By: Adam D’Addario
The audience gathers in a large room at Toronto Metropolitan University to watch a short documentary called “Becoming Astra.”
The 10-minute film documents the stories of three women who chronicle how pole dancing has positively impacted their lives.
Perhaps the most poignant story in the short is that of the director, Kirsten Rowe. Rowe, who goes by the stage name Astra says, “Becoming Astra is about my personal experience with domestic and sexual violence.”
Discussing her prior experience with domestic and sexual abuse Rowe says, “I started dating a guy last year, and things started out fine.” But things quickly changed for Rowe and turned, in her own words, “incredibly bad.”
She adds that she did not see anything wrong until the situation became dangerous. “Everything I was doing was being controlled, where I went, who I talked to. I wasn’t able to text my friends and tell them what was going on.”
Rowe would have to text and call her friends while she was at work and delete the logs to avoid conflict at home. “He ended up being arrested and charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of theft because he stole my phone and car keys so that I couldn’t escape.”
Although Rowe started pole dancing before her incident of domestic and sexual abuse, during her recovery journey, she found pole dancing to be empowering. “It almost feels like I’m getting my own justice because the justice system isn’t working in my favour.”
Unfortunately for Rowe, the criminal justice system has been slow to act on her case. “You have to talk to multiple people and repeat your story multiple times. I was lucky cause I had a calendar and a notebook and tracked everything that happened, and I tracked the dates so that when I handed it over, I had solid proof.”
Rowe mentions that not everyone has the ability to do what she did and that some people suffer from abuse going back years, making it difficult to recall in detail.
“I’ve been waiting for a year to have a trial and recently found out that my trial won’t be until 2024.” This means that two years will have passed from when the incident took place to when Rowe has her day in court.
While Rowe still has a long road ahead of her in her pursuit of justice, in the meantime, she is continuing to spread the word about her documentary.
“Right now, it is submitted to a few contests and festivals. I did have a screening recently at Toronto Metropolitan University, and what I’d like to do with that is take all of the videos and information from that event and see if other schools are interested in doing a similar event.”
Although she has endured a traumatic situation, Rowe recognizes the importance that documentaries like hers play. She says, “it opens up the conversation on domestic violence and how to overcome it.”