Arrest ‘seemed so surreal’: Nygard accuser


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For nearly 30 years, Serena Hickes stayed quiet about what happened to her when she worked as a sales clerk in one of Peter Nygard’s retail stores.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/12/2020 (895 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For nearly 30 years, Serena Hickes stayed quiet about what happened to her when she worked as a sales clerk in one of Peter Nygard’s retail stores.

The 49-year-old Winnipeg woman said she intended never to report to police that when she was in her early 20s, Nygard raped her; she was never going to tell anyone at all.

That was before news broke of the FBI raiding the Nygard fashion company’s New York headquarters, and before at least 57 women signed on to a U.S. class-action lawsuit accusing him of sex crimes.

Serena Hickes never intended to tell anyone about allegedly being raped by Peter Nygard. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)
Serena Hickes never intended to tell anyone about allegedly being raped by Peter Nygard. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Since Nygard was arrested in Winnipeg last week, Hickes has been hungry to witness it for herself — to see and believe the 79-year-old former fashion magnate really does remain behind bars while he awaits the next step in his court process.

“It just seemed so surreal,” Hickes said of Nygard’s arrest.

It’s been a week since Nygard’s arrest on U.S. charges of sex trafficking and racketeering, and a week since Hickes first spoke publicly about sexual-assault allegations she said she reported to Winnipeg police in recent weeks.

Hickes said she doesn’t regret speaking out, but has had to deal with a flood of emotions.

“Keeping it in, what I have found out after all these years, is it’s horrific — it’s poison, it’s toxic — and it doesn’t make for a healthy life. So the more I talk, it’s almost like, ‘Look, I trusted someone, and it’s OK to trust someone,’” Hickes said.

Through his lawyers, Nygard has denied all of the allegations, none of which have been proven in court.

The Winnipeg Police Service hasn’t confirmed whether it is investigating Nygard, but Hickes and another woman told the Free Press they have filed criminal complaints locally. No Canadian criminal charges against Nygard are currently before the courts. He was once charged with raping an 18-year-old Winnipeg woman in 1980, and the case was later stayed.

Nygard now faces extradition to the U.S., and hasn’t yet applied for bail.

Hickes is among 27 Nygard accusers who have been receiving counselling from Toronto-based therapist and social worker Shannon Moroney. Moroney said she’s been treating women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Nygard from the 1970s, up to earlier this year.

In the wake of his arrest, many of her clients feel retraumatized, she said, particularly at seeing Nygard’s photo repeatedly in the news.

“They want the world to know about the case, but so many of them ask me, ‘But why do they have to put his picture there all the time?’” Moroney said.

“It’s a very complex journey. Yes, people feel happy or relieved, but those are only a couple of the emotions… that people are experiencing. There’s also a lot of stress, because with his arrest, many people’s friends and family are finding out for the first time what maybe happened to them.”

At least four of her clients were underage — one as young as 13 — when the alleged abuses happened, and she said four of her clients are from Manitoba, where Nygard founded his fashion empire, Nygard International, in 1967.

Moroney is working with the lawyers who launched the U.S. class-action lawsuit against Nygard, and was brought on by the non-profit victim support organization Sanctuary, which is funded in part by billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon, Nygard’s former neighbour in the Bahamas.

Nygard’s legal team has used that fact to argue he’s the victim of a conspiracy set up to falsely accuse him.

That’s “absolutely not true,” Moroney said. Leading up to and in the wake of Nygard’s arrest, the women have had to deal with public perceptions they were naive or in it for the money. She said her clients aren’t colluding, and don’t know each other, unless they, like Hickes, have chosen to be publicly identified.

Hickes has alleged Nygard raped her inside one of his Winnipeg retail outlets in 1991 or 1992, when she was 20 or 21 and a new mom. After the rape, she said she was given a plane ticket and invited to model Nygard’s clothes in New York, but never boarded the plane.

She left her husband and baby, believing she had to get out of Winnipeg to keep herself and her family safe.

After all these years, Hickes said she decided her name wasn’t going to be another thing taken from her. That’s why she wanted to speak out.

“I needed my life back. I needed my name back. And I want other women to know that it’s OK to find somebody to trust and to talk to about it,” she said.

— with files from Dean Pritchard

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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