I first met Rick Chiarelli when I volunteered at the alcohol-free New Year’s party that he threw every year. He would have people come dressed up in costumes for the kids. I was with a charity group called the League of Super Heroes that attended events to raise money for the local children’s hospital. When I started working for him, later he would describe the costume that I wore, where the midriff was exposed, to other workers and supporters. He would comment on my abdominal muscles and had me in his phone under the name Abigail as a reference to my abs.
I said up front that I knew nothing about politics. I had left my previous job because my mental health worsened after I was sexually assaulted outside of work, so I really needed a stable job. He would always say it was a great way to get your foot in the door at city hall, dangling this carrot of stability. He purposely went after people like me, who had no background in politics, who might be easily misled, and who had suffered from previous trauma so they might be more susceptible to his manipulation. In my interview he told me he needed to know my biggest secret. He said that, during election time, his opponents would try to attack him by digging up things about his assistants, but he could protect me. He made it clear that I needed to tell him something so he knew he could trust me, so I told him about the sexual assault that had prompted me to leave my previous job.
I started with Chiarelli as a part-time legislative assistant. Shortly after, he began training me to take over the position of his chief of staff, who was going on maternity leave. Within less than a year, I was the most senior person. It was a nightmare. He used my personality, my sexuality, and the way I look as a form of commodity in the office. He would talk about my body in front of me to others, as well as when I was not around. He often showed people the photo of me in the costume from that first New Year’s party. He even brought it up on his phone and showed it to another councillor in front of me and talked about my abdominal muscles as if I wasn’t even present.
He would call late at night when I was with friends to just talk, and I was always expected to answer. He wanted us to flirt with young men to recruit them to volunteer for him or support him during election time. We were expected to dress a certain way and he would praise us or belittle us depending on how many men we could attract.
There were many times when I was at my breaking point, where I would sit at my desk, trying my hardest to choke back tears. Sometimes, instead of having lunch, I would curl up underneath my desk with a blanket because I was so exhausted and depressed. I still have nightmares that I’m back there or that I run into him somewhere.
The best that I have felt through this entire ordeal was when I was finally able to go public in November 2020, when the integrity commissioner’s report was released. As soon as I came forward, I finally felt like I could breathe a bit. It was me finally having a small amount of control and telling people with my name and face that this happened to me. Some days were still overwhelming, like when I was accused of trying to get attention. I had people attacking me on all fronts. Thankfully, I have had far more support than I have had grief from those horrible people. Still, there have been days where it’s all-consuming. I’ve had trouble trying to date again, because anything tied to flirting, my sexuality, or anything like that makes me put my guard back up.
But since I’ve gone public, I can finally take it out of my brain a little bit and put it aside. I can say my piece and then stop obsessing about it, and I don’t regret it.