Five months after her ex-husband was convicted of installing hidden cameras in her home, Sara Usman is stepping into the light.
On Tuesday, the Manitoba Court of Appeal lifted a publication ban on her name in connection to the case.
"At the time, I think it was a good thing that my name (was protected)," said Usman, 30. "I needed that time for sure. Until he was sentenced I was unsure what was going on with the proceedings. I think it's a good thing to have in place for people who want their identity protected."
In December, two months before her ex-husband stood trial, Usman launched the Shameless Circle, a volunteer group dedicated to helping other woman work through experiences of shame arising from abusive domestic relationships, sexual exploitation, negative body image and other causes.
"I felt I had dealt with a lot of mental health issues and was struggling with going out and about and being able to live," Usman said. "I wanted to reclaim what had been taken away from me."
Usman said if she wanted to help other women, she had to start being open about her own experiences.
"It was just a gut feeling that I had to start talking about what happened," she said. "In order to talk about it, and with the healing circle work I was doing, it was important for me to let other women know there is always a way forward."
Usman's ex-husband pleaded guilty in February to break, enter, commit mischief and breaching a recognizance after he secretly installed hidden cameras in the walls of Usman's dining room and bedroom.
The man claimed he installed the cameras to capture evidence Usman was mistreating their children.
Court heard police believed Usman discovered the cameras shortly after they had been installed.
While there was no evidence before the court that any images, intimate or otherwise, were captured on any of the devices seized by police, "the set up was in place to do just that," said provincial court Judge Wanda Garreck before sentencing the 38-year-old man to two years in jail.
Usman asked that a reporter not identify her ex-husband by name. "I don't want to shame him too," she said. "It's not about him, it's about me moving forward in life. If I'm stuck in the past then there is no point in going forward, so I need to let go of it."
Shameless Circle sessions are held once a week at the Daniel McIntryre / St. Matthews Community Association and Resource Centre, with offerings including self-defence classes and professional development workshops. Usman said Shameless Circle is building a network of business volunteers who will offer their services to women in need and a fundraiser set for September will raise money for an "empower me" fund.
"I've always believed in making the best of situations and I think this is my way of flipping a tragic incident into a collective good for everyone," she said.
Mandy Smith first connected with Shameless Circle in December when she was looking for a self-defence class. What keeps her coming back is its grass-roots sense of community.
"I love it," said the 36-year-old single mother of five. "There is something really great about women getting together and supporting each other, openly sharing what they have gone through."
Updated on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 10:11 PM CDT: Adds photo