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South Surrey business-award winner eager to advocate for sexual-assault survivors

Anna DiBella wants ‘measurable changes’ in justice system
South Surrey’s Anna DiBella is among Business in Vancouver’s Forty Under 40 winners. (Contributed photo)

Warning: the following story contains explicit details that may not be suitable for all readers.

A South Surrey resident and single mom has been named one of Business in Vancouver’s 2022 Forty Under 40 winners.

The distinction is presented annually to individuals who are “leading by example” across various sectors, in public companies, private firms, institutions and not-for-profits.

For Anna DiBella, it’s an opportunity to showcase her ProFix Accounting & Strategy as a niche remote accounting business that deals exclusively with law firms.

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But perhaps more important, it’s an opportunity for the Earl Marriott Secondary alumna to share her plan to become an advocate for women, and the sexual-assault experience that’s behind that drive.

“I think sharing my story of being sexually assaulted, along with being a businessperson, is pretty empowering to a lot of people, and I can see how that is helping,” DiBella said of reactions she has received to her plan.

Her ultimate goal, she said, is to make “measurable changes” to the justice system that will help women feel safe in the knowledge that people who hurt other people will be held accountable.

It was a feeling she said she had to fight hard to attain for herself.

DiBella, 39, said she was a victim of “stealthing” in April 2021, when a date that had been going well evolved to intercourse, but her partner removed his condom without her consent.

“I’d made it really clear. He’d asked me if he could penetrate without a condom at one point and I said no, I’m not on birth control, you put a condom on,” DiBella said.

However, it became apparent at one point that he’d removed the protective barrier.

Asked why he did it, her date apologized and said it was “just for a little bit.”

“I told him to get the hell out,” DiBella said of her reaction to his excuse.

Asked if she should worry about ‘Plan B’ – getting an emergency contraceptive pill – or getting tested for sexually transmitted infections, he “said Plan B would be a good idea.”

“I was like, oh my god, get out of my house,” DiBella said.

Subsequent efforts to have police investigate and charge her date were frustrating, DiBella continued. While officials at a rape support centre told her stealthing was indeed a crime, DiBella said the first officer she spoke with “suggested he wasn’t going to pursue this.”

“They were just simply not interested in investigating.”

DiBella persisted, and eventually charges were laid, however, it was another fight to have police give any urgency to executing the warrant, she said.

It eventually was, and a criminal trial concluded in B.C. Supreme Court last fall with DiBella’s date acquitted. In rendering the Dec. 9 decision, Justice Simon Corval found both parties’ version of events “plausible” – while describing the accused’s explanation of what occurred as “obviously an unusual chain of events” – and that the Crown had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

DiBella noted that the judge found her own story credible, but said the burden of proof in such cases was “so high.”

Last July, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial in the case of a man whose sexual-assault charge on similar grounds had been dismissed at the provincial-court level. The man’s appeal of the SCC decision was also dismissed.

A summary of that case on the SSC website notes “when condom use is a condition for sexual intercourse, it becomes part of the sexual activity to which the person consented.”

“Since only yes means yes and no means no, it cannot be that ‘no, not without a condom’ means ‘yes, without a condom,’” Justice Sheilah L. Martin wrote in the decision.

DiBella said she had hoped for something “precedent-setting” to come out of her case, for which a civil claim was settled through mediation last month.

Still, she is determined to do what she can to help prevent other women from going through the same challenges she faced in turning to police.

DiBella said “so many” women reached out to her with similar stories after she went first public with her experience in June 2021.

“I got really overwhelmed,” she said. “I just realized how common it was and how there’s actually no consequences for it.

“Several of the women asked ‘how did you get police to investigate?’ It was really depressing, to be honest. No regular human should have to go through what I went through to get police to investigate. I want it to be easier to report these crimes.”

Surrey RCMP Const. Sarbjit Sangha said Tuesday (Feb. 7) in an emailed statement that while stealthing is not a crime that Mounties deal with on a regular basis, they are aware of it and investigate it as a sexual assault.

There was “no reluctance on the part of our officers to investigate” DiBella’s report, she said.

“The BC Prosecution Service was consulted early on to provide advice and guidance to the officer in their investigation. This is a common practice when police are investigating complex files, or when there is limited reference case law available in the Criminal Code of Canada, such as in cases of ‘stealthing.’”

The Mounties “completed a fulsome investigation that resulted in a sexual assault charge against the accused in this matter,” she said.

DiBella said she is looking forward to building up and selling the business that earned her the Forty Under 40 distinction, so that she may focus on her advocacy goals.

She described her ProFix Accounting & Strategy team as “professional problem fixers” that assist law firms with short-term projects, auditing and “whatever we have to do to move them forward.”

While it had a couple of “really stressful, unprofitable” first years, a digital marketing strategy launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a “booming” business, she said.

“Really quickly early on, I had to sort of decide… I was going to be a fully virtual firm.”

Now, it operates as a “well-oiled machine,” with a team that benefits from flexibility and unlimited vacation that affords them the lifestyle they want.

DiBella said she was flattered to be nominated for the Business in Vancouver award, particularly in a field that has a reputation of being “very stuffy, male-oriented.”

“I think getting recognized as a business leader… is always good,” she said.
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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