More than four years after being sexually assaulted, Alexis Kolody is ready to move onto the next chapter of her life and she's hoping that her experience will help other survivors.
"I'm glad it's been wrapped up," Kolody said of the case, which was drawn out in the justice system for years before coming to an end in October 2021.
"It's been such a crazy journey healing through the court process," Kolody said. "Now to be able to heal after the court process, it feels like my life is going to look completely different in such a positive and healthy way."
Awet Mehari was convicted of sexually assaulting Kolody in 2017. He was 27 at the time and she was 19 years old.
Bouncing between courts
A Regina judge found the Regina man guilty of sexual assault in January 2019 and later sentenced him to three years in prison. The case has taken many twists and turns throughout the court system since then, as Mehari tried to fight each court decision.
Mehari first appealed the conviction to Saskatchewan's Court of Appeal. The case was then escalated to the Supreme Court of Canada, then back to Saskatchewan's Appeal Court.
It was then escalated back up to the Supreme Court of Canada a second time, but the court declined to hear Mehari's case. Kolody thought that was the end of it, but she then learned Mehari was trying to appeal his sentence while in jail. Saskatchewan's Court of Appeal denied the application. Last month, Kolody learned the court process had come to a conclusion.
It's been a long process to go through, but healing from the trauma itself was harder, she said.
"I honestly almost didn't think it was possible to feel good or be happy again," she said. Kolody remembers living in "crisis mode" during the immediate aftermath of the assault. She reflected on seeing other survivors living with ease.
"It was really confusing to me. How could you possibly live your life normally, go to work perfectly fine and have a family, have a baby, be so happy?"
But now Kolody understands. She's relaxed in her day-to-day life, and can process hard emotions when they come up in a healthy way.
The healing journey
"I had lots of intentions and motives behind my healing journey, even through the messiness of it all," she said. "Finding my spiritual side and going to my Indigenous side of traditional healing and to ceremonies, that was a really big help."
Her biggest advice for other survivors is to tell a trusted person or a trained counsellor about what happened.
"That's the first step. When you take the time to actually tell someone and share your story ... you're acknowledging that this really scary, difficult trauma happened to you," she said. "It's really hard to keep that all in to yourself."
Kolody had a publication ban removed from her name so she could speak publicly about her experience. She also tried to make changes within the system as she went through it.
Education needed in system
"There are lots of times through this court process where I went above people," she said. Kolody would write or call supervisors and directors following harmful or triggering interactions with lawyers or staff working within the corrections system.
"I know for a fact, if this has happened to me, it's happening to other people as well, and there's a lot of people who don't know how to speak up."
She said the case prosecutor called her without warning on a family holiday to run over details of what happened. Kolody said this was distressing and triggering. Sometimes she felt lost waiting for an update on where the case was at or what would happen next. Timely updates are important and so is proper notice to victims, she said.
Recently, a corrections worker called Kolody and asked her to write a statement about Mehari's upcoming release into the community. They wanted it done within a week.
"I was so caught off guard," she said. "It took me 16 months to even think about doing my victim impact statement for the court … grabbing a piece of paper literally made me sick to my stomach and made me want to throw up."
Kolody said there needs to be more care in the system because these moments like these can be incredibly troubling for a victim.
She was relieved to see that there has been some training developed for Saskatchewan people working within the justice system on how to work with victims. But from her experience, there is a long way to go.
Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) has a list of resources for survivors on its website: https://sassk.ca/resources/.