A Tri-City musician suffered in silence. Now she wants to bring stories into the light

Laurie Williams/lwilliams@tricityherald.com

When Nina Powers was just a teen, she got what she thought was a chance of a lifetime when a renowned violin teacher took an interest in her.

It soon turned into a nightmare when he began first to touch her inappropriately, then kissed her and finally assaulted her.

As horrible as the man’s actions were, the fact that no one stepped in at the time to help her was even worse.

“For me going through the events were not as bad as being rejected by the community, being rejected by your people because they’re too awkward to face what is going on,” she told the Herald.

Now she is hoping to shed a light on the pain and suffering of people who survive sexual assault, domestic violence and sex trafficking. The Mid-Columbia Symphony violinist, high school teacher and music director helped organize Into the Light, a concert that combines choral and string music with the stories of heroes and survivors.

The event is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1609 W. 10th Ave. in Kennewick. The event, presented by Art Without Borders, is free to the public.

Powers got the idea for the concert during a trip to Germany to play with the Bavarian Philharmonic. She toured concentration camps used during the Holocaust.

“The cement barracks hid an evil the world has never before known and allowed to thrive. Today it is sacred ground, brought into the light. Bus lines bring tourists daily. People from all over the world come in a steady stream to pray and remember victims,” she said.

“The world has learned to look at this horrific time of history and embrace the survivors. I would expect this compassionate response to exist in every realm of human suffering and victimization. “

She is hoping to bring the stories of survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence into the light as with the hope the survivors will be accepted, believed and welcomed back into the community.

Stories of survivors

The event is dedicated to Brandy Ebanez, who was believed to have been killed by her longtime boyfriend Richard Jacobsen, according to court documents.

Powers met Ebanez when the Kennewick woman worked at Fieldstone Memory Care, she told the Herald. Powers’ mother was a patient there at the time.

Melrae Smith, a close friend of Ebanez, has said Jacobsen cut her off from friends and family, and forced her to become more isolated. Then sometime between Sept 19 and Sept 27, Ebanez was strangled and beaten. She was left naked in the Columbia River, wrapped in black plastic and weighted down with landscaping stones.

Her boyfriend was arrested in Multnomah County, and is awaiting extradition to face second-degree murder charges in Benton County.

Ebanez’s stories will be shared on the stage alongside the music from a string quartet during Friday’s event. Other speakers will include someone with Mirror Ministries, who will share information about sex trafficking in the Tri-Cities.

Powers’ story

Powers will share her own story as well. She said the concert represented a deep reconciliation for her, because she’s been frozen in a past that she was ashamed of.

“I had believed that as long as it remained hidden it would be OK, that I would be OK,” she told the Herald. “Healing doesn’t actually get very far until we can uncover the disease. As long as we pretend an infection is not there, it just spreads.”

When she was 11 to 17, she was part of a youth symphony and every summer she attended a three-week music camp. The program itself was great, but when she was 16, a Julliard-graduate and professional violinist was attending the event.

When he invited her to take private lessons, she was thrilled..

“He said, I had what it took to be a Julliard student and had the rare talent to make it as a solo violinist,” Powers recalled. “This was a 16-year-old’s dream come true. I began lessons with incredible enthusiasm. I had listened to his recordings and was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a brilliant and renowned artist.”

By the third lesson, he started touching her arms, and her waist. She thought it wasn’t a big deal.

Then he kissed her, and told her not to tell anyone. He promised that they would rise to the top of the music industry together.

“He said that our secret was sacred and that sex with him would allow me to play the Beethoven string quartets, which required ‘life experience,’” she said.

As he continued she told fellow students, but nothing happened. Then on the night of the final performance, he invited her to the the staff reception. She remembered being confused and wondering if they knew he was molesting her.

After the party he insisted on walking her back to her dormitory. He walked her to a concrete Army bunker and pushed her down.

“There was a struggle. There was force. He was very strong, but also drunk and I was fast,” she said. “I remember running across a field of dead grass. I ran as fast as I could, in my bare feet, then I saw a flood light coming from the camp barracks. I ran toward it.”

It turned weird at that point. She was taken to a room, still in shock. She was told to gather her things and told to wait for the next day.

When her parents arrived, they didn’t talk about what had happened. She couldn’t process what had happened. She wasn’t able to return to the symphony. She stopped eating and quit playing the violin.

It took her six years for her to return to music, but she still had a love-hate relationship with it.

“Somewhere deep inside myself saying yes to music feels like saying yes to the assault and so I fight and struggle with myself, almost ashamed that I love music so, so much. That I love Beethoven string quartet Opus 59 No. 1 so much!” she said.

Her attacker never suffered any consequences for his attack, and died from cancer years later. She hopes that sharing the story will encourage others not to hide or deny the truth, but look at it with courage.

“I hold out hope for a community that seeks to understand the truth about these issues, offering survivors a welcoming and compassionate response. So that this level of human suffering, all too often relegated to the shadows, can be brought into the light,” she said.