Finding Strength Within

Life doesn’t always unfold the way we hope it will. For Amanda Cimon it’s taken many twists and turns. As a survivor of sexual assault and human trafficking, she is learning to love herself again and giving back to those who were always there to help.

Amanda recently turned 40, and she says the Lethbridge & District YWCA has been a part of her life since she was 16 years old. “That was a place where I knew I was safe,” she says. “For years and years, the YWCA has never closed their doors on me.”

“In and out of the system” living in foster homes since she was very young, Amanda says she never really knew her biological parents. “I never really knew my place, but the one thing is I always knew I had a place at the YWCA.”

Molested as a child, she grappled with her confidence, dropped out of school and became involved in a high-risk lifestyle on the streets at the age of 13. At 17, she began exotic dancing to earn some money. Young and alone, she was an easy target for human traffickers. “I was prostituted out my whole life. I didn’t know what it was like to learn, how to swim or ride a bike, apply for a job… I didn’t know how to function as a member of society. Being a victim of all these different things led into 39 years of despair. I never lived my life without abuse or trauma, since last year.”

Not knowing how to function independently led to Amanda becoming involved in relationships that often turned violent. “When you’re so used to abuse, neglect and abandonment, you just expect it,” she says. “You get used to it.” There were times she had to flee to YWCA Harbour House, a local emergency shelter.

It took her many years to understand that what she was experiencing was wrong, and to gain the confidence she needed to say enough is enough. The final straw came when she saw the same pattern of abuse beginning to happen to her son. “When I put my foot down, and I was thinking what do me and my son deserve, we don’t deserve that. My son deserves the best I’m able to give him,” she says.

No matter what life threw her way, Amanda learned that there is always the YWCA to turn to, where she could share her feelings without judgement. “They still saw something in me over so many years,” she says. “When you hit rock bottom you lose everything and you just don’t care for a long time. It was a lot of learning I had to do, and acceptance and letting go.”

Amanda is still involved with the YWCA to this day. While rebuilding her life and starting a new business – Vanity Lashes, Amanda is sharing her story to empower others and giving back to the organization that helped her so much. She has established the “You are Not Alone” fundraiser in support of the YWCA Amethyst Project on Saturday, April 27th at 8:00pm at Hudsons Canada’s Pub. She’s designed a special “Survivor Lash” eyelash kit and is donating the proceeds.

The Amethyst Project supports healing and recovery for survivors of sexual violence, assault and harassment. It gives survivors of sexual assault a “third option” when it comes to the court process, allowing evidence to be collected and stored up to one year, rather than having to make crucial court decisions while they are still in shock and trying to heal. It allows victims to obtain a rape kit, access community services for recovery, and take some time to focus on healing before facing the challenges that come with the legal process.

Amanda became involved with the Amethyst Project after being victimized in 2016 in Montreal. She was raped and beaten, found bleeding under a stairway in a motel. “It was a really long process for court,” she says. “When I was out East I never had access to victim services, I never had access to self-care afterwards.” But she knew that coming back to Lethbridge that she could find help.

“The Amethyst Project is so important, and it impacted my transition through everything. They go to the hospital, they’re there for you in court, it’s a place where you can feel how you want to feel and not be judged… and they understand the process you’re going through when you’ve just been victimized of sexual assault.”

Amanda wants to spread hope to others who may be dealing with similar trauma, and let them know they are never alone. One of her biggest struggles was to reach out, she says, but she’s very happy she did, every single time.

“They believe in you. They believe people can be saved, people can change, and people can have better lives. If we didn’t have them, we would be worse off. But you have to be ready to be open to have those people help you,” she says. “You have to learn to start loving yourself. Once you love yourself, things change.”
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