When singer-songwriter Kinley Dowling released a song two years ago detailing her prom night rape, she didn’t set out to become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
But Dowling said her song “Microphone” has given her a new calling in life — empowering other survivors to tell their stories, and preventing sexual assaults from happening.
“I’ve done so much learning and growing and healing since first sharing my story,” Dowling, who is also known as the violinist for East Coast indie rockers Hey Rosetta!, said in an interview from P.E.I.
“Speaking my truth has allowed so many other women to feel safe enough to reach out to me and share their experiences with sexual assault, many of them for the first time ever.”
Dowling told The Canadian Press in 2016 that her song was allowing her “to get over it and move on” with her life, but she recently reached out to explain that her mindset has changed and her words from two years no longer hold true.
She said she performed at a P.E.I. vigil commemorating the women murdered in the massacre at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, and Michelle Jay of P.E.I.’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women shared something with her that shifted her “whole perspective” of her sexual assault.
“She told me that writing the song isn’t going to help me get over and move on from being sexually assaulted because that experience stays with us,” said Dowling, who goes by the stage name KINLEY.
“I’ve thought a lot about what Michelle said since then and it’s so true. It’s not something we get over — it’s something we work through. She helped me realize that writing this song was a way to empower other survivors of sexual assault to shed the shame and guilt that’s associated with it.”
Now, work is underway to include Dowling’s music video for “Microphone” — recently nominated for an East Coast Music Award — in P.E.I.’s Grade 9 health curriculum.
Michelle Harris-Genge, director of P.E.I.’s inter-ministerial women’s secretariat, said Dowling’s video will be an integral part of four modules that discuss sexual assault, consent, gender norms and bystander intervention. They are aiming to have the curriculum ready for this fall.
“The song speaks to people. People have an emotional response to it,” said Harris-Genge, who is chair of the premier’s committee on family violence prevention.
“It’s a way to help teachers or others who want to have this really challenging conversation about consent and about sexual assault.”
The video starts with a monologue from Dowling, explaining how she was sexually assaulted on the night of her prom. She said she was at a field party when an older guy asked her to go for a walk.
“He just started kissing me out of nowhere … and then he started talking my jeans off,” said Dowling, wearing a backwards ball cap in the black-and-white video. “I said ‘No, I’m good, thanks.’ But he didn’t stop. He kept doing it and he took my clothes off even though the whole time I was calmly saying no.
“Then he laid me on the grass of the field, and he raped me.”
Harris-Genge said field parties are a common thing for P.E.I. youth.
“It’s a situation they could see themselves in,” she said.
“Kinley is someone who youth have heard. They’ve heard her on the radio, they’ve probably heard her story and are hopefully inspired by her. To have this resource where it’s someone local, and someone they might have seen in person or on TV, I do think it makes that connection.”
Jane Ledwell, executive director of P.E.I.’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said the song has been “transformative” for sexual assault survivors on the Island and beyond.
“It’s been something that has provided an opportunity for people to articulate their own experience, to relate to someone, to see what contribution creativity and openness can make to a healing process,” said Ledwell.
“This song was released before the #MeToo movement, but it captured that moment. It really prepared us in the community for being able to tell our stories, name our experiences, and frame them in ways that are meaningful and try to prevent this from happening to other people.”
On Saturday night, Dowling and four friends protested outside the Hedley concert in Summerside, P.E.I. She said on Instagram they handed out more than 100 pamphlets to the band’s fans in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations that band members have steadfastly denied.
“We only got some ‘lip’ from a few fans, but we just hope they have an open mind in the future. It’s not an easy thing for a survivor to tell their story. Let’s not make it any harder for them just because you like the band’s music,” she wrote Sunday on the social media site.
Dowling told The Canadian Press she never imagined her song would lead her to become an advocate for sexual assault survivors, but it’s a welcomed new passion in her life — and one she plans on continuing to pursue.
“I think the song has definitely given me strength that I didn’t have before. The power of music is real,” she said.
“I would encourage other women to share their stories in whatever way they feel comfortable, even if it’s just telling one friend.”
Dowling’s “Microphone” also earned an East Coast Music Award nomination for song of the year. The album on which the song appears — “Letters Never Sent” — picked up nominations for pop record of the year and rising star recording of the year.
The ECMAs will be held in Halifax in early May.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press