Degrassi Talks: Abuse

Rebecca Haines – her story

by Catherine Dunphy


Rebecca Haines was the host for the Degrassi Talks … On Abuse TV show. She knows what it feels like to be the victim of abuse. For the show Rebecca interviewed Debi who was the victim of a date rape. Afterwards, Rebecca revealed, for the first time, that she too was the victim of a date rape.

Rebecca, now 19, played the character Kathleen for five seasons in the Degrassi TV series. She is currently a student at Montreal’s McGill University.

Rebecca feels that the stories that were recorded for the Abuse show contain material that will be difficult for some of the Degrassi Talks audience. “I think some of the stuff is going to scare them and some people who haven’t been exposed to that – it’s going to make them think.”
“It will tell people that if you have been abused, you can survive and you can go on with your life.”

For Rebecca, working on the documentary series has been her favourite Degrassi work. “It’s opened up a whole new world of on the street journalism and I look forward to doing somethinglike that in my future

The reason Rebecca Haines was picked to host the Degrassi Talks show on abuse was because of what her Degrassi television character, Kathleen, had been through. An alcoholic parent. Anorexia. An abusive boyfriend.
Nobody knew that the choice was a good one because of what Rebecca herself had been through.
Date rape. And nobody knew because Rebecca hadn’t told anybody.
It happened when she was 17 and she used all strength, all her will – and she has a lot of both those commodities – to push it aside, banish it from her mind. When she did think about it, she blamed herself, so it was better to say nothing, tell herself she was fine and get on with life.
Until she interviewed Debi for the Degrassi Talks series. The girl from eastern Ontario talked about what happened to her, told it straight and straight into the camera, and afterwards, driving back in the car, the two girls sat in the back seat and talked.
Rebecca told Debi she could really understand what she had gone through… because it had happened to her.
Debi just looked at Rebecca and seemed to understand everything. She told Rebecca she must talk to somebody about it.
“In the show, I tell people to go for counselling, but here I was – I felt really weird – everything was whirling around. I was going on camera and I felt I was cheating. I needed to talk to someone. But I was so scared someone would look at the interview [with Debi] and they’d know”, Rebecca recalls.
And a month later, she finally took her own advice and saw a counsellor. It was the first time anybody explained to her that what had happened to her was, in fact, date rape. It was the first time someone assured her she wasn’t crazy, that she had been raped and that it, not she, was wrong. It was the first time she was told that as the victim she had to learn to say that it was not her fault. And that, therefore, it was not her responsibility.
For someone like Rebecca, who describes herself as a “controlling” kind of person, the kind of person who likes to be in charge, who automatically feels responsible for whatever happens, that was the hardest lesson of all.
It happened to her when she was at a low point in her life. She was feeling vulnerable, lost; she was down on herself.
She met him – we’ll call him Brad – at a club. He knew her sister and some of her friends. He seemed really interested in her, and even though he knew about the Degrassi television series and even though that usually makes Rebecca suspicious, be cause she figures guys are just using her as a status symbol, they exchanged telephone numbers.
For a week they talked on the phone every night. Looking back, she can see Brad was sending out some pretty mixed signals, but, Rebecca says, “When you want someone to like you, you ignore them.”
Brad asked a lot of questions about sex – but he also asked a lot of questions about her. He seemed really interested in getting to know who she really was.
He had his own place and one day he said, “Come visit me”. She thought she’d lose him i she didn’t, so she agreed to go over and help him with some homework.
It didn’t take long before they were kissing and he began to undress her. She tried to make him stop – she had only had sex once before, he had no protection, she was scared and uncomfortable, and she knew that was not the way to feel before making love – but Brad wouldn’t.
“I was totally frozen. I just lay there staring at the ceiling”, she says. When it was over, she started to cry.
He blamed her, telling her that she shouldn’t have come if she had not wanted sex. Rebecca blamed herself as well.
“Sometimes I would wish he had had a knife or a gun or something”, she admits. That would have made it a lot easier to justify to others what happened – and to herself.
But gradually the counselling she got later helped her understand that it was not her fault and that – knife or no knife – what happened was date rape.
Finally Rebecca telephoned Degrassi Talks producer Linda Shuyler and told her she wanted to go in front of the cameras again and tell people about her own experience. Just a short statement, nothing dramatic – it’s not as if she’s a heroine or a anything. But because maybe somewhere, some girl will hear her – really hear her – and stop dumping on herself for what happened to her.
“I wasn’t trying to elevate myself, but it gave me a way to be more objective and helps me sort of heal”, she explains.
Now a student at McGill University in Montreal, Rebecca is a volunteer at the campus rape crisis centre. It’s another way she can give back. And grow.
Get better. Be better.
She’s a perfectionist, always has been. It’s something she has to work on because she sets impossibly high standards for herself.
But then she’s achieved a lot. She grew up in one of the roughest parts of Toronto, just outside one of the most notorious housing complexes. Her friends have died of overdoses, knife fights, one threw himself off a balcony while stoned. Some are now in jail.
She’s seen a lot. Prostitutes used to hang out near her house; there were always syringes lying around. Her parents were “serious hippies”, she laughs. Rebecca remembers living in a house in Vancouver with hammocks all over; she remembers her parents dropping acid; she remembers she was one of the toddlers dancing naked at the Mariposa Folk Festival.
Her mother had been thrown out of her own house at 15 by her alcoholic mother. Then she married a man who was to become addicted to alcohol, speed and Valium. They separated when Rebecca was 5 and her sister, 3. Her dad straightened himself out a few years later; both he and her mother have remarried. But when Rebecca was 10, the family was on welfare – her mother was back in school studying nursing.
“I was fully responsible for my sister, so I became a person who always took the responsibility”, she says now. ” I take all responsibility and all the blame for stuff. And I always feel I could have done better.”
She drove herself – at school, at her ballet lessons and later, working in the Degrassi series. But ballet was always her focus. Four times she auditioned for the National Ballet School – four times she was rejected. Wrong body type, too old. But she wouldn’t quit and found another dance academy in North York which did accept her.
From Grade 10 to 13, it was life. It was all I wanted”, she says.
But those were also the years she was in Degrassi. It was a gruelling pace – ” I have to keep busy, I almost thrive on stress”. She was spending six hours a day on weekends at the barre; her Degrassi work was scheduled around her classes.
At 5 foot 7 inches and 110 pounds, she was still ordered to lose weight. She was always writing down everything she ate and she became anemic, but never anorexic. Her mother – her best friend, she says – made sure she was home for every dinner and that s he ate the food in front of her.
Rebecca is not and never was Kathleen, the uncompromising, sometimes negative girl she played on Degrassi. But Rebecca understood Kathleen.
“She made perfect sense to me, although she was not a popular character. Most people think I’m a snob because of my character. I get called ‘Degrassi bitch’. I always say ‘ That’s not me ‘ “, she laughs. “Well, that’s me on a very bad day.”
The people she worked with knew who she was. They were her real friends. Some of them were as driven as she was. Well, almost.
Rebecca started high school at 13 and graduated when she was 17. She knew she was still too young to go off to university so she worked for a year in a major record store in downtown Toronto – “I will never be rude to a clerk again”, she groans – selling the hip hop music she loves.
But she pushed herself to graduate early because she’s a perfectionist.
“I have always had a problem with insecurity”, she says. “Everybody thinks I have everything together. But for me, nothing is ever good enough.”
But she feels better about herself now. She spoke up about what happened to her, she’s been in a relationship for a year, she’s enjoying her first year on campus.
For a moment, Rebecca stops judging herself so hard.
“Yeah”, she says. ” I’m much more independent. This year I’ve come far.”