lucky.

I located a pair of pajamas under my pillow and slid them on. I leapt out of bed and grabbed the phone.

"I'm calling the RCMP," I said. "Get out." They laughed.

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"Don't bother. We're friends with the RCMP. We've lived here a long time. Everybody knows us. Nobody will ever believe you. Besides, we're just having a little meet-the-teacher fun."

They finally got out of my bed, and as they left I saw one of them had something dangling from his hand. There had been no forcible entry; they had a key to my apartment. The joys of living in a small town.

I hung up the phone, slid down to the floor and cried.

I thought I would report the incident in the morning. I didn't. Deep down I knew they were right. They were known and popular around the community. I'd barely just arrived. I would be doubted, questioned and slandered by people who would support them. I didn't want to subject myself to further attacks.

I thought about leaving. But jobs were so hard to come by; I was one the very few in my class to find one. I would have to disclose why I'd broken my contract to my next employer – if I found one. And, apart from this incident, I really liked the town. And I didn't want one night to define my decisions. I just desperately wanted to teach.

And so I stayed.

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I saw those two men in town on a regular basis – having coffee with the RCMP officers at the bakery, taking money out of the ATM, buying groceries.

One of them even tried to apologize to me in the post office; he played the incident down and blamed it on alcohol. I smiled politely and walked away.

It would take me a whole year to tell my boyfriend back home about what had happened. He was furious – not because I'd been held hostage and victimized, but because I hadn't told him sooner. How could I be trusted if I kept secrets?

That further reinforced the kind of world I was living in. I never spoke of it again and tried to forget about it.

Of course, 20 years later, I know that it doesn't work like that. By not coming forward, by not pressing charges, I ensured that I remained a victim.

Forcing those men to acknowledge that breaking into a young woman's apartment in the middle of the night, waking her up, trapping her there against her will, groping at her, is not having a little fun. It is assault.

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Being allowed to say that something terrible happened to me reasserts the power that was taken away from me.

It wouldn't have mattered if those men were charged. Voicing my perspective of what happened and how I felt allows feelings of shame to dissipate and diminish, allows healing to occur.

Watching the Jian Ghomeshi story unfold has triggered this memory. Nobody knows whether he is guilty of something – that's not the point.

The point is that women feel they were violated and, unlike a man whose power and popularity allow him to voice his side of the story via his social-media outlets, they feel they cannot, fearing that they will be attacked via those very same outlets by his supporters. Without voice, pain and shame rule the day. And they will continue to prevail, 20 years from now.

I empathize with that feeling of fear, of not wanting to subject oneself to ignorant and vicious attacks. For me, it was the judgment of a small town; two decades later, it is the judgment of the entire world via the Internet. I cannot even imagine what that's like.

Understandably, most of these women feel they cannot attach their identities to their stories. But they have empowered me to tell mine.

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And that's something.

Daria Salamon is a Winnipeg writer, teacher and the author of The Prairie Bridesmaid.

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