It was a heavy weight that she had been carrying for almost two decades.
Last May, banker Karlyn Percil shed the burden when she publicly shared for the first time a shocking secret. She was sexually molested by a male family member at age nine while growing up in her native St. Lucia.
Percil made the revelation on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Canada’s homegrown documentary series, “Life Story Project”, which is a platform for individuals to share a secret or their life stories.
“I have always admired Oprah for the amazing things she has done and her strength in the face of adversity,” said Percil. “But the thing I admire her the most for was how freely she shared her sexual abuse story. I watched in awe and in some cases avoided watching her because I felt she was talking to me in many of her life classes.”
Percil learned of the show – which began airing this month – in early 2012 through a friend.
“I sent in my letter to the casting agent and just prayed that I did not get a call because even then I was not sure I was ready to share my ‘elephant’,” she said. “But once they got back to me saying I was selected, I knew the time had come for me to do it.”
Percil’s episode was shot eight months ago at David Pecaut Square in downtown Toronto.
“I sat on a purple couch and the interview lasted for 20 minutes,” the second to last of five siblings said. “I felt so liberated after it was done to know that I had relieved myself of the burden I was taking around with me for so many years. What is even more important is that after many years of struggling with my own abuse in silence, I had decided to take a stand not only for myself but for children who are victims of child sexual abuse and who may not have a voice. It’s time to break the silence and I hope that my coming forward and doing that will inspire others to do the same. That’s the difference I am trying to make.”
With the encumbrance out of the way, Percil is now engaged and ready to raise a family.
“The secret obviously affected me having long-term and meaningful relationships with men,” said Percil, who is a senior project manager with Scotiabank. “I always felt naked and I was just not comfortable with anybody coming too close to me. I had to learn to love myself and accept me before I could start a long-term association.”
Last November, Percil was invited to share her story at a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “Break the Silence” forum in Barbados. Launched in Trinidad & Tobago in 2010 by the University of the West Indies Institute for Gender & Development Studies, the initiative is a multi-pronged approach aimed at protecting children against sexual abuse and the risk of HIV/AIDS.
It’s estimated that almost 150 million girls and 73 million boys worldwide under the age of 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. In the Caribbean, 47.6 per cent of girls and 31.9 per cent of boys reported that their first intercourse was forced or coerced by family members or family acquaintances.
Percil is excited to be associated with UNICEF on such an important initiative.
“Child sexual abuse is something that is very taboo not only in the Caribbean but in other cultures as well,” she said. “Every day innocent children are being violated, some as young as age two.”
UNICEF’s Latin American & Caribbean Regional Office child protection senior adviser, Nadine Perrault, welcomed Percil to the fold.
“We are pleased to have her with us and she will add a real voice,” said Perrault.
The president of the Scotia Caribbean Professional Network, Percil started a monthly group session – Sister Talk – for young women to meet and freely discuss personal and professional issues.
“About 15 to 20 people meet at my residence and have honest conversations about life, love and relationships,” she said. “It’s a small and intimate group and I can tell you that the tissue box is often used to wipe away the tears during our revealing sessions.”
Prior to migrating to Canada in 2003, Peril worked with Scotiabank St. Lucia, established her own clothing line – Bellemoun – and was St. Lucia’s Carnival Queen runner-up 12 years ago.
She’s currently pursuing a Masters Certificate in Adult Training & Development at York University’s Schulich School of Business.
“I am doing this because I am really passionate about personal growth and development,” said Percil, who recently stepped down after five years as Harry Jerome Awards chair.
Individuals can share their “elephant” stories on Percil’s website or contact her for advice at www.karlynpercil.com.
By RON FANFAIR