She said, she said, she said: Women recount harrowing stories of abuse and survival

Jessica Donald is pictured in her parents’ Burlington, Ont., home in February 2020. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

This story is part of the CBC News series Stopping Domestic Violence. It had originally been scheduled to publish in the spring, but was delayed pending the outcome of a CBC application to lift a publication ban identifying the complainant in a sexual assault case against Kevin Evans

Evans challenged the application, but in August, CBC won a judge’s ruling to allow his alleged victim to speak freely using her own name and showing her face.

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Jessica Donald took photos of herself — bruised eyes, a swollen nose, clumps of missing hair — to ensure that her then boyfriend couldn’t convince her that nothing happened.

“I never thought of it as evidence. I never thought of it as anything I would ever even show anybody. I wanted it for me.”

But those photos are now in the hands of the police.

Donald is preparing to testify against Kevin Terry Evans.

She was the first of three women to report him to police but will be the last of them to go through the court system.

Two other former girlfriends of Evans warn the outcome of the court process is not what they’d hoped it’d be. 

Now Donald is hoping for the best.

Evans, 30, is facing a dozen charges related to assaulting, choking and sexually assaulting Donald over various dates in 2017 and 2018 while they were both living in Ontario. 

The allegations have not yet been tested in court, and Evans — who is from St. John’s — has pleaded not guilty. 

Donald’s name had been concealed by a publication ban to protect her identity, as Evans is alleged to have sexually assaulted her. 

At the request of Donald herself and CBC, a judge lifted the ban on her name and face — despite Evans’s opposition to the application.

We can now tell you her story.

Donald is pictured with a black eye she says she suffered during an attack by former partner Kevin Evans. (Submitted by Jessica Donald)

Donald said she met Evans on the dating app Bumble while he was living in Ontario in 2017, and he gave off a good first impression.

Their meeting came at a time when, Donald said, she was beginning to regain control of her life following intense therapy and counselling to deal with mental health struggles.

“I’m thinking, like, ‘Wow, this guy is so open and honest,'” Donald said, in an interview at her Burlington, Ont., home. “It blows my mind now because he’s the most dishonest person I’ve ever met in my life.”

Donald said the abuse began with control and escalated to violence that left her battered and bruised.

On one occasion Donald said Evans twisted her arm until it “popped.” She went to hospital, but she did not disclose the incident as a case of domestic violence.

“I was thinking, I’m like, ‘Should I tell them? Should I tell them what happened?’ I mean, nobody knows at this point in time…. ‘Should I say something?'” Donald said.

“If I say something, they’re going to tell the police. And then people in my life will know that this has happened. And I didn’t want anyone to know. I was embarrassed. I thought I was smarter.”

She said she was used to making excuses for him: a poor childhood, parents who abandoned him at an early age, addictions issues.

I had to believe that he wasn’t a monster because I’m not the type of person that would date a monster.– Jessica Donald

Donald now knows the excuses she made were also protecting the image she had of herself.

“I had to believe that he wasn’t a monster because I’m not the type of person that would date a monster.”

Donald said Evans pulled her hair so hard on one occasion that it began falling out in clumps. 

She said he made her take photos of herself holding up a certain number of fingers to prove her whereabouts, and that she was not somewhere else sleeping with other men.

She estimates she was choked around 20 to 30 times.

“He has blue eyes and they went black. And it’s just … I don’t know who this person is,” Donald recalled.

“And then he stops and I get a breath, and he does it again and again and again and again.”

With every choking came a promise to change. But those promises were never kept, Donald said. And if she didn’t obey him, she said she paid the price.

Evans is pictured in a dating app profile photo. (Submitted by Lindsay Plank)

Finally, in January 2019, Donald went to Halton Regional Police to get a peace bond against Evans. He had gone back to live in Newfoundland and Labrador, but she was afraid he was about to return to Ontario.

Once she told an officer her story, the police wanted to lay charges for incidents that occurred in 2017 and 2018, when the two were a couple.

Donald said she believed Evans would be picked up in St. John’s and returned to Ontario to face the charges against him. But as the months went on, Evans remained free in his home province.

It wasn’t until after Donald told her story to the Toronto Sun — months after going to police — that authorities in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador brought Evans back to Burlington.

That was in the spring of 2019.

Living the same life

Back in St. John’s, Lindsay Plank was breathing a sigh of relief.

Earlier in April 2019, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary had charged Evans with multiple assaults and two attempts to choke Plank, who dated Evans after Donald.

He was released on a promise to appear in court in St. John’s shortly before being sent back to Ontario, where he was — again — released, this time on bail.

Evans and Lindsay Plank are pictured at Mile One Centre, one day after she was assaulted by her former boyfriend. Bruises on her neck and chest are visible in the photo. (Submitted by Lindsay Plank)

From the outside, Plank and Evans appeared to be a happy couple, but the bright smiles and happy faces in photos they shared together are just a facade. 

Zoom in closer to a photo taken during a date night in St. John’s in 2018 and you’ll see hints of the truth. 

The small, dark, fingertip-shaped bruise on Plank’s neck is easy to miss, as is the light-coloured bruise peeking out from the thick sweater she wore to conceal evidence of being choked and battered.

“It looks like a happy couple and then … it isn’t,” said Plank as she scrolled through photos of a previous life.

There are others — a bruised eye. A red cheek.

“Another night out, when he punched me right in the eye. I had a black eye for four or five days,” she said, pointing to the screen of her phone. “This one wasn’t as bad.”

Plank was the second of three women to come forward with allegations of assault.

‘Brainwashed’

In April 2018, Plank met Evans on the dating website Plenty of Fish, while both were living in Ontario.

He told her everything she wanted to hear — “[He said] ‘I want to get married. I want to have kids.’… [He] gave you the white-picket-fence picture.”

By the third date, another side of Evans emerged, she said, and she felt there was no turning back.

If Plank was on her phone, Evans needed to know who she was talking to.  

If they were out in public and she wasn’t looking directly at him, who was she looking at?

Accusations of infidelity and name-calling flew as fast as his temper. 

Plank says she was routinely given black eyes by Evans. (Submitted by Lindsay Plank)

During the summer of 2018, the two parted ways, but they later reconnected and moved to Newfoundland.

“You’re still brainwashed at that point and you’re like, ‘OK [I’ll do] anything to have him,’ or as he would say, ‘We’re starting over. We’re starting fresh,'” Plank said.

“You believe it.”

Now separated from her friends and family in Ontario, she said, things only got worse. The violence became more severe. The emotional abuse was stifling.

Plank said Evans had quickly figured out the floor plan of the home in which they were renting the upstairs apartment. He knew where he could be loud and where he couldn’t be loud, she said. 

“That first week I had been choked, I don’t know how many times. Hit, I don’t know how many times,” Plank recalled.

“One night he took me into the bathroom and smashed my head against the bathtub. Ripped my hair out. I remember sitting there with a chunk of my hair in my hand crying like, ‘How could you do this?'”

That same night, Plank said, he smashed her phone — a lifeline — and walloped her head into the bricks surrounding a fireplace.

“The more he knew I wasn’t around people, the more aggressive he could get because I had no one to turn to and no one to see if he left a mark or not.”

Getting away 

Plank said she was trapped by fear of what could be done to her and her property. 

“The amount of times I would wake up and he’d have the knife set sitting beside the bed or choking me and just blacking out and at that point you start thinking, ‘Maybe it’s easier for him to do it because it’s better than living through this,'” Plank said.

Plank eventually made friends and got acquainted with coworkers in her new province. They began to notice the marks on her body and started to ask questions.

That’s how she got out. 

But she still wasn’t ready to go to the police. 

A Facebook message

Around Christmas 2018, after leaving Evans for good, Plank got a message from an old acquaintance in Ontario — Jessica Donald.

The two women knew each other through Evans. 

At one point, neither knew the other one was dating Evans. Neither knew the other was living the same life of abuse.

“We literally, word for word, lived the exact same life,” Plank said.

When Donald told Plank she was going to report the alleged abuse to police, Plank decided it was time for her to do the same.

They didn’t want the assaults to happen to anyone else.

The new girlfriend

Evans was charged in two separate provinces for abusing two different women, but was out on bail and free to date whomever he wanted.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there is no system whereby police are allowed to notify partners of men or women who have a history of domestic abuse. 

Saskatchewan is the first province in Canada to do so. Government officials in some other provinces have also expressed interest in introducing similar legislation.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has promised to enact what is often known as “Clare’s Law” — after such legislation in the United Kingdom — which would provide police with those powers.

That process is still ongoing, as government officials work with the RNC and the RCMP to develop the protocols for new regulations. The Justice Department says that work is expected to be complete within the next six months.

Ashley McVean says she has become stronger after surviving months of abuse at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. McVean says she is not satisfied with the punishment Evans was handed by the courts. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Enter Ashley McVean.

Evans and McVean had known each other for 20 years. Evans was adopted as a child by a family acquaintance of the McVeans. 

“When I first started talking to Kevin I never knew anything about these other girls,” McVean said during an interview at Iris Kirby House, a women’s shelter where she received counselling.

“There was no talk about it. You know, it was like, ‘You know, I have a jealous ex-girlfriend.'”

McVean said the relationship quickly turned sour as he began to call her names and accused her of infidelity. 

“Not only did he block people through my Instagram and my Facebook and my phone and all that stuff, he was so insecure of a man that he blocked other people on his own personal account so he wouldn’t look them up.”

The first time he choked McVean was on the evening of her birthday celebration.

It only progressed from there, McVean said, to the point where she cannot count the number of times she was hit or choked.

“In the end it was multiple, multiple days in a row. It was an everyday thing in the end.”

McVean said she was physically battered and mentally depleted. She began to hate herself and drank as a way to cope. 

McVean took photos during the summer of 2019 of bruising and broken blood vessels on her neck following assaults for which Evans later pleaded guilty. (Submitted by Ashley McVean)

It was her routine, she said. McVean knew she’d get beaten. She was prepared for it. And she would fight back. 

“The scariest part of it for me was the choking. It was strangulation. The last day he beat me he said, ‘I can snap your neck. I can take your life,'” McVean remembered.

“He was choking me so hard, he was choking me from behind … and I couldn’t even say the words but I just said, ‘Do it.'”

On one occasion the choking was too severe to ignore and McVean went to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. She said she made the decision after Evans put his knee to her neck and she felt a pop, followed by excruciating pain.

She told doctors she had a sore throat. But the bruising and red and purple broken blood vessels surrounding her neck were a dead giveaway — someone had choked her.

What happened next has stayed with McVean throughout her journey, and gave her the confidence to keep going.

A doctor provided her with information listing contacts for police, women’s shelters and other resources, such as signs of an abusive relationship, in a way that could be hidden from an abusive partner.

“It touched my heart so deeply.”

In Canada, if a person is stabbed or shot, it is mandatory for medical personnel to report the crime to the local police station, even if the victim doesn’t want the information disclosed. But doctors and nurses are not required to report cases of strangulation to police. 

By August 2019, McVean made the decision to go to police.

“I had no choice, I had to stop him,” she said.

While she maintains she was assaulted dozens of times, Evans was only charged with two counts of assault and one count of uttering threats to cause bodily harm.

A guilty plea and a ‘slap on the wrist’

On Jan. 30, 2020, Evans — appearing via video from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary with a heavy cross hung on his neck — pleaded guilty to assaulting both Plank and McVean.

The two women showed up in court and acknowledged each other while sitting in separate rows in the courtroom.

They shook their heads and sighed as the Crown and defence told the sitting judge that a plea agreement had been reached which meant some charges would be dropped in exchange for his admission of guilt for some, but not all, of the assault charges — a routine procedure in Canadian courts.

They listened as the Crown attorney read out the facts of the case. Dates, times, assaults — all a mere fraction, Plank and McVean said, of what actually occurred.

They snorted as Evans’s defence lawyer told the court about his tough childhood and road to rehabilitation, which included finding religion.

Judge Mike Madden accepted the joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and defence, which amounted to 253 days behind bars, with credit for time served in jail.

Evans, then 29 years old, appears via video link for his sentencing hearing at provincial court in St. John’s on Jan. 30. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

After being arrested for abusing McVean — by then the third woman to go to police — Evans had been remanded into custody.

“No man has the right to tell a woman who she can talk to. No man has the right to tell a woman what clothes she can wear,” Madden said.

“And certainly, no man has the right to subject his partner to violence.” 

Having already served 169 days in jail awaiting a resolution in his case, Evans was released the same day he was sentenced.

He was placed on probation for 18 months, six of which could be spent with an ankle monitor should his parole officer deem it appropriate.

Donald, Plank and McVean all say the justice system failed that day.

“I was ready and willing to go to trial,” McVean said. “Even without my own testimony, I think the evidence spoke in itself.”

“I think a judge reading words … he’s not getting the actual picture of what occurred and the trauma.”

Plank says she is still recovering from depression and anxiety stemming from the abuse suffered at Evans’s hands but is moving on with her life. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Neither woman accepts that he has changed his ways or will stop his violent behaviour, which the court was told stems from an unstable childhood and possibly having fetal alcohol syndrome, though that has never been diagnosed.

Plank said the experience has left her with emotional scars.

But since the sentencing hearing in January, those scars have started to heal — for Plank, and McVean.

“Before I met Kevin I was an independent, strong woman. While with Kevin, I just disintegrated — mentally, physically, emotionally,” McVean said.

“But now as I sit here today I’m a much stronger person.”

Trial to come

At his January sentencing hearing in St. John’s for assaulting McVean and Plank, Evans — through his lawyer — expressed regret.

“Mr. Evans advises that he does feel very badly for what has happened, and apologizes for his behaviour,” defence lawyer Candace Summers told the court.

“He does feel that a lot of these actions were significantly impacted by abuse of substances, be it alcohol and/or drugs or a combination of those.”

Summers said her client believed he would not be before the court, if it wasn’t for that substance abuse. 

Meanwhile, Evans is set for trial in Ontario next June in relation to charges involving Jessica Donald.

In an email to CBC News, his Ontario defence lawyer, Evan Chang, stressed that Evans is presumed innocent and is “vigorously defending against the charges.”

“It would not be appropriate during this pending case for myself nor my client to give any comment on your story,” said Chang.

Donald, the last of the three women to face Evans in court, said she is prepared to face him again.

The trial is scheduled to begin the second week of June.

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Producer: Rob Antle, Coordinating producer: Peter Johnson, Videography: Sherry Vivian, Video editor: Gary Quigley, Text editor: Dan MacEachern

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If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, visit sheltersafe.ca or endingviolencecanada.org.

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