Vignette: Safety’s End

Karin Kerfoot
3 min readFeb 29, 2020

October 2018: A lot had happened in the prior year. After my license to practice medicine was suspended, I had the time to work through the trauma that I had experienced at the hands of my abuser and finally found the courage to report it to the police. After they charged him with extortion and sexual assault, I began to hope that my abuser could finally be forced to answer for what he had done to me. But it wasn’t to be. The Crown Prosecutor decided not to proceed with the charges because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario accused me of being “deceptive”, and this could provide sufficient doubt to derail a conviction. So there would be no trial, and no opportunity for justice for me. But it turned out that he was going to answer for what he had done to someone else. After grappling with the indescribable disappointment of not having my own chance, I decided to accept what I could.

It is the day after (Canadian) Thanksgiving. The weather is unusually warm this morning, so I can get away with wearing a favourite summer dress. Before leaving the safety of my home, I stop to look in the mirror. Take a deep breath, I tell myself gently. You will be okay.

The drive downtown is quicker than expected and very soon I am at the courthouse building. I pause to compose myself before passing through security. He can’t possibly hurt you here, of all places. You are still okay. The open foyer is a busy mess of lawyers and people waiting to go into different courtrooms. I fight back a feeling of panic as I sit alone. He’s in this building. What if he suddenly appears, right here? When the courtroom doors I have been watching finally open, I rush inside.

For the next half hour, I sit.

I am waiting to look into the face of the man I fear more than anyone else in the world. It has been more than 2 years since I last saw him and, since then, I have lived each day dreading the possibility that I might.

But today I have decided to be in control. I have chosen the time and place of our meeting.

Still, my heart pounds when the guard finally opens the door and leads him into the courtroom. He sits down in the prisoner’s dock and scans the room. When he sees me, he stops.

Before today, I would have dropped my gaze in submission. Today, I force myself to look back at him until he is the one that looks away. In that moment I am struck by a realization I’ve never had before: He is no longer powerful. Today, right now, in this courtroom, he is merely a grizzled old felon.

I listen as the judge sentences him for sexual crimes against someone else; a young teenage girl. I hear the terrible details of what he did to her and the devastating impact he has had on that young woman’s life. I had dreamed of hearing a judge say those things about what he did to me, but that isn’t going to happen. So, I take what solace I can from the judge’s words when he states that my abuser’s actions against someone else — actions very similar to those he made against me — were wrong, illegal, and heinous. It means a lot to hear someone say that officially, even if the judge isn’t talking about my case specifically. Her (our) abuser is declared a registered sex offender for life.

Throughout the judge’s speech, her (our) tormentor sits cold as stone, showing no sign that he hears any of it.

After he is led out of the courtroom, I take a deep breath and rise to stand. I walk through the courthouse, out the doors, and down the steps into the bright daylight. I stand on the sidewalk and breathe.

For the past year and a half that he has been in prison, I and other women have been able to walk these streets safe from him. But now I know that within a very short time he will be released from jail. That safety will end.

I have no doubt that he will find ways to be powerful once again.

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Karin Kerfoot

Psychiatrist turned yogini, writer & educator. Survivor of sexual violence & systemic injustice. I write about gender-based violence & medical regulation.