(COURTESY FRANK MCCOMBER)
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Warning: The following story contains references to child sexual abuse.
Frank Fafa McComber, along with his wife and children, participated in Kahnawake’s first-ever solidarity march for survivors of sexual assault and trauma.
The walk was held after anonymous accusations on Twitter were made naming alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct and abuse in the community.
Kahnawake was appalled. The sheer number of allegations was astonishing to community members and leaders.
Following the march, which took place in early August, McComber, an elected chief from the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and businessman, shared his story on Facebook.
“I’m a survivor. This is my story,” read the post. “Not as a father, husband, grandfather, son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, businessman or an elected council chief, but as a young boy, who was abused for reasons I may never figure out. I’m okay with that now.”
McComber said that listening to all the women who spoke at the march gave him the strength and courage he needed to finally speak up and share his story. “I felt it was important to find a way to support them through my story,” McComber told The Eastern Door.
“And making sure that we don’t stay silent anymore, that we start opening our mouths and start telling our stories. And hopefully, eventually, start healing. That is the process,” he said.
McComber has spent years working through his trauma.
It all started after his lawyer recommended that he talk to an anger management counselor to help with a legal issue he was dealing with.
And even though he wasn’t aware of it at the time, it was the beginning of his journey toward healing. He began putting those parts of himself that he lost through the trauma back together.
When the counselor asked him if he had ever experienced abuse, he answered no. He had suppressed the memories.
Suzy Goodleaf, a clinical psychologist who has been helping and working with McComber, said that when we undergo trauma related to sexual assault and abuse, our instinct is to survive. This is done by building resilience.
“Our bodies have a way of coping,” explained Goodleaf. “We have a way of coping, and sometimes the way that we are resilient is through a protection mechanism like withholding the memory for fear of hurting others, or feeling like we have done something wrong.”
McComber spent years feeling anger and shame, which are common emotions felt by survivors of child abuse.
“The blaming of everybody for everything that ever happened wrong in my life. It was never my f**ing fault,” McComber said, explaining that he never held himself accountable for anything as a result.
But ultimately, he knew he wanted to better himself and sought help through professionals, including Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) and the Kahnawake Peacekeepers.
In October 2019, he was driving home on Highway 30 and as he passed under the St. Regis overpass, the memories just started flooding back, he said.
“I can picture where I was. I can picture that whole moment and how it all just started playing, that film that many of us talk about that just… it keeps on spinning in your head,” he said.
When he got home that evening, he immediately told his family what had happened to him. He had been abused by a close and trusted family member.
“My wife called him a pedophile. And that is when it really exploded out of me. I still don’t know if I feel better or worse about it,” said McComber.
LoAnna Zacharie, a support counselor under the psychological services department at KSCS, said trauma affects people in a particular way, and even if the stories are different, there are key elements that are the same.
“The process of acknowledging trauma will be very similar for everybody. When people get triggered by their own memory, it can be debilitating because all of a sudden, they don’t have control,” said Zacharie.
“When you are triggered, it is a crisis. You are not going to function like you did the day before. It is part of the process. But the bottom line is that people need to seek support, whether it is a family member or a friend,” she said.
For survivors, dealing with the day-to-day can also be a very exhausting process, said Goodleaf. Having a support system helps build and develop the resilience required to move forward and put the trauma in the past.
McComber said that the Twitter account Ktown’s Finest (@finestinktown) also triggered him. He was not able to read it, as it brought back too much.
“I didn’t realize that we are all at different levels of that healing process. Some have started and didn’t know they started. Some have not started,” said McComber.
Specialists agree that movements like #MeToo and social media accounts created explicitly for survivors to share their stories are positive and have brought the conversation to the forefront. However, they also warn that it can be extremely detrimental for others who might be triggered or are not yet ready to disclose.
McComber said that he told his family that he was going to share his story with the community, with the hope of providing support and solidarity to survivors in any way he could.
And to show that even if you have gone through trauma, you can heal, rebuild and have a fulfilling life. It does not have to define you.
“It was very emotional, their response, and it was obviously very tough on them. But I did tell them. I had the luxury of being able to tell them,” he said.
It took him a long time to write the post, and he said that he kept changing it and re-writing it. And before he finally shared it online, he showed it to his kids, who gave him feedback and helped him finish it.
“I think the support was always there, so it made it a lot easier for me. That’s the part where I am lucky. I have five amazing kids, my wife, my mom and my dad. I have a strong foundation,” said McComber.
McComber also advised the MCK of his intentions. He said that he had planned on telling them during a Monday morning conference meeting, but when the time came, he couldn’t do it.
“I beat the shit out of myself about that. I felt like I let myself down by not telling that story at that moment in time. I figured out later that it was probably important that I didn’t do it then. I probably just needed that extra space and time to figure it out with her (Suzy Goodleaf),” he said.
“That is part of the key message when people tell their stories. You have to be ready. And you have to be ready for whatever comes back at you, positive or negative,” said McComber.
When he finally told Council, he said that initially, not very many of them said anything.
“Respectfully, they all reached out afterwards, in their own way, and some came to see me personally. Some came to see me immediately. Some called me and texted me,” he said.
He said telling them was easier than what he imagined it would be.
He also told the Kahnawake COVID-19 Task Force, which he is part of.
“Derek Montour (executive director of KSCS) thanked me for sharing that. He lifted me. I wasn’t in the shadow, but I feel like at that moment, he lifted me, and he said, we hear you. And that is really what I think I want my story to be about,” said McComber.
This type of support is imperative for survivors and their path toward healing, according to support counselor Zacharie.
“Nobody needs to fix it. They just need to let you know that you are not alone. I am here. It’s acknowledgement,” said Zacharie.
Once his story was out, McComber said many people came to see him and shared their story with him. And just like the Twitter account, it triggered him. But in a way, he said it was even more difficult.
“You get the weight of the message, and you can’t forget it. It is there. I think it’s the hardest part of going through this,” he said.
Zacharie and Goodleaf stressed that disclosing is necessary and important, but the way in which people share their stories is equally important, as it can be very triggering and upsetting for those receiving the information.
Doing it in a safe environment, surrounded by the right support, is recommended, according to specialists.
And it is also important to remember that outing people online has consequences, and there are repercussions, whether it be on survivors, their families and friends and even the perpetrator.
After the Twitter account was out there for all to see, the MCK released a statement saying that they would be working with the community’s top organizations, including the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC), KSCS, and the Peacekeepers, to provide resources for survivors, family and friends and perpetrators.
They created a working group with representatives from the four organizations and embarked on a five-year plan to help the community heal and bring about change in respect to sexual assault and abuse.
McComber is part of the group.
“I am still not close to being done. Going back and talking to that 12-year-old child and telling him it is okay – I am not there,” said McComber.
Zacharie said that once people share their stories, they believe the work is done, but in reality, it is only the beginning.
“The process is long because there is a lot to unpack. Whatever happened to you, it changed the course of your life. It is not a one month process,” said Zacharie.
McComber continues to work through his process and said that he hopes his story can help others on their journey and inspire people to strive.
He also wants the conversation to continue because he feels it should no longer be hidden and shrouded in fear and shame.
“A big part for me is liking myself again. I am not 100 percent there yet, but I am getting closer,” said McComber.
If you have been a victim of sexual abuse and need help, please call the numbers below. You are not alone.
www.cvasm.org – Provincial helpline for victims of sexual assault 24/7 – 514-933-9007.
www.calacs-chateauguay.ca – Center for victim assistance and combating sexual assaults – 450- 699-8258.
www.crisisline.ca – The crisis line is available 24/7 – 1-866- 996-0991.
www.talk4healing.com – Talk 4 Healing Listening Line available 24/7 – 1-855-554-4325.
www.criphase.org – Resources and help for men who have experienced trauma in childhood – 514-529-5567.