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'I'm a survivor': MLA shares story of domestic abuse





Judy Klassen has no memory 25 years later of the blow that knocked her out and made her a survivor of domestic abuse.

She just remembers waking up in pain, lying on a road on Lake Manitoba First Nation and staring at the wheels of a Ford Crown Victoria. She was six months pregnant.

The Liberal MLA for Kewatinook has made a point in the past 18 months of rising in the Manitoba legislature and revealing deeply personal stories that silence the chamber.

On Wednesday, in member’s statements, during the announcement of Domestic Violence Prevention Month, Klassen told the house she is a survivor of domestic abuse. “We need to teach our children,” she said.

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Judy Klassen has no memory 25 years later of the blow that knocked her out and made her a survivor of domestic abuse.

She just remembers waking up in pain, lying on a road on Lake Manitoba First Nation and staring at the wheels of a Ford Crown Victoria. She was six months pregnant.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Liberal MLA Judy Klassen says she went public with her story of domestic abuse because she wants women to know they’re not alone. </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Liberal MLA Judy Klassen says she went public with her story of domestic abuse because she wants women to know they’re not alone.

The Liberal MLA for Kewatinook has made a point in the past 18 months of rising in the Manitoba legislature and revealing deeply personal stories that silence the chamber.

On Wednesday, in member’s statements, during the announcement of Domestic Violence Prevention Month, Klassen told the house she is a survivor of domestic abuse. "We need to teach our children," she said.

"I’m a survivor," Klassen said later in an interview in her office. "That was about 24, 25 years ago," when she was a young adult with one child and another on the way.

The couple were walking home and had an argument, she recalled. "He was my fiancé — never an indication he was that violent. I just remember a pain in my face. I came to, lying on the road."

The man had fled, said Klassen, who can’t say how long she was out. She thought, as she lay on the ground, the Crown Vic was the RCMP, but it was someone else, who then drove her for medical attention.

"I was just focused on myself, trying to get to a doctor to make sure my baby was OK," Klassen said.

Her baby was fine. But she had nowhere to go, no shelter, said Klassen, who is from St. Theresa Point First Nation and is now an accountant in Steinbach.

"There was shame," she said.

Her baby was born by the time Klassen finally left.

"My family was a big part of getting out of the relationship," she said. "I did escape in the middle of winter — I ran barefoot to my auntie’s. I managed to pull myself together.

"I was broken," Klassen said. "That’s when I used the RCMP, to get my children back. I ended up moving back to St. Theresa Point with my two little ones."

Her family knows what happened, her husband and all six of her children know, but she’s never gone public about being a survivor, Klassen said.

"It’s taken me awhile. Women have to start talking," Klassen said.

In her first speech to the legislature in May 2016, Klassen calmly told MLAs as soon as she finished speaking that day, she would join her extended family at the hospital, where her brother would be taken off life support.

Another day, she talked about campaigning in remote northern communities in late 2016, when she got word her niece had died by suicide.

She told the legislature on another occasion that elders had given their permission for Klassen to tell MLAs she and other northern residents often carry box cutters, in case they can still cut down and save people attempting suicide by hanging.

"There was such a negative backlash," Klassen said Wednesday, revealing for the first time the attacks against her online, accusing her of carrying a box cutter because she fears gang violence.

In the house Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister told Klassen: "That is something we should all respect and learn from."

Klassen said charges were eventually laid against her former fiancé, but she had left the community by the time he came to trial. "He’s on his eighth family now — everyone has charged him with abuse," she said.

Klassen said she feels the need to speak out, so that women know they’re not alone. "Going into the constituency, there’s so much violence against women."

She said she once took some of her children to a hospital to see women awaiting treatment, some of whom had made their own homemade slings. That incidence, she said, was in Steinbach.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.


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