As news of fashion mogul Peter Nygard’s arrest became public, it gave Serena Hickes the courage to come forward for the first time instead of taking her secret to the grave.
Hickes was 21 when she worked at one of Nygard’s retail outlets in Winnipeg.
In 1993, she said she thought she was going to be used as a model. Instead, she alleges Nygard raped her at the store.
“This has been almost 30 years of absolute hiding everything from everyone I knew because I was so scared of him and because he uses people and other women to take you and to traffic you and to deliver you up to him,” Hickes said.
“I’m in shock. I’m angry. I thought this was something that I was going to take to my grave.”
Hickes said she feels it’s important for people to know she’s an Inuk woman, because of the treatment of Indigenous women in Canada.
Hickes filed a complaint with Winnipeg police a few weeks ago. She’s wondering what’s happening with her case, especially now hearing that Nygard is under arrest and waiting for extradition to the U.S. on charges of racketeering, sex trafficking and sexual assault.
Winnipeg police declined to say whether they are investigating Nygard, citing privacy concerns
Nygard, 79, was arrested on U.S. charges at a home in the Royalwood area of Winnipeg Monday night.
In an affidavit filed in court, the RCMP say they had been watching the home and Nygard for days starting on Dec. 10. They spotted him peering out a basement window and said he hadn’t left the home in the time they were watching it.
According to the affidavit, evidence gathered in the U.S. includes interviews with more than two dozen people.
“The investigation shows that Nygard’s criminal conduct has affected hundreds of victims,” the affidavit says. “The harm to his victims has included not only economic and psychological harm but also numerous instances of non-consensual sex, including non-consensual group sex, attempted forcible rapes and drugging of victims.”
The affidavit says from 1995 to the present day, Nygard and multiple co-conspirators “have used force, fraud and coercion to recruit and entice female victims, both adults and girls ages 14 to 17, to engage in paid sex with Nygard and on occasion, with Nygard’s business and personal associates.”
Multiple victims said he made false promises of modeling or fashion industry jobs that did not exist and then “sexually propositioned them as a condition of assistance.”
Hickes, now 49, says the female store manager always told her she was beautiful and looked great in Nygard clothing, and that she had told the fashion designer all about her.
“I was very petite, very young looking. And she constantly would tell me, like, ‘Hey, you look great in the clothes,'” said Hickes.
At the time of the rape, Hickes had just gotten married and given birth to her son. After the rape, she says she told her husband she met someone else, and left her family for fear she would be victimized again.
“I ran for my life because I just didn’t see a way out,” said Hickes.
Peter Nygard’s son Kai said he’s relieved to hear of his father’s arrest. He said he’s been working behind the scenes, waiting for this to happen.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled to find out that he’s going to have to face a trial and go through the judicial process and not be able to just take off and with a pot of money offshore somewhere,” Kai Nygard said in an interview.
He said it’s been difficult for him to hear all the accusations against his father.
“After all the evidence that I’ve heard and it’s been absolutely heartbreaking because I was such I was really a loving, loyal son for so long,” he said.
“I take no pleasure out of taking these actions against my own father, it’s been absolutely devastating to me personally to have to go through this. It hurts me to have my own father reveal this other person that is a monster. The emotion that overrides that pain.”
Police say Nygard a ‘flight risk’
The affidavit says “Nygard presents a serious flight risk,” he “continues to possess substantial funds” and he “has staff or assistants available to him to assist in making arrangements to flee.”
As recently as April 2020, the affidavit said, “Nygard was considering travel to Malta or Bermuda” and that he was considering the “logistics of travelling under an alias.”
RCMP say they have information “from another agency that Nygard takes a lot of medications, is an old man who isn’t well and can barely lift his arms above his head.”
That description is in stark contrast to the image of Nygard seen on posters at his commercial properties and the Winnipeg airport.
Nygard has been liquidating some assets recently and using company employees to “extract cash for his use,” according to the affidavit.
Land title documents show the million-dollar Winnipeg home where Nygard was arrested was purchased by a numbered company in September.
Greg Fenske, a former Nygard executive, is listed as director on company documents, and had registered the numbered company in April. Its business is described as providing “administrative services.”
The FBI says Nygard used his companies to pay for victim recruitment, travel expenses, plastic surgery, abortions and medical treatments.
The FBI also says he used corporate employees and funds to “quash negative publicity” and “to engage in illegal witness tampering.”
The court documents say Nygard victimized women at properties in Winnipeg, Toronto and Falcon Lake.
The documents also say Nygard used dinners, poker games and “pamper parties” as tools to identify new potential victims.
Nygard regularly patronized sex and swing clubs and repeatedly forced and coerced “girlfriends” and “assistants” to engage in non-consensual group sexual activity, according to the RCMP affidavit in court documents.
The affidavit says there is email correspondence with Nygard employees about pamper parties and other recruitment events, “directing employees as to physical requirements for female invitees” and “ratings” of guests.
The emails also said preparations included “ensuring that there was sufficient sexual lubricant and cash on hand for Nygard.”
Nygard has maintained his innocence and denies the allegations against him. Through his lawyer, Nygard says they are all lies, made up to destroy his reputation.
Toronto therapist Shannon Moroney has been counselling some of Nygard’s accusers.
“They’ve shown an enormous amount of bravery to be able to come forward when you know, you absolutely know, that there was a very high chance that you will not be believed,” said Moroney.
She said news of the arrest is also leaving victims sad and confused.
“And then it’s also this enormous sadness and even guilt that so many other women and girls have been hurt. And lots of people think, ‘If only I’d come forward sooner, maybe I could have stopped this.'”
She says some of the women had reported Nygard to police over the years, but nothing was done about it.
“Why didn’t Canada do something long before?” asked Moroney.