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‘I’m a survivor, not a victim'

Former Erin resident Kelsey White-Sjolin, who was sexually abused and exploited for several years by a trusted family friend, shares why it was important for her to tell her story
Kelsey White-Sjolin with her dog, Kuno.

Warning: The following story contains details of sexual assault and child sexual abuse.

Kelsey White-Sjolin spent the last 15 years silently scared. Scared to leave her house, fearing the man who sexually abused her as a child would appear, even after she moved across the country from Ontario to Nova Scotia.

But she’s not scared anymore, and she’s ready to share her story, hoping it will show survivors of sexual abuse there exists a community of support around them. 

On Jan. 20, 62-year-old Steven Bobbie Brook of Erin was sentenced to seven years in prison in a Guelph court after pleading guilty to six of the 22 charges against him, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, making, and possessing child pornography. 

Though she’s glad he’s “put away,” for 26-year-old White-Sjolin, the sentence isn’t long enough. 

“I was really disappointed that because he had no priors and they felt he wasn't a threat to other people, he was allowed out the entire process. I don't think he should have been given the chance of parole after. That isn't even significantly close to the amount of time that he's taken from me.”

If he does apply for parole, she will fight it. 

“I don’t think he should be allowed out,” she said.

White-Sjolin had the publication ban, put in place to protect her identity, lifted. She said it was so she could take back control and make sure her story was told and told right. 

“Because I think if he was able to create such a world of safety but of manipulation with me, there have to be others. And if I'm the first one coming forward against him, maybe I'm leading the path for others to feel safe enough to say something because he's not out to hurt them.” 

Brook was a trusted family friend; his wife and her mom were good friends. The two families spent numerous Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations together. She even babysat his son. 

“Steve presented himself as 'Uncle Steve' to anyone he met that was from our family, so it was like they were part of the family.”

But for 11-year-old White-Sjolin, he was a father figure. 

“I just trusted him with everything. He was like my idol I looked up to,” she said. “He’s got a son and a wife, and his life (was) so happy, and my family (was) so broken. There was an instant bond and connection.”

So when Brook said she could work on cars with him two nights a week during the summer in exchange for $20, she leaped at the chance. 

But they didn’t work on cars. 

He started by telling her when she was with him, they were in the “third world.” 

“There were no laws, there were no police. It was just me and him, and we were safe,” she said. “Nobody was to know what happened in the third world.” 

There, he would tell her about a game called doctor, where you would look at each other naked. 

“He told me stories of how he would do that with his neighbourhood kids when he was growing up,” she said. 

On the surface, it seemed like a great opportunity; she would learn about cars while spending time with someone she looked up to, and then go spend her money at the general store with her friends. But inside, she felt numb.

“I had to portray that I had this great job, and it wasn’t anything like that behind closed doors,” she said. 

By the end of that first summer, he had taken her to his cottage in Belwood, where the sexual abuse began. 

Things progressively got worse after that. The following summer, he introduced her to pornography, which he kept hidden in a black bag, tucked up in the ceiling of his basement. 

“I was to watch the women on the screen and mimic what they were doing to myself and to him,” she said. 

The numbness only increased as she got older, when she said he started introducing her to Percocet and OxyContin. 

By 16, she had dropped out of high school and had been kicked out of her house. And as she found no solace in her parents, Brook was her lifeline, always there to offer support. 

“It just became such a repetitive pattern that if anything went wrong, I would go to Steve's. I would text him at 10 o'clock at night and he had no problem getting back to me.”

At that point, she said Brook was filming her. These videos, along with White-Sjolin’s DNA, were later found in a box he kept in his shed during a police raid. 

The abuse only stopped when she started working the night shift at Tim Horton’s; he couldn’t see her because she would be sleeping all day and working at night. 

“But even though the abuse at that point stopped, he was still always there,” up until a few months before she went to the police. 

“Even now, it’s still hard, because it’s like, you were supposed to be my father figure, and as an adult, I realize you were a monster who completely manipulated the situation.”

She was afraid to go outside. Even after moving to Nova Scotia, where she and her partner Mitchell have three acres of property, she was afraid to step outside to garden and tend to her flock of chickens. 

But the “third world” mentality caused her to compartmentalize her problems. Whenever anything would go wrong in her life, she would associate it with the third world – the realm where things were not to be talked about. 

The impact of the abuse was interfering in every aspect of her life, seeping into her relationships, her job, and even her dreams. Until she finally had enough.

She was silent until July 2020.

“I was angry all the time. I was losing job promotions because I couldn’t handle being around men,” she said. “We would get into a fight and rather than talking about it, I would just go to the bedroom and break down.”

It got to the point where they were on the verge of breaking up. 

“I remember thinking, I can’t let (Brook) win again. I just can’t because if I lose Mitchell, I know I’ll never find anyone like him again,” she said.

So she shared with Mitchell what she had never told anyone before. Then she contacted the police.

White-Sjolin said she’s not sharing her story for people to feel sorry for her. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Now that her abuser is in jail, she feels “powerful” reclaiming her story. 

“As much as people say (sexual abuse) is talked about, I think a lot of us are still scared to be another number,” she said. “Now that I’ve talked about it, I’m not a number. I was able to get through this, and I was able to put him away, and I’m able to talk about it. I’m a survivor, not a victim.” 

She thinks it’s important for parents to hear her story as well, so they can look for the warning signs with their own children. And somewhere down the line, she hopes to speak to children in schools about safety protocols and trusting their parents enough to speak up to them. 

She’s even writing a book about her story and hopes to turn it into a series where she can help other people share their own stories. 

But for now, free of her fear, she’s just taking things day by day, focusing on the good parts of her life, like her upcoming vacation, her garden, her beloved partner, and her flock of chickens. 

If you or someone you know is at risk of or has experienced sexual violence contact the Ontario Provincial Police at 1-888-310-1122.