NEW GLASGOW – Patricia Grosvold walked out of a local courtroom in 1993 with a weight lifted off her shoulders.
Her father Donald Francis MacLean had just been sentenced to 18 years and nine months in prison for sexually abusing her and her sisters. During the sentencing, Judge Clyde MacDonald called MacLean’s acts “torturous and horrendous” and at the time she thought 18 years seemed like forever.
Forever ended this week.
Seventy-seven-year-old MacLean finished his sentence and is a free man living without restrictions. He served nearly two decades for 26 convictions against 10 female victims of varying ages. Grosvold recently received a letter from the parole board stating that as of Friday, MacLean is no longer under the supervision of the justice system.
Seventeen of MacLean’s charges stemmed from incidents that took place in the 1960s and early 1970s when he and his family lived in Canadian Forces bases in Oromocto and Point de Butte, N.B. The remaining charges are from incidents that occurred when he returned to Pictou County in the late 1970s.
The majority of the assaults took place against his four daughters and two stepdaughters when they were between the ages of four and 19. The charges involve incidents ranging from fondling his four-year-old daughter and forcing her to perform oral sex to having sexual intercourse with a daughter in her early teens.
Several charges of assault causing bodily harm and of buggery involved his first wife when they lived in New Brunswick. Other counts involved one of his daughter's friends while they were living in the New Glasgow area.
He was said to have manipulated his victims through threats and by indicating the acts were what Jesus wanted.
“The only reaction I had this time is that you think 18 years is so long, but now 18 years is here,” she said. “I will admit my stomach churned and my little girl was very scared, but then I realized that he can’t harm me.”
Grosvold’s reactions are far from those of a scared woman. In the past, she has written to the parole board pointing out how her father has allegedly violated his parole agreement and recently she wrote The News letting the public know that her father’s sentence has ended.
She said the letter was to let other victims know, who might not have gotten the notification like she did from the parole board, that he could be walking towards them on the street some day.
“I wanted others to know that you may see him in Pictou County. I am going to protect them now. I don’t carry one ounce of shame.”
Grosvold credits her strength to the love of her husband and a strong faith in God, but she admits it was a long process to get to the point where she is today.
She was nine years old when her mother caught MacLean abusing her and shortly afterwards she moved in with her great-grandmother before living with her aunt full time.
Although the abuse stopped, MacLean still was able to visit Grosvold and as time passed and she married and raised her own family, he continued to have a presence in her life. He would visit their house for Christmas dinner, attend the same church and, at one point, stayed in her home.
“I was in the place where I felt I was his only victim and he was a changed man and never abused anybody else,” she said. “We never talked about it. During that time period, we never talked about it.”
She was separated from her sisters when her mother left MacLean, but he ended up getting custody back of everyone but her. He remarried and became a stepfather to the woman’s children, but they later divorced and he married his third wife who knew nothing about his past.
“Before he married (his third wife), I had asked him if she knows everything about his past,” Grosvold said. “He said, ‘Yes she does.’ I said, ‘Everything?’ And he said ‘Yes, she does and accepts me for who I am.’ It wasn’t until the charges were laid that she found out.”
Grosvold said she never realized he had abused other people until his name came up in another unrelated court case.
“I had received a phone call from a friend who asked me if I knew of a girl (of a certain name). She was taking her uncle to court for abuse and in the courtroom, one of the lawyers asked her if she was abused by anyone else and she said, ‘Yes, Donald MacLean’.
Grosvold didn’t recognize the name of the woman so she called her sister to find out if she knew her.
“I asked (my sister) and she said ‘Yes, she was a dear friend of mine growing up and we had sleepovers and went to the same church and everything.’”
Grosvold said when she told her sister that the woman had brought up their father’s name in court, the phone went completely silent before her sister said, “I need to go.”
Later that night, her sister called back Grosvold and told her she was starting to have flashbacks about MacLean abusing her.
“The majority of people who are abused do block it out,” she said. “Our mind is a wonderful thing and will do anything it can to survive. She had it in her boxes in her brain. As she started, she was opening up more and more boxes. She called me one day and said, ‘I want to press charges, but I can’t do it myself.’”
At first Grosvold refused, but her sister pleaded with her, saying she needed to do this.
“I said, ‘I live here in Pictou County. We go to the same church,’ but she really needed to do this and I said OK.”
It took four hours to tell her story to Westville Police Chief Don Hussher and it was the first time her husband had heard specific details about her abuse that started around the time she was four years old and continued until she was nine.
She said the case was complicated because the abuse occurred in many different provinces – requiring investigations in different provinces.
Crown prosecutors asked the victims not to let MacLean know about the investigation, but Grosvold said it was getting more and more difficult keep up a good face around him.
“It was getting close to Father’s Day and I was talking to Crown attorney Peter MacKay and I said to him, ‘You have to arrest him.’ At this point, we are still half talking to him because we aren’t letting him know what we are doing. I said, ‘I can’t do Father’s Day. I can’t go out and get him a card and pretend everything was OK.’”
When he was arrested a few days before Father’s Day in June 1993 at his work, unexpected feelings of guilt washed over Grosvold.
“It’s so weird. I knew the exact time they were going to arrest him, but I wasn’t prepared for feeling so guilty,” she said. “I remember calling my husband at work saying, he was arrested and I remember saying, ‘What have a I done?’ It was guilt, but believe me, it’s not there anymore. He was so controlling.”
The guilt wasn’t coming from her experiences or her feelings for MacLean, but instead it was guilt over the fact that she didn’t protect others from him.
“When I found out about the other ones abused, I went through tremendous guilt. I felt I should have protected them. I looked after my sisters. I was their mom. I should have protected my sisters.”
The adverse reaction in the community to MacLean’s charges didn’t help the situation, she said.
“The people in the church were divided,” she said. “Because the way we believe is that you have to have forgiveness and you let the past go. Some people didn’t understand why I did what I did. They were divided and some people wanted to stand for him. That hurt a lot. At the time period, because we weren’t allowed to discuss the case, they wouldn’t know how bad it was.”
To this day, people still ask her about forgiveness, but similar to the healing process, she said it must be taken in steps over time.
“I say to them, forgiveness comes in stages. You have to grieve for what was done to you. Because of what was done to you, that little girl died,” she said. “If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Forgive,’ I say, ‘Would you go to a person who just lost a child and them to get over it? No one would do that, so why would they expect us to do that?”
MacLean had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges, but changed his plea to guilty a month or so before the trial was set to begin.
Because offences against Grosvold dated back to 1959, there were no laws that covered her charges and that limited the number of charges laid against him in relation to her abuse.
“I remember thinking about everything that he did to me and he only got two years,” she said. The most charges he received time for were for (my sister). At the time, it made a difference to me because I was thinking I was abused by the age of four on a weekly basis, sometimes three or four times a week, and he got two years.”
But she says going through the court process helped her heal, because their “secret” was finally being told.
“It’s strange. I’ve talked to other victims and they have all felt the same way. No one wants to talk about the secret. Tell it. The very first person you tell it to is a big thing, I say to them. If a person tells you that secret, it’s an honour. We know you can’t fix it. All you have to do is listen.”
Grosvold also found peace by putting her words on paper and writing her feelings in a journal.
“One thing I wrote is that secrets have power. Unless you have been abused, it’s hard to understand. There are the feelings of guilt and shame that we did something wrong,” she said. “I can’t explain it to you. If we share the secret people will see the ugliness inside of us. It’s the ugliness. People will see that I am an ugly person. I thought even myself I was ugly. I was not worthy of anything. It’s a long process to get to the point where someone gets the courage and tells the secret.”
To this day, she continues to tell her story and about how she regained her strength to fight back, but instead of initiating the conversation, she lets a tattoo of a little girl on her left shoulder do the talking.
Grosvold said she found the little girl inside her one day after the trial as she stared into the mirror.
“I was upstairs and I looked in the mirror and it was the weirdest feeling and I said, ‘Where are you?’ I kept staring into my eyes. I made a contact with her. There are some women who don’t want anything to do with her, but I know she is one of the strongest people there could possibly ever be. She survived so much. She is safe now. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been there, but for someone who has been there, if I say my little girl is afraid, they will know who I am making reference to.”
The tattoo is an image of a little girl with the wind blowing through her hair. Grosvold said it is a close rendition of herself as a child and capturing the wind was important because each time MacLean would abuse her, she would run outside and let the wind cleanse her.
She promised herself and her inner little girl that every time someone made a comment about the tattoo, she would answer with, “She has a story, do you want to hear it?”
Grosvold said most people who have approached her listen to her story and then share their own experiences of abuse.
“The biggest thing for me is I want people to know they are not alone. There is a life after this. This is not who I am,” she said. “I am not Patricia, an abused victim. I am Patricia, a mom, a wife, a worker. I am a survivor. I have survived and I will never allow it to conquer me again. I will never allow my voice not to be heard again. Don will not have the last word, I will.”