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What it's like
to report a
In total, 36 people agreed to share their stories publicly. Of those...
- 8 had a positive experience reporting to police
- 11 said they were not updated about the investigation
- 12 felt blamed or shamed during the police interview
- 25 had their allegation dismissed before going to court
A friend convinced Alicia to go to authorities.
“I wasn’t going to report to police because there was so much shame and embarrassment,” she says. “With the extent of the rape that happened – it was very traumatic. There are lots of awful details. My friend said to me: He shouldn’t be able to get away with this. She said I deserved better.”
A couple of days after it happened, Alicia, who was 18 at the time, went to the hospital. By then, she had showered, limiting the amount of physical evidence that a forensic nurse could recover, but she says they photographed bruises on her wrist, rib and leg.
Alicia volunteered to the Hamilton police that she ended her relationship with her boyfriend because she had an anxiety disorder which she felt he was exacerbating. After the break-up, when she went to pick up her things at his apartment, he raped her, she says.
“I said no. I was held down,” Alicia says she told the police.
Her bracelet was broken in the struggle. Alicia says she told police where to find the jewellery fragments on the floor.
As the interview progressed, Alicia began to feel like the investigator didn’t believe her. “I felt like he was questioning my mental health a lot more than the actual assault,” she says.
How long had she been diagnosed with anxiety? Did she have anxiety attacks? What was wrong with the relationship? Was the boyfriend abusive? Or was she just overwhelmed in the relationship because of her mental illness?
To Alicia it felt like the officer was trying to suggest that maybe the sex was consensual, but because of her anxiety, she was retroactively confused.
About three weeks after that initial interview, the officer phoned Alicia with an update.
“He said that the charge couldn’t stick. That it was ‘he said, she said,’” Alicia remembers. “[The officer said] he was sorry he couldn’t continue it further. And I just remember feeling two feet tall.”
Hamilton police have refused to comment on any aspect of this case, including the sex assault kit findings, broken jewellery or whether the file had been closed. A spokesperson said: “As I’m sure you can appreciate, with investigations of this nature, confidentiality and ensuring we, as a service, continue to provide a victim-centred approach is our priority. The Hamilton Police Service continues to work within a consistent framework for all sexual assault investigations and it is for these reasons I am unable to assist you with the release of any information as it relates to your inquiry.”
A.M. had no intention of going to the police about what happened. The social worker was the one who phoned.
When she was 14, A.M. says, three boys from school raped her at a party. Life was already hard. She was bipolar and her stepfather was abusive.
After the attack, A.M. ran away from her rural Ontario home to Toronto. At her age, A.M. was not legally allowed to be on her own, but she was able to sleep at shelters using fake identification that said she was 16.
Three months after arriving in the city, she noticed she was bleeding heavily.
A.M. went to a hospital and was told it was a miscarriage. Alarmed by her age, a social worker contacted Toronto police. Two officers met A.M. at the hospital, and then a third came later, she says.
“They wanted to know who the father was and I told them I didn’t know. And they asked me who the possibilities were and I said ‘This is what’s been happening and this is why I can’t go home and please don’t send me,’” she remembers telling them.
The officers questioned her about her mental illness and what she was doing at a party, given her age.
“They really wanted to know if I was drunk or doing drugs [that night at the party],” she says. “I remember the police officers didn’t believe me that I wasn’t drunk. They said, ‘Oh, come on, you have to have had something.’ No. I don’t drink.”
A.M. says she felt like they didn’t believe that she was raped.
At the end of the interview, the police said they would be in touch. But she didn’t hear anything ever again. Later that year, A.M. reached out to the social worker to see if she could get a copy of the police report, she says.
That’s when she learned there wasn’t one.
“I don’t even know if they interviewed the guys or if they decided it wasn’t their jurisdiction.”
(A.M. is now 29. The Globe can confirm she has received counselling with a sexual assault centre. Because no charges were ever filed and because the case is more than 15 years old and involved minors, a spokesperson with the Toronto Police said they were unable to comment on her story.)
Arlene Nieviadomy wanted to go home with the handsome man from the bar that night in October 2015. He was charming, she was newly single and feeling tipsy after three glasses of wine. When he told her he was a police officer, “that did it for me,” she recalls. “I don’t know any woman that isn’t a sucker for a hero.”
But once they were at his place, she found the encounter wasn’t going the way she envisioned. She said she was sorry, but she wanted to go home.
What happened next became the subject of a months-long investigation by the Saskatoon Police Service.
Arlene says that when she tried to leave, he became angry. He told her he wasn’t finished. He grabbed her and wrapped his hands around her neck until she nearly passed out. Then he raped her, she says.
When it was over, Arlene says he reminded her that his friends were police officers – which she understood to be a threat that she had better not tell anyone about what happened. She left his place and went straight home.
“I didn’t go to the doctor because I felt I deserved it: I got drunk and put myself in that position,” she says.
It was months before a friend finally convinced her that she wasn’t to blame.
Arlene reported the sexual assault to Prince Albert police – where the man worked – in March 2016. By that time, the bruises that had checkered her neck and torso were long gone, she says.
After an initial interview with two investigators – an interview that was conducted on the outskirts of town and which Arlene described as “compassionate” – the case was passed on to a detective with the Saskatoon Police Service, because of the “conflict of interest,” she was told.
Arlene says she had a positive experience with the Saskatoon officers. They were the ones who put her in contact with a sexual assault counsellor. When the detectives arrived for their first meeting, they weren’t in uniform, which she appreciated. Also, the lead officer was a woman.
Arlene says she felt she was taken seriously and that the investigation was thorough, although the detectives were upfront that it was a difficult case: “Because I didn’t go to the doctor [right away]… it has now become a ‘he said, she said.’ ”
The detectives also interviewed Arlene’s mother – who saw the bruises after the incident – and witnesses who were at the bar the night in question. (The Globe spoke with Arlene’s mother, who confirmed that her daughter was limping the morning after the alleged rape and that she had bruises under her arm and around her ribs.)
After several months, Arlene was called into a meeting with the Crown attorney assigned to her case, William Burge.
Mr. Burge told Arlene that the case wasn’t strong enough to take to court.
“It was reviewed by three senior prosecutors in the head office of public prosecutions and it was reviewed on two separate occasions,” Mr. Burge told the Globe. “The determination was that there was not a reasonable likiliehood of conviction. And that’s the test that we apply in every case.”
The suspect officers’ name was never made public. The Globe will not name the officer because he was not charged. Both the Prince Albert and Saskatoon police forces declined to release any details about their investigations, although a spokesperson with the Prince Albert service confirmed that at the time of the alleged sexual assault, the suspect was on “administrative leave” from his job as a police officer. The service refused to release the officer’s disciplinary record or the reason for his leave. (The Globe did file a freedom of information request for this information, but, at the time, Saskatchewan services were not covered by access legislation.)
Arlene said while she doesn’t blame the investigating officers, she has no faith in the justice system.
“There’s a rapist that gets to be a police officer. There are zero consequences. There’s no recourse for me to be able to go to court and let a judge and jury decide,” she says. “Let me take a polygraph test. Bring it on.”
Carrying a basket of freshly laundered clothing, A.S. was waiting for the elevator in the basement of her Ottawa apartment building, when a bearded man wearing only boxer shorts, a red jacket and some slippers appeared from around the corner.
“It’s very slow,” he commented. She nodded.
When the doors opened, he followed her inside. She hit level 6. He hit level 7. As the elevator neared her floor, she felt the man move towards her.
“I felt something hard touch the back of my hand. I look down to see that he had pulled his penis out and it was hard,” says A.S., who was 21 years old at the time.
“Oops,” he said, smirking at her.
In shock, A.S. ran to her apartment and washed her hand over and over again.
This was November, 2012. At first, she wasn’t sure whether she should bother phoning police. But then she remembered that this man likely lived in the building.
“I just felt this impending thing could happen again to another girl and this man could take it to the next level.”
An investigator with the Ottawa Police Service met with A.S. and took a statement. After one quick follow-up to inquire if she wanted to press charges – she did – A.S. says she didn’t hear anything for months.
Finally, someone phoned to let her know that the original detective had retired. The case had been handed off. A.S. says the new officer told her that video surveillance revealed the suspect was a resident of the building, yet, despite knowing who he was, the previous team never actually knocked on his door to question him. When the new investigators tried to contact the man, they learned he had had moved, likely out of province, A.S. says she was told.
The officer asked if A.S. wanted them to do anything else.
“Everyone knew who this person was. It wasn’t that difficult to find him. They had my statement. They knew what floor he was on. They had the video. They could literally go knock on his door,” A.S. says. “I felt defeat. Even though I wasn’t raped or had anything necessarily ‘severe,’ happen, I think action should have be taken.”
A.S. says she was told the incident would go on the man’s record and if anything else happened in the future, he would likely be arrested right away.
An Ottawa Police spokesperson confirmed that the sex crimes unit investigated this case and closed it without charges because “the suspect is no longer in this area. They don’t know where he is.”
Ava wiped the tears from the side of her face and took a big breath.
“Sorry,” she told the detective. “I’m fine.”
This was 12:38 p.m. on October 16, 2010. Ava was sitting in the corner of a small interview room at the London Police Service.
“Just go through it and tell me in your own words what happened,” Detective Paul Gambriel told her.
Ava, an 18-year-old student at Western University, told the detective she and her friends had tickets to a keg party near campus the night before. She was already pretty drunk by the time they arrived around 10:30 p.m. and things only became more fuzzy as the night wore on.
The last clear memory she has is of watching a beer pong drinking game outside with her friends and then heading downstairs to use the washroom. The next thing she knew, she was making out with a stranger. That part was consensual, she told the detective. But what happened next was not.
“I don’t remember much, but I remember being on the ground. He was over top of me. My clothes were off. I kept saying, ‘You’re hurting me. Stop. You’re hurting me.’ He said something like ‘I don’t wanna hurt you, baby,’” Ava said.
The man ignored her.
Then a group of four or five guys with camera phones started taking pictures. Ava’s voice caught as she arrived at this part in the story. She says the man on top of her ran off.
Two women from the party found Ava sobbing, she said.
It took Ava about eight minutes to run through a synopsis of the night. Det. Gambriel spent the rest of the interview questioning her about how it was that she was able to remember some parts of the night, but not others. He never returned to actual alleged rape itself.
“I’ve been doing this, Ava, for 22 years,” Det. Gambriel said. “Whether people are intoxicated, or whether it’s drugs, or whether it’s a combination of both, it’s not a sudden loss of memory and then a sudden regaining of the memory. It’s a gradual and a gradual. So I don’t know how you can block out one specific aspect of the night but remember the rest.”
In fact, the detective is wrong, said Lori Haskell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the neurobiology of trauma and sexual assault. Ava’s account of having patchy memories of the night is consistent with both how trauma can impact memory and the effects of alcohol.
The interview, which was only 35 minutes in total, raised other troubling issues. The officer made a point of telling Ava that police found her clothing and it “wasn’t torn or anything,” which Ava took as a suggestion she did not fight back (there is no resistance requirement in law). The detective told Ava that her underwear had “discharge” in it and asked her to comment. She took this to be a question about whether she had somehow biologically consented. Det. Gambriel repeatedly asked Ava if the real issue was that she didn’t want photos taken.
“Maybe the sex was consensual and it wasn’t until everybody shows up and interrupts and has these cameras out that now it’s become a significant issue for you,” he told her.
Ava said that what bothered her was the fact that people weren’t helping: “It worries me that people would see a situation like that, where I was like, ‘No, you’re hurting me,’ and would take pictures … that’s not a normal thing to do.”
Ava had gone into the interview wanting the man arrested and charged. By the time she left, she wanted nothing to do with the police.
“The interview was another traumatic event for me. It gutted me. I felt so violated. I think one of the first things I said to my dad was, ‘I don’t want to talk to them again,’” Ava told The Globe. “Going into it, I felt like I trusted the police. I had no reason not to trust the process.”
Four weeks later, the case was dismissed as an unfounded allegation, meaning the detective did not believe Ava was a victim of a crime.
Ava, who is now a law student at a major Canadian university, also volunteers at a rape crisis centre in her city.
She first told her story to a reporter over the phone as she was sitting on a GO train heading to her parents’ home. At the end of the call, a woman walked up to Ava and handed her a note.
The letter, which Ava kept, read: “I listened to your story briefly but found myself getting SO angry and feeling sick to my stomach. I’m so sorry that you had to go through what you went through and when confronted w/ police, thinking there would be justice, pure ignorance. I’m angry. I’m upset that this is our fucking reality. I know too many others experience similar realities. I hope one day there are better ways to advocate for individuals like you, like me. I thank you for being brave and sharing your story – even if it’s 6 years later. Love Sadie”
After the Globe approached the London Police Service for comment, the case was reclassified as a “founded” allegation.
(The Globe reviewed a copy of the police file connected to Ava’s case, which included footage of the police interview.)
When the investigating officer arrived at B.B.’s home, the 32-year-old happened to be on the phone with the city for an unrelated matter. Somebody had dumped two old rusted air conditioners on her street and she wanted the municipality to clean them up. The officer thought this was a pertinent detail to include in his report about her sexual harassment allegation.
“I asked her if she felt that she was a community activist,” the officer wrote. “She replied that she did not consider herself as such but was concerned about her neighbourhood community.”
A day earlier, on Sept. 27, 2005, B.B. called police to report a suspicious incident involving a man who grabbed her in her backyard.
B.B. lives in a large Ontario city that offers a free tree-planting program. Around 9 a.m., a municipal employee showed up at her door to survey her property. She led him to the backyard and pointed out where she thought the tree might go.
Suddenly, B.B. says, the man wrapped one arm around her body from behind, pinning her arms to her sides, and then pressed himself tightly against her. Unable to move, B.B. says she noticed he was holding a small aerosol can and moving the nozzle towards her face.
“At that point I realized I was pretty much fucked,” B.B. recalls. She realized the man’s truck was parked a few steps away from where they were standing, she said. She imagined being thrown in the back, unconscious.
Terrified, B.B. says she began rambling about how much she enjoys trees and tried making small talk to show him she wasn’t afraid. The police report states she then “pitched forward, breaking his hold.” Without explanation, the man left, leaving B.B. feeling “uncomfortable and violated,” she told police.
At first, B.B. wasn’t sure what to make of what happened. It wasn’t exactly a sexual assault, although she worried it could easily have ended that way.
“My sense was this is a guy who has done this before and is going to do this again and the police need to know that this guy is out there,” she recalls thinking at the time. So B.B. phoned the local police department.
She was surprised how dismissive the investigating officer had been.
In their first conversation, the (now retired) investigator asked her: “‘How do I know that you aren’t making this up to try and get $10-million from the city?’ He very specifically said $10-million,” B.B. says.
(The police report confirms that officers asked her about whether she would sue the city.)
Later, B.B. says, he told her she likely misunderstood what the man was doing. “They said what I was doing wasn’t fair to [the employee] because he was going to retire in three years,” she said.
B.B. says she understands why women don’t report sexual assault to police. “Why even bother reporting something if they’re going to say shit like this? It was insulting after this happened to say that I was making this up to get $10-million. It was an old boys’ club kind of attitude.”
The police report states that B.B. “agreed [what happened] did not appear … to amount to a sexual assault and would not be best handled by the criminal courts.” B.B. told The Globe this is not entirely accurate. She absolutely did want the case to go forward, but she felt the investigation was “going nowhere.”
Police records viewed by the Globe show that the case was closed as an unfounded sexual harassment allegation. It is not clear if any investigative steps were taken beyond B.B.’s statement.
The investigator in charge of B.D.’s sexual assault allegation promised he would run the evidence by a Crown attorney to see if charges were warranted – but then he didn’t.
The officer claimed he had tried to call on multiple occasions – except the service’s phone logs showed he never dialled B.D.’s number during the times in question. Then he closed the case without telling her.
And after B.D. filed a complaint with Ontario’s police oversight body alleging that the officer had bungled her investigation and lied to her on multiple occasions, the Ottawa Police Service’s professional standards unit discovered that in the four months he worked on her case, he had written just 12 lines about it in his notebook. It was a “wholly inadequate” record, an investigative report stated.
The constable was ordered to face a disciplinary hearing on charges of insubordination, neglect of duty and deceit under the Police Act.
He retired just a day before the hearing in September, 2015, ending the proceedings.
“Not only did my perpetrator not have to go to court, but this police officer didn’t have to face an accountability process. I don’t have a sense of closure,” B.D. says.
B.D.’s dealings with the Ottawa Police Service date back to July 27, 2014, when she reported that she had been sexually assaulted by her ex-partner. The incidents were more than a year old, so she was warned her case would be lower on the priority list and it could take while for an investigator to get in touch.
On Sept. 3, B.D. received a call from the officer assigned to her file. He said he would be starting the investigation shortly. But by November, B.D. still hadn’t heard anything, so she phoned for an update.
“The detective was like, ‘Oh well, we closed your file… we tried to reach you multiple times and you didn’t pick up, so I closed your file,’” B.D. remembers him saying. “I said ‘I don’t think you did. I have a cellphone. I have call display. I haven’t changed my phone number. You have my e-mail address. If you had called me, it would have showed up that I had a missed call.’”
After B.D. convinced him to re-open the case, she was brought to the station for a two-hour interview. The relationship with her ex had been abusive, she told the officer, and she had always been too scared to contact police. Now that they had separated, she wanted the incidents on record, in case it happened to someone else.
B.D. offered up diary entries written at the time about the alleged assaults and gave the officer a list of people with whom she had discussed the incidents, including her therapist. The officer told her he would run the evidence by the Crown attorney to see if there was enough to lay a charge.
B.D. says she felt hopeful. But then, once more, she was left waiting.
At the end of January, 2015, B.D. phoned the constable back.
“The last time we spoke, I said your case was closed,” B.D. says the officer told her.
She felt defeated.
“Did you tell [my ex-partner] you have closed the case?” she asked. Yes, he replied.
“He told him, but not me,” B.D. said.
A few months later, B.D. filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. The OIPRD passed the case back to the Ottawa Police Service’s professional standards unit.
Internal investigators reviewed cellphone and land-line logs and found no evidence that the officer had called B.D. as he had claimed. “The only logical conclusion is that no attempts to contact the complainant were made,” states a report on the investigation. They also determined that the officer never contacted the Crown attorney, as he had promised to, and that the notes he took did not include any record of trying to reach B.D., the suspect, lawyers or witnesses, nor did they include a timeline of events, or any of the names, birthdays or phone numbers of the individuals involved in the case.
“In fact, in the four pages of investigative notes provided, only 12 lines are dedicated to this investigation,” the report states.
In July, 2015, the internal investigation concluded that there was sufficient evidence that the officer had committed insubordination, neglect of duty and deceit under the Police Act. Just before the hearing in September, B.D. was told the officer had retired, ending the case.
“I’m left really upset that that hearing never happened. It wasn’t even about him being charged, I just really wanted to hear why he did what did,” B.D. says.
B.D. says she always knew it would be unlikely that her ex-partner would face charges. The case was old, there were no witnesses and she didn’t have any physical proof. For her, the lack of an arrest is not what made the process so painful.
“My complaint is more that the police didn’t do their job than the fact that they didn’t lay charges,” she says.
The Ottawa Police Service declined to comment on the case, but police Chief Charles Bordeleau told Metro news in November, 2015, “There is a level of frustration on my part that I cannot bring that member to account for his or her actions … we found that there was some misconduct. For me not to be able to conclude that and leave that pending is frustrating for me.”
In August, 1994, B.W. was visiting a small Alberta town about two and a half hours outside of Calgary when her back began bothering her.
She made an appointment with a local chiropractor. During the treatment, B.W. says, the man touched her breasts in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, but she convinced herself she was being paranoid. At the end of the appointment, he told her that she would need to come back the next day. She did.
“On the second visit, that’s when it was a clear assault,” she says.
B.W., who was 23 at the time, went home and told her dad and stepmother about what had happened. Her parents contacted the Alberta College of Chiropractors the next day.
After B.W. returned to her home in British Columbia, an investigations company – not the police – got in touch about the assault. The Globe has viewed a letter from an Alberta-based firm, apparently hired by the College of Chiropractors of Alberta.
“You are to be commended for your courage to stand up for what you believe to be right. In bringing a matter of this nature to the attention of those responsible for the oversight of this profession is a responsible act on your part,” the letter, dated Sept. 4, 1994, read.
B.W. says the investigators “were really good to me through the whole process,” although she said answering questions about her bra colour and the length of the shorts she had been wearing was “brutal.”
In April, 1995, the case ended up in an Alberta court. The chiropractor was charged with sexual assault in connection to the incident. She drove out from British Columbia for the trial. The man’s family was there, she recalls, including a young boy who looked to be the same age as her own son. A court-appointed lawyer – likely the Crown – met her before the hearing.
“I just remember him saying that [the defence] has asked to reduce the charge down to assault. I didn’t want to. But I was confused. I was crying. I was scared. I do remember – he said I would have to get up on the stand. I kept thinking about how I was going to have to be cross-examined [in front of] that kid, who was the same age as my son,” she says.
B.W. agreed to the plea deal. The Globe was unable to pull the full court file, because the chiropractor was ultimately given a pardon. The local RCMP detachment has “purged” its files from the 1990s, so there is no record of whether law enforcement was ever involved in the investigation. A sergeant in the detachment said sometimes with “insurance cases” an outside investigative firm might be involved and hand the police a file, but he couldn’t imagine that happening with a sex-assault case. Nevertheless, B.W. has no recollection of dealing with a police officer.
A spokesperson with the College said that they do hire outside investigative firms to handle disciplinary cases.
In July, 1995, the chiropractor was disciplined by the College of Chiropractors of Alberta. A document shows he was banned from treating “breast or pelvic areas” and female patients were to be “appropriately gowned.” He was also ordered to “undergo psychological/psychiatric counselling” and pay more than $18,000 in fines. Finally, the man was suspended for six months.
The chiropractor’s firm appears to still be open today.
Calls to the office were not returned.
When police told Candice Wright that they would be closing her case without any charges, they offered one point of consolation.
“They did say that if he did it again, then I could be called to testify against him, because it will still be on his record,” she says. “How do you tell a victim of sexual assault that your case doesn’t matter, but if he does it again, then now your case matters?”
Candice originally reported her sexual assault to police eight years ago, when she was 22.
In November, 2008, Candice, her sister and a friend went out to a Red Deer nightclub. They each ordered a large mixed drink, then grabbed a seat in a booth near the dance floor. Not long after sitting down, a few guys they had never met joined their table.
Candice says that all of a sudden she felt completely intoxicated, despite having had only one drink. She decided to do a line of cocaine to “sober up” and remembers telling her friend she was heading to the van outside, where her drugs were hidden. As she crossed the dance floor, Candice says she bumped into one of the guys from the table.
“He said ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going outside to do a rip. You wanna come?’”
Aside from a brief flash of being in the back of her van and of her head hitting something over and over, that exchange on the dance floor is Candice’s last clear memory of the night. She came to in the front seat of her van, totally naked and alone, about four hours later. She felt that she had been penetrated.
“If this was a consensual act of sex… why would someone leave me naked in the car?” she asks now. “I had one drink that night and felt totally loaded. I believe I was drugged.”
Video surveillance collected by the RCMP showed Candice and the man driving away from the bar together, she learned at the time.
Candice says doesn’t remember the timeline of the police investigation very well. She knows that after she woke up in her van, she went home. She knows that she told her mother the next day that she thought she had been raped. And she knows that she went to the hospital and a sexual assault examination kit was done. Someone at the hospital contacted police, she says.
But from there, Candice thinks it was weeks, perhaps months, before the RCMP had her in for a videotaped interview with investigators. Her file kept getting passed around between detectives, she recalls.
“I had to relive the night over and over and over again. Because I’d have to tell my story to one police officer and then another police officer would take the case, so I’d have to tell my story to another,” she says.
The officers confiscated her clothing, fingerprinted her van, and collected surveillance from the scene, but they had no suspect. It was actually Candice’s sister who found the man months later after spotting him at a local drugstore, Candice says.
Candice says a detective phoned her shortly after he was apprehended. “They said, ‘He pled consensual. So there’s nothing we can do.’”
That’s when she was told that her allegation would show up on the man’s file, so if he was ever implicated again, she could testify in that case.
One year after reporting sexual assault, the local RCMP detachment phoned to say she could come in and pick up her confiscated clothing. It was no longer needed as evidence.
“That was my closure,” she said. “I don’t think it was a case of believing or not believing. It was: ‘There’s not enough evidence.’ [The officer] kept saying that.”
A Red Deer RCMP spokesperson confirmed the case was complete. “The Crown reviewed [the file] and didn’t feel it was prosecutable.”
About five years ago, Christina Pozsonyi was in Toronto visiting her then-boyfriend.
They were hanging out with his friends at an apartment in the east end and the guys were talking about going out to a club. But Christina wanted to stay in – she felt it was too late and her boyfriend had already enough to drink. This led to a fight, and Christina decided to take a walk to cool off. But when she returned to the building, her boyfriend refused to let her inside.
Christina lived in St. Catharines and didn’t know Toronto very well. It was well after midnight and she was in a rougher part of town. She estimates she waited outside for more than an hour trying to figure out what to do. Finally, a nice-seeming man pulled up and offered to take her to the bus station.
“I know. Accepting a ride,” she says now.
They drove for a few minutes and then the man pulled over. Christina says he began to grope her. She was terrified.
“I didn’t know if he had a weapon,” she says.
She says she eventually convinced him to stop, telling him she wasn’t interested. He dropped her off at the bus terminal and she headed home, shaken. The next day, worried that the driver might do worse to someone else, Christina decided to report the incident.
A male officer showed up at her house to take an initial statement. He was calm and supportive and not at all accusatory. But the female officer who took over was a nightmare, she says.
Christina was asked to come to Toronto for a videotaped statement. She says the officer asked her to go through the story, which she did, but then the woman got up and turned off the camera.
“She said she caught me in a lie because on Facebook I lied to a friend about what happened … The lie that I told him was that a police officer showed up and took me to the terminal,” she says. “So she started accusing me of making up the entire event … she said there’s a lot of women who, if they have a fight with their boyfriend, will lie about a sexual assault or a rape that took place to make him feel bad. I’m like, okay, that’s not the case here.”
(Christina had embellished the story in a private message to one of her boyfriend’s friends by adding that after the man groped her, a police officer picked her up and drove her to the bus station. She says she added the detail because she wanted to drive home the point to her boyfriend – with whom she still wasn’t speaking – that he had put her in danger.)
The police officer found the Facebook message undermined her entire story.
“I was thinking, ‘This woman did not take me seriously.’” says Christina. “I didn’t want to go through with this. I felt victimized all over again. The other thought I had in my head was, ‘No wonder sexual assault victims don’t always come forward.’”
Christina says she received one follow-up call, telling her that the investigator had not had any luck finding a car that matched the description she gave. Christina is not sure if the case is open or closed.
A Toronto police spokesperson said there was no report on file connected to this complaint.
Have you ever reported a rape before?
Are you interested in threesomes?
Is it possible you mentioned something earlier in the night and he was confused?
Do you want him to end up in prison?
Do you want to ruin his life?
These are the questions that E. remembers from her interview with a Sûreté du Québec investigator.
The night of the assault, E. became extremely drunk. She was staying in a cabin in the woods with her boyfriend and one of his friends. Her boyfriend’s friend is the one who has been charged with the 2014 sexual assault. The details of what occurred are protected under a publication ban, but E recently spoke to the Globe about her experience reporting to police.
“I was met first with skepticism. Police were initially, ‘Well, you drank alcohol,’” she says. “Then [the officer] started asking me these questions: ‘Are you into threesomes? Did you ever talk about that with your boyfriend?… Is this the first time you reported a rape?’”
The detective asked if she could have said anything earlier in the evening that might have led the suspect to think she wanted to have sex with him later.
“He kept pushing me. ‘Do you want to ruin his life? Do you want him to end up in prison? What is your agenda?’” E. remembers the officer saying to her.
Despite E’s feelings about the lead investigator, police did end up arresting the boyfriend’s friend. In Quebec, the Crown, not the police, decide when to lay a charge and what goes to court]. The Crown attorney who reviewed E.’s file decided the allegation should go to court.
Because E’s case is before the courts and she has been dissuaded from discussing any details with the media, the Globe did not approach Sûreté du Québec for comment about the case. We have viewed court documents connected to the case.
A month after opening the investigation, the sergeant phoned Emilie R. with her verdict.
There would be no charges, the officer explained.
Security footage from Laurentian University’s student residence showed Emilie kissing one of the two suspects in the lobby earlier on in the night, both males told police Emilie had agreed to have sex with them and furthermore, the officer said, the men had a video of her agreeing to a threesome.
“Both m[ales] interviewed appeared to have gone the extra mile to try and obtain her consent,” the officer wrote in her notebook. “The investigation has revealed that she was an active participant in consensual sex… Discussion had over alcohol tolerance and her small stature.”
Emilie, who had been so drunk the night in question that she doesn’t remember long stretches of time, couldn’t believe she would have agreed to what happened – and that the two men had filmed her.
At the request of the Globe, she filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the footage. That’s when she was told: Actually, there was no video. Or at least, there wasn’t one in the file. Emilie says the sergeant then told her that the suspects had deleted the footage.
So had the officer in charge of investigating Emilie’s rape allegation actually seen the footage, but then not obtained a copy as evidence? Or had the sergeant simply taken the suspects’ word for it that a video existed? The Globe put these questions to the Greater Sudbury Police Service, and was told they would not be commenting.
Emilie was able to obtain a copy of the officer’s notes, which provide a rare look behind the curtain of a police investigation into sexual assault.
On October 31, 2014, Emilie made plans to meet some friends at a campus pub for Halloween. The then 19-year-old met up with one of her girlfriends for some pre-drinking – they had shots of Fireball and a bottle of wine – then left for the Laurentian campus student residence.
“By the time I got to the dorms, I was pretty inebriated,” she says.
While waiting for her friend to come sign her in to the residence building, one of the male suspects, whom Emilie had never met, approached her. The man introduced himself and put his arms around her. She remembers pushing him away playfully and later kissing him.
“Then everything starts to get hazy,” Emilie says. “One minute I’m with my friends and I was kind of blacking out, having little black-out parts, and the next minute I’m in a strange room with strange people and I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know what’s going on around me and I’m scared.”
Emilie realized she was in stranger’s dorm room, on his couch, naked, with two guys. One was penetrating her. Emilie says she asked him to stop. She said “no.” When he didn’t, she eventually went along with it, hoping it would end sooner. The sergeant wrote in her notes that Emilie said she felt like she was having an out-of-body experience. (This can be a sign of disassociation, which can accompany experiences of trauma, experts say.)
When the man finished, Emilie started to cry.
He asked her: “Are you crying?” the officer noted. Emilie was embarrassed and said no, but couldn’t stop. He asked her again, and again she denied it.
One of the men then led Emilie downstairs to her friend’s room, although she told the sergeant she has no memory of this.
At that point, a friend called Emilie a cab and she went home. (Emilie says the sergeant later told her that the second male had attempted to have sex with her, but could not sustain an erection. The sergeant also told Emilie that she had had sex with this male in a stairwell at some point in the night, although Emilie has no recollection of this.)
When she woke up the next morning, she says she felt sore and nauseous. She checked herself for bruises but didn’t see anything. She says she didn’t go to the hospital, because she was still struggling to make sense of the night before.
Emilie waited until January 6, 2015 – about two months later – to contact police.
“I wish I could get you a solid answer [about why I waited to report]. I’m still struggling with this: Is this is a legitimate assault? I don’t want to stir the pot. I was just playing it over and over… mentally processing how I feel and how I should feel and how it happened and why it happened,” she says.
The officer’s notes show that the sergeant contacted Emilie numerous times during the four-week investigation to update her on the progress. The sergeant interviewed the girls Emilie was with that night – one of whom alleged to the officer that Emilie had later bragged about having sex with the men – and obtained the residence’s security video footage from the university. The sergeant also spoke with the two suspects.
“I think the third visit was when [the sergeant] told me, straight up, ‘These guys don’t look like sexual predators – do you want me to close the case? There’s not a whole lot more you can do,’” Emilie recalls.
Before learning the supposed consent video was not in her file, Emilie asked the detective what was on the footage.
“She didn’t go into detail. She said it was me, in the video, obviously pretty drunk, giving my verbal consent to the sex, apparently,” she says. The officer’s notebook doesn’t include any detail about the contents of the video. “Given the amount of alcohol I had, I was not in any state to give rational, informed consent.”
(A person who is incapacitated from the effects of alcohol cannot agree to sexual activity. Although police, Crown attorneys and judges have struggled to define when that line is crossed.)
Staff Sgt. Marc Brunette declined to comment for this story.
“Given the nature of this investigation, I am not at liberty to share information … we share information with persons who have direct involvement in the case.”
Emilie’s allegation was closed as “unfounded,” meaning police do not believe she was sexually assaulted.
A Globe investigation has revealed that one out of every five sexual assault allegations made in Canada is closed in this way.
Heather Jordan Ross didn’t plan on involving the police.
The stand-up comedian initially struggled to reconcile what had happened with the image she had of her herself and her life. She says she spent a year purposefully not thinking about it. And then, in the spring of 2015, the man messaged her and asked to grab a coffee.
“I said ‘Okay, let’s totally go for a coffee some time soon.’ Then I was getting this knot in my stomach, putting him off. I had to think about why,” she says. “‘I don’t want to see you because you’re a rapist’ meant I was raped and that just sucked … It kind of flipped a switch.”
Heather became depressed, started drinking too much and, eventually, began to think about suicide. It was at that point that she sought the help of a therapist and, through those sessions, decided to pursue charges.
She imagined that reporting the crime would likely be a waste of time. Nearly two years had passed since the incident. Because Heather never went to the hospital, none of her injuries had been documented. Nevertheless, she decided that even if no one believed her, at least it would be on record.
In December, 2015, she phoned the Burnaby RCMP detachment. Up until that point, Heather had told only a handful of people the specifics of the evening she was allegedly raped. That quickly changed.
“I called the police and I got one number and they said ‘What happened to you?’… I relayed the whole story to them. And then they said, ‘Okay, we’ll pass you along,’” she recalls. “So I gave the details again … and then they transferred me.”
And then that person passed her off to someone else. Finally, Heather was put in touch with an investigator, and was once again made to recount one of the worst nights of her life.
“He was a very sweet officer. He took his time. He brought tissues in. He asked me all the details. [He said] ‘I’m going to ask you questions and I’m not accusing you of being false, I’m just trying to get as much detail as possible,’” she says.
Heather tried her best to remember everything that happened. She gave the officer some names of people who might have seen them together on the night in question, including the suspect’s brother, who had been in the next room at time of the alleged rape.
The officer phoned with an update shortly after. Heather says the suspect told police he didn’t remember anything from that night. And as for his brother, he hired a lawyer and declined to be interviewed.
“And that was the end,” Heather says.
In January, 2016, she says, she was told the case was being closed. The officer apologized that he couldn’t do more. She felt he was genuinely remorseful.
“I’m still very glad I reported because it made my assault real for me. It made it a physical thing that I was allowed to grieve,” she said. “The police were very, very kind. But I still have questions.”
What gnaws at Heather the most is the how the brother just refused to co-operate.
“Let’s say it was another crime. If you were at home and in the house somebody got murdered, and the police wanted to question you, and you refused, would the police leave it?” she said. “Because actually when I think back, I was screaming, ‘Stop hurting me,’ and maybe he heard something.”
Heather turned her experience into a critically acclaimed comedy show called
Rape Is Real and Everywhere. She toured the country last year.
An RCMP spokesperson said that they would not be commenting on the case for privacy reasons, but they would contact the victim to answer any outstanding questions.
Ten years ago, J. and her husband decided to take a trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They checked in at a resort north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. In the middle of the night, J. woke up to a man performing oral sex on her.
“I thought it was my husband,” she said. “I had no reason to suspect it was anyone but him. I was in a twilight sleep. I didn’t really wake up.”
But then she smelled cigarette smoke and realized something was wrong. That same moment, J. says the man wrapped a belt around her neck. She became frantic. It was then that her husband, who was sleeping in a separate bed, woke up and saw what was happening.
He tackled the intruder and pinned him to the ground while J. phoned 911.
After that, the three of them – J., her husband, and the intruder – waited for more than 20 minutes inside the hotel room for authorities to arrive.
J. said she was later told by one of the female officers that there had been a miscommunication and the call had come in as a domestic incident that wasn’t serious. When dispatch went to hand off the call, there was confusion about which RCMP detachment would respond. Since it didn’t seem urgent, the officers didn’t rush to make a decision, J. recalls being told.
Police took J. to the hotel office to give a statement that night in her pyjamas. Afterward, she was driven to the local hospital for a sex assault examination. The intruder was arrested on the scene. J. doesn’t remember much interaction with police after that.
She says she has since been diagnosed with PTSD and has gone through extensive therapy.
In April 2008, the man pled guilty to sexual assault. He was given a 12-month conditional sentence.
The officers led Jenna Stehelin downstairs to a room that looked like the kind you might see on TV where criminals are interrogated.
“It was a concrete cell. There was a table and chair and a steel door that locks,” she recalls. “As soon as I walked in, I said ‘No, no, no, I can’t do this.’”
The support worker who was accompanying Jenna suggested the RCMP officers take her statement in the room across the hall. It was set up with couches, a coffee table, a plant and a box of tissues. Why hadn’t they offered this place to begin with, Jenna wondered.
As she began to tell her story, she says she was confused by the investigator’s questions. It seemed like the officer conducting the interview was trying to put words in her mouth, she said.
“I felt like they were looking for crimes to charge him with, rather than hearing what was happening. ‘Did he sound threatening?’ They didn’t want my answer. They wanted a different answer that would go with the charges they wanted to charge him with,” Jenna says. “I felt I had made a huge mistake. I felt very overwhelmed.”
Jenna left that day without mentioning sexual assault, only physical abuse.
She said she would have left it at that, but her support worker was furious with what happened. The counsellor told Jenna that if she wanted to try reporting again, she knew of an RCMP officer who had a lot of experience dealing with domestic abuse and sexual assault cases.
“Otherwise I would never have made a report,” Jenna says. “That was the difference.”
On this second try, Jenna says the investigator was amazing.
“Her demeanour – she was calm. She was soothing. She asked, ‘Are you comfortable here? Do you need more heat?’ When she was talking to me she would ask me – it was the language she would use,” Jenna says.
Where Jenna expected to feel judgment, the officer would say “that reaction is normal.” When Jenna asked to update her statement, the officer offered to come to her home for the interview.
“She provided me with her cellphone. She answered it any time I called her… She kept up-to-date with information regarding the case.”
Throughout the experience, Jenna says the officer was clear that she couldn’t make any promises about the outcome, but that they would take the allegation seriously.
“She never said, ‘He’s going to be charged. We’re going to get him.’ She gave the impression that they believed me. It was like, ‘We’re going to do the best we can.’ It was, ‘I’m going to work my butt off for you.’”
Jenna’s ex-boyfriend was charged with two counts of sexual assault, two counts of assault, obstruction of justice and intimidation for allegedly “provok[ing] a state of fear in Jenna Stehelin,” court records show.
The Crown stayed the charges in February 2016, after Jenna withdrew from the process. She says she felt in danger.
Jenna has since reported her ex-boyfriend again, connected to other incidents.
Justice, a Toronto-area sex worker, says that the first time they experienced sexual assault was at the age of 15. (Justice identifies as intersex, meaning they were born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male, and prefers the “they” pronoun.)
The now 30-year-old had been working as an escort for a year or so when it happened. At the time, Justice still lived at home in the suburbs with their parents, who had no idea how the young teen was earning extra money. Justice would lie about going to a friend’s house and instead head to an area coffee shop to wait for clients that the young sex-worker had found in online chat rooms.
One night, a liaison went bad.
The man left Justice at the side of the road well outside of the city without any money. They felt unable to phone home for help, because then their lie about being at a friend’s home would be discovered. So when a cute-looking police officer from one of the large regional police forces pulled up beside the young teenager and offered to drive Justice back to Mississauga, they gratefully jumped in the car.
The officer gave Justice his e-mail after dropping them off, Justice says.
“He knew what I was doing,” Justice says. “We started messaging each other. He was just checking in on me.”
Then one day, perhaps a year after they first met, Justice says the officer texted to see if the young teen wanted to go for a drive.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was depressed,” Justice says. “I knew things were not going right. As much as I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is cute,’ I was scared.”
Justice says the two of them ended up in a quiet area in Oakville.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He made it pretty clear what was going to happen next… He was like, ‘For all the rides I’ve given you,’” Justice says.
Justice says the officer took explicit photos of the young teen during the incident, then asked what Justice’s Punjabi parents would think if the images were released. Justice took this to be a threat.
About 10 years later, Justice says that they were sexually assaulted by a client.
In that instance, police became involved through a third-party report. Almost immediately, it was apparent that the investigators did not believe the report, Justice says. The now adult sex-worker says it was obvious that all the officers could see when they looked at Justice was a mixed-race sex worker with some mental health issues.
By the time it was over, Justice says the detectives nearly laid a charge of mischief for filing a false report.
“Because the work you’re doing is criminalized, there’s sort of this feeling of ‘Unless you’re the good victim, you’re asking for this to happen. Why are you putting yourself in a risky situation that’s illegal?’” Justice says. “People don’t believe you. Police don’t believe you.”
(Justice is a name the sex-worker uses professionally.)
One night in November, 2015, K. stayed after school to bake cupcakes for the Gay Straight Alliance. Around 5:30 p.m., when the building was pretty much empty, a boy she knew from class cornered her in a locker bay.
K. doesn’t want to talk about the specifics of what happened next, but when it was over, the then 15-year-old ran to the office to find a teacher. The teacher was the one who phoned 911 around 6 p.m.
K.’s mother was also called. As she rushed to the school, which is located in a small Ontario community, she says she expected to see cruisers and an ambulance outside when she arrived. But there was nothing.
It took another hour for police to show up, both K. and her mother say. Once officers were on scene, K.’s mother asked if they should go to the hospital, which would have entailed K. getting a sexual assault kit examination, but she was told not to bother, because K. wasn’t alleging she had been raped. (The kit, which encompasses much more than a pelvic exam, requires nurses to document and photograph injuries everywhere on the body.)
That night, K.’s mother took a photo of the red blotches and scratches on her daughter’s neck. But when she offered to send a copy to the investigating officer, he told her it couldn’t be used, because “[K.] could have done that to herself” after the incident.
K. says police came to her home within a few days to take a full statement.
“He just kept asking me to repeat the story and I assume it was in case I made a mistake… ‘What exactly happened? How long? Had it happened before?’ [He asked] if I had said ‘no.’ If I tried walking away. Why I didn’t just leave?”
K. says she told the officer that had she been afraid. When it first began, she tried to leave and the male student threw her into a locker, she said.
“[The officer] asked me if I had previously flirted with him or if I’d sent him pictures of myself,” she says. “He asked what my previous relationship was with him, and if we didn’t have a relationship, if I ever talked to him or if I ever talked about doing things with him.”
No, they didn’t have a relationship, K. explained. Once he had asked her to send him photos of herself, but she declined. After that he started calling her a whore.
After evaluating all the evidence, K. says the investigator told her he wanted to downgrade the charge.
“He told me that he didn’t care about the sexual assault part. He only cared about the physical assault part, because it was easier to prove,” she remembers.
After that, both K. and her mother say that there wasn’t much communication from the officer. Until, one day, weeks later, he knocked on their door and said they wouldn’t be pressing any charges.
K. says she was told that when police interviewed the male student, he said was happened was consensual because K. had “smiled at him.”
In front of K.’s mother and father, the officer offered her a piece of advice before leaving: “He told me to get over it and get on with my life.”
K.’s mother remembered him saying that if the same boy was ever accused of sexually assaulting someone else, the allegation would be on his file.
Because K. and her family still live in the same small community, they requested the Globe not seek comment from the local police department, out of fear of retaliation. The Globe has confirmed K. has received counselling from her area’s sexual assault crisis centre.
K was sure that text message records would prove her case. And in the beginning, she says, the lead officer seemed to share that opinion.
As the Toronto police investigator scrolled through a conversation that K had with her alleged assailant the same day of the incident, she remembers the officer saying: “Wow, this is actually textbook sexual assault.”
But everything changed after police interviewed the suspect, who, like her, was a well-spoken and polite university student.
It was fall 2014. K was 18 and had just moved to the city to go to school. One afternoon, a friend whom she had briefly dated earlier in the semester asked if he could hang out at her place before a midterm.
K doesn’t want to talk about the specifics of what happened next, only that “I honestly think that God saved me because the alarm on his phone went off and he had to go to an exam. It was terrifying.”
As soon as he left her apartment, K, phoned a close friend. “I was freaking out,” she remembered. (The Globe interviewed this friend, who confirmed that K called him, “hyperventilating ” and crying. She told him she had been sexually assaulted by a guy from school. The friend says he was never contacted by the police, although K told investigators to phone him.) Around the time that K was speaking with her friend, the accused suspect texted to say he left his laptop and would come by to get it later.
“I feel very violated after everything that happened, I don’t want to speak or see you again. I’ll come down to give you your laptop but that’s it,” K texted him. “What you did was really… wrong.”
“What did I do,” he wrote back.
“There is no further explanation.”
“You seemed to be totally okay with what was happening,” he replied.
“I said no to you touching me like at least 15 times. You know I said no.”
“Are you kidding? You were like laughing every time you said that… I thought you were kidding. Like if you had said it seriously I would’ve stopped for sure.”
K says she was shocked he was denying what happened. She started to worry about seeing him around campus. That’s when she decided she had better phone police so it was on record somewhere.
In her initial interview with the lead investigator, she felt believed. But things changed as soon as he contacted the suspect, she says.
K was called in for a meeting with a Crown attorney and the investigating officer.
“They wanted to drop the charge to assault and see if I would accept that,” she says. “They actually asked me what I wanted out of this. I said, ‘I don’t want anyone to go to jail or, like, I don’t want his life to be ruined, but I feel unsafe and he did something totally un-okay. And he didn’t apologize. And I do believe he deserves to be charged.’”
The investigator told her that the accused was “bawling his eyes out” at the police station. She felt like the officer was trying to make her feel bad.
K says the Crown told her that “just so you know, if you go through with the trial and he’s found not guilty, it’s written on your record… so if you get sexually assaulted again, you’re not taken as seriously because it’s previously stated on your record that the man was found not guilty.”
After this meeting, K heard nothing for months. The investigating officer wouldn’t return her calls, she said. Finally, in the summer of 2015, the officer answered his desk phone. He promised to get back to her with an update. But then he didn’t.
In the fall, K phoned back: “Oh, I’m so sorry that no one talked to you,” she remembers the officer saying. “Your case has actually been dropped and your restraining order was dropped.”
K filed a complaint with the Ministry of the Attorney General in January 2016. A response letter confirmed that in July 2015, the accused settled the case with a peace bond. He agreed to counselling sessions for sexually inappropriate behaviour.
“It is regrettable that ultimately you did not have notification of the date that the resolution was going to take place,” the response letter reads.
The alleged that a victim service worker had attempted to contact her.
“Obviously she didn’t call me,” K says.
The Globe reached out to the Toronto Police service for a response. A spokesperson said that while the service can’t comment on specific cases and what discussions there may have been between victims and investigators, “The Toronto Police Service has, over the last year, made significant improvements to the ways in which investigators work with sexual assault victims. It has put in place a strict regime to ensure investigative requirements are rigorously met, that sexual assault victims are kept informed throughout the process, and that there is meaningful oversight up to, and including, the Unit Commander.”
Kelly told the Ottawa Police Service investigator that she told the man to “stop,” that she “didn’t want to do this,” that he ignored her, that he ripped her dress, that it hurt, and that afterward, when she went to the bathroom, she realized she was bleeding.
After listening to her version of events, the officer told Kelly he had “concerns” with her statement, police records show.
Why didn’t she call someone for help? Other people were in the house at the time. Why did she stay in the same room with the man who supposedly raped her after it happened?
Kelly explained that she was “terrified that if I [told] someone that he would get mad.”
Four months later, on April 8, 2011, the officer closed the case without charges and classified the file as a “non-criminal” allegation. On the police report, the offence is listed as: “Information (General),” not sexual assault.
This was a fact Kelly only learned when she asked for a copy of the report more than a year later so she could apply for counselling funding through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, an Ontario agency that has the ability to award financial compensation to victims of crime.
“I didn’t even know it had been closed,” she said.
Nearly six years later, Kelly says she is still coping with both the trauma of the sexual assault – and the way she was treated when she reported it.
It all began on November 26, 2010, the night of her office Christmas party at an Ottawa hotel. The then 31-year-old nurse made arrangements to sleep over at the home of one of her girlfriends from work.
That night, Kelly was introduced to a male friend of a friend. He came with a group of guys not connected to the hospital. When she was dancing with her co-workers, the man came up to her and put his hand on her behind. She says she politely pushed him away and continued to dance. Later, he tried to kiss her, but she again brushed him off. They made small talk after that. She didn’t think much of it.
As the night wore on, the party moved to another bar. The man suggested everyone head back to his place for more drinks. Kelly says she was tired and not feeling well, but her friend wanted to go. Kelly agreed, she says, because she didn’t want to leave her friend alone and she had been planning to sleep at the woman’s house.
Police records show that the detective found this suspicious. “At the dance he touched your butt. He kissed you and you didn’t like that, but you still go to the bar, still go to his place?” the investigator said.
Once at the man’s home, Kelly lay down on the couch while her friend disappeared to some other part of the house.
“Then [he] came on to the [couch] and pulled me on top of him, grabbed my face and kissed me,” records show she told the officer. “I told him that I don’t want to kiss him… he said let’s go to the bedroom. I said I’m not having sex with you, all I want to do is go to bed, go to sleep. He said you can do this in the bedroom. I said okay.”
Kelly says she felt okay about going to the man’s room, because there were still lots of people in the house, but once she was there, he raped her, she said. “I told him that I [d]on’t want to do this,” she told the police. She was scared and it hurt. And one point, when it became clear he was not going to stop, she told the officer she decided to just go along with it to “get it over with.”
Afterward, Kelly says he got up and left. She told the officer she curled up in a ball in the bed.
“I didn’t want to leave the room because I didn’t know where he was,” she told police. He came back to the room and she pretended to be asleep. When she heard him snoring, she ran to the bathroom to vomit. That’s when she noticed she was bleeding. Kelly went back to bed and listened for her friend. When she heard the woman in the hallway, Kelly ran to meet her and they left.
“After the incident in the bedroom, do you leave the bedroom?…Why didn’t you call the police or someone else?” the detective asked.
Kelly said she didn’t want to leave her friend and take a taxi home alone.
It “concerns me that you went back to bed with him,” the detective told Kelly.
In the police report, the officer noted that Kelly laughed while describing the suspect. (Trauma experts and Crown attorneys interviewed by the Globe say laughter is not an uncommon nervous reaction.)
Kelly says it took her several days to decide what to do. She knew she should go to the hospital for a sexual assault examination kit, but she told police that, since she knew many of the nurses, she decided not to. Eight days after the fact, the same day she contacted police, Kelly had a kit performed, which documented an abrasion on her chest.
On April 8, 2011, the case was closed. “This general occurrence is being cleared as non-criminal as it has no evidence or allegation of a criminal offence.”
A non-criminal classification is different than an unfounded case. Police use an unfounded closure code when they believe an allegation is baseless – for example, a person claims that they were raped, but an investigation determines that they were not raped. A Globe investigation has revealed that Canadian police services are classifying one out of every five sexual assault allegations as unfounded, a rate that is twice as high as the unfounded rate for regular, physical assault.
Ottawa police did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Kerra was 14 and new to the neighbourhood when a friend invited her to a house party. She had never tried drinking before and it wasn’t long before she was intoxicated to the point of illness. With the party still going on, Kerra decided to go to sleep in her friend’s room. She woke up hours later to a strange boy climbing into bed with her. He began groping her and trying to kiss her. She asked him to stop. After about 15 minutes, he left, she said.
“I could hear him outside with other friends and they were laughing and they were kind of playing this game of ‘who could come in and get with me,’” she says. Kerra fell back asleep. At 5 a.m. she woke up to someone cuddling her. At first, she thought it was a female friend of hers, but then she heard a male voice.
He had a lisp. The room was dark, but she could still see him. He had curly hair and a red t-shirt. This was a second boy and he also ignored her protests.
He put his hands down her pants and laughed, Kerra says.
“I told him I was tired and going to sleep. I didn’t shout for help. I felt enclosed. I was scared to ask for help,” she says, adding she was still feeling the effects of the alcohol. “I just got to the point where I stopped even telling him to stop. He wasn’t listening. So I stopped saying anything.”
That boy, too, eventually quit what he was doing and left. Shortly after, Kerra pulled herself out of bed and ran home, which was nearby. She collapsed in her mother’s arms. And then the two of them went straight to the RCMP, Kerra’s mother told The Globe.
During the interview, Kerra remembers the female officer asked several times what she was wearing – the answer was a tank top and jeans – and whether “that would make them want to touch you.” She remembers being asked if she had suggested to the boys earlier in the night that she might want to hook up later. The officer asked what she had been drinking, if she’d had any drugs, why she didn’t call out for help.
A few days after the party, on March 16, 2010, one of the boys sent her a Facebook message apologizing and asking her to drop the charges. (The Globe will not name him. The following is verbatim from the message.)
“regards to Friday... i did somthing wrong... i just wanted you to know that i am sorry what i’ve done,” he wrote. “i won’t ever talk to you again just please don’t press charges, like i have a scholarship and such ad i don’t want it being taken away from a crimanl record. from the bottom of my heart i am sorry... Can you please forgive me and don’t push forward into this anymore.”
Kerra says police also saw a copy of the message.
Kerra and her mother say they believe police did charge the two boys, but there was almost no communication about the investigation or exactly what happened with the arrest. Meanwhile she was being bullied at school. The other students didn’t believe her.
And then, right before Kerra understood she was going to be called to testify, she was called in for a meeting with the officers and the Crown attorney.
“They strongly suggested that I not go through with it because I would lose because I didn’t actually have a clear vision of what they looked like because it was dark in the room,” she said. “I felt obligated to just give up.”
Neither of the officers came out and said “I believe you,” but K.S. never questioned that they were taking her seriously.
Even when the lead detective warned her that making a false report was a serious offence, even when they pressed her for uncomfortable details and questioned her about how much she had been drinking before the assault, K.S. never felt like she was being blamed and never questioned that they were on her side.
“It was his body language. The look on his face. It was real concern,” she says. “They tried to get every detail of the story, which I felt confident in. But Detective Williams, he doesn’t really show emotions, but he’s a cool dude … Honestly, all the police officers that I dealt with were great.”
The morning of Saturday, July 18, 2015, K.S. woke up in a strange hotel room, naked, alone, with no idea how she got there. The night before, she had been out with friends, drinking in Toronto’s King Street West bar district. The last thing she remembered was leaving her friends to use the washroom.
She spoke to her sister by phone the morning after.
“I think I’ve been raped,” she said through tears.
A friend picked her up from the hotel shortly after. He was the one who contacted the Toronto police.
At Mount Sinai hospital, K.S. underwent a sexual assault examination kit, which found semen inside of her vagina. The police met her at the hospital, then drove her to the station for an interview late that afternoon.
“They called me on the Monday, I believe, to say that they had made an arrest,” she said.
Police charged Moazzam Tariq of Brampton, Ont., with sexual assault. While K.S. does not have any memories of the rape or even meeting Mr. Tariq, investigators were able to piece together the night using security footage and text messages. They were able to determine that K.S. left her friends at the first bar and walked to a second bar to meet an acquaintance, a club promoter. Once there, she was introduced to Mr. Tariq.
About 15 minutes later, Mr. Tariq and K.S., who was so drunk she could barely walk, left for the nearby Thompson Hotel. Surveillance footage from the hotel showed K.S. slumped against the wall in the elevator on the way up to the room, her eyes closed, while Mr. Tariq appeared to be sober and singing to himself.
K.S. says she had no idea she had been to a second bar until a month or two before the trial, when one of the officers handling her case phoned to say she should come into the station to watch something.
“She was like, I’m going to show you this video from the [second bar]. I think you need to see this before you get on the stand and it’s shown,” she said. K.S. asked if she could bring a friend with her and the officer agreed.
In the footage, Mr. Tariq is seen encouraging K.S. to drink vodka from the bottle, even as she indicates she doesn’t want more. He also slaps her behind and grinds on her as she leans forward on a bench to text a friend. Surveillance video from the hallway shows K.S. stumbling side to side as Mr. Tariq guides her out of the bar.
“After, [the female police officer] could see that I was physically upset and [she] shut off the video and we talked to her for a while. She was great. But it could have gone way different if it was a different officer,” K.S. said. “She kept saying how sorry she was that I’m going through this.”
In October, 2016, Justice Mara Greene found Mr. Tariq guilty of sexual assault after concluding that K.S. was so intoxicated, she did not have the capacity to consent to sexual activity. The judge noted that in the elevator surveillance footage, K.S. “appears to be falling asleep or on the verge of passing out.”
Detective Anthony Williams, the lead investigator in her case, said that police would have arrested Mr. Tariq with or without the video surveillance footage, based on the strength of K.S.’s statement and the results of the sex assault evidence kit, but “mind you, it would be an uphill prosecution.”
It was the winter of 1986. Lisa had stayed late after school to rehearse for a play. Around 8 p.m., she was waiting by the front doors for a ride home when a classmate approached, then corralled her into a dark corner. As his hands touched her, she froze.
“I was terrified. I was just completely frozen with fear. And I just kept thinking, What’s going on? What’s happening? Move. Do something. And I couldn’t,” says Lisa, who was 15 at the time. “My shirt was ripped. My pants were undone. And just as suddenly as it started, it ended, because there were people who started to come around the paths.”
Lisa went to a teacher for help, but says she was told it was her fault and that she had been “asking for it.” After that, she didn’t think about going to police.
But the incident haunted Lisa into her adult years, causing problems in her relationships. She began counselling. It was through that process that Lisa decided to contact to police – 28 years after the fact.
Although Lisa doesn’t live there any more, she had to file the report in Montreal, because that’s where the alleged sexual assault occurred. Her counsellor made the drive with her. Lisa says an officer took down some general details about the case and then promised someone from the specialized sexual assault unit would follow up. She said he seemed very nice, except that at one point, he seemed to suggest what happened to her wasn’t worth reporting.
“He asked me – because there was no penetration on my assault – he said, ‘Well, nothing really happened, so why are you reporting this?’” she says. “I told him that it really needed to be out there. It needed to be on record what he did to me. And he said fine.”
Two days later, a detective with the specialized unit got in touch. Lisa says he told her that because the case was historic, and there was a backlog of files, she was lower on the priority list and it would be a few months before they could do a proper interview. This was in December, 2014, Lisa says.
Four months went by without any update, so Lisa phoned him back. It seemed they had forgotten about her, she says, because initially the officer couldn’t locate her file. Nevertheless, the next week a female detective contacted her to arrange a videotaped interview.
Lisa came prepared with a written copy of her statement, a print-out of his LinkedIn page and a copy of a Facebook message that the man had sent her years later apologizing about what happened – although he didn’t actually specify what he was apologizing for.
“They were quite pleased. They said they always tell people to come prepared and it was the first time somebody had actually come prepared,” Lisa says.
At the end of the interview, the detective and her partner offered to answer any questions Lisa had about the process. Lisa felt that they believed her. The officers told her they were going to pass the case off to the Crown for final say, which is the process in Quebec.
“When I met with the prosecutor, she said, ‘First of all, I believe you’… She explained the judicial process. She said her goal was to, essentially, to prove the crime. She told me the only piece of evidence that she was missing, to actually go forward and bring it to court, was to prove his intent,” Lisa says.
For this reason, there wasn’t enough to go to trial, Lisa says the Crown told her.
“My goal in reporting to police was to just to have it on record. I never thought that my reporting would go any further than that initial report … I just didn’t think anybody would believe me,” she says.
So even though there would be no charges, Lisa walked away from the experience feeling a sense of closure. She had been believed.
A Montreal police spokesperson said the case was submitted to the Crown for review in the spring of 2015. The investigation is complete, although the file remains open.
L.M. says she was violently assaulted by a stranger in Churchill, Man., a community about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
When the local RCMP officers arrived at the scene, she began to worry they didn’t have much experience dealing with sexual assaults. They tried to take a statement right away, but L.M. could barely piece together sentences, so they locked her in the back of the cruiser, thinking it would be a place for her to calm her down, before taking her to the hospital.
“I went ballistic, I was punching the doors trying to get out,” the 31-year-old artist says. “I had just been forcibly confined moments earlier.”
When she got to the hospital, she says was told by the nurses that they had never performed a rape kit before. Over the next few hours, while the medical staff read from a sex assault examination handbook, L.M.’s body was swabbed, photographed, and scrutinized to the point where she felt dissected. The next morning – L.M. was still in the hospital – the RCMP came back.
“I was told by the RCMP that I had to issue the statement, otherwise they couldn’t hold him, or something. It was less than 24 hours. I hadn’t slept. I was a mess and I had to go down to the RCMP [detachment] to give this statement,” she says.
The RCMP officers photographed bruising on her back and left thigh, as well as red marks on her neck. The investigators also found two witnesses who told police they heard L.M. yell at the time of the alleged rape. One said he heard, “Stop – please let me go – don’t” and another told the officers he heard a woman screaming and shouting “no” three or four times.
The accused was charged with sexual assault, assault, unlawful confinement and attempting to choke, court records show. He claimed it was consensual.
On June 21, 2016, the accused was acquitted the accused of all charges.
Looking back, L.M. says of her experience with police: “I got the sense that the RCMP were kind but they weren’t really trauma-informed and did not really know what to do with me. They knew how to do their job, investigation-wise, but didn’t know how to support me.”
M. told her Grade 9 guidance counsellor first. She said she had been sexually assaulted in a wooded area, by a man in her neighbourhood – someone who held a position of trust in the small rural community in Nova Scotia. The guidance counsellor took M. to the hospital, where nurses performed a sexual assault examination kit, she says.
Records viewed by The Globe show the nurses noted swelling and two abrasions on her genitals, as well as a scratch on her arms, leg and chest.
Police interviewed M. and then the man she had accused. M., who is now in her 40s, does not remember much about the specifics of the investigation. She remembers having had a “bad vibe” about the investigator. Several weeks later, M. was arrested for filing a false report.
“They ended up charging me for lying to them,” M. says.
M., who was a youth at the time, went to trial for public mischief.
“They offered me a plea deal the day the trial was supposed to start. I remember my legal aid lawyer said I should take it. ‘But I didn’t do this,’ I said. I remember that clearly. I was really disappointed she wanted me to take the plea deal,” M. says.
M. rejected the offer. The trial went forward and the accused testified, as did the sexual assault examiners.
In the end, she was acquitted.
“The judge said, basically, it was clear something had happened. She surmised that maybe I had misidentified the person who did it, but it was clear that something had happened,” M. says.
As an adult, M. says, she was raped again. When it began, she says she felt frozen, like she couldn’t move. Afterward, all she could think about was what happened to her when she was a teenager.
“I thought ‘You were charged before and no one is going to believe you.’ I didn’t go to the hospital because of this. I know it kept me from doing what I should have done,” she says.
Margaret says she was too nervous to call police herself, so she had her counsellor at the sexual assault centre dial the number for the Peterborough Police Service.
They asked her to come into headquarters for a full videotaped statement, which she did.
Margaret, who was about 25 at the time, told police that five years earlier, she was raped by her father and became pregnant. Several months into the pregnancy, Margaret said her father took her to an abortion clinic in midtown Toronto.
The investigators asked her to give as much detail as possible. What was he wearing during the assault? Where did it happen? What specifically did he do? The officers told her they would try to locate her father, who had a common name and who didn’t live in the area.
About a week after making the statement, Margaret says the officers phoned to say that the Toronto abortion clinic had her file, but she would need to pay $75 to have it released, which she didn’t have.
A long-time friend of Margaret’s, named Glen, said he spoke with her that day.
“She was distraught, to put it mildly,” he says. “The officer who was investigating … basically told her that the [clinic] staff had to go down to the basement and dig out the paper file and there was no computer file and they weren’t going to do that unless the money was paid up front … and they [the police] weren’t going to pay.”
A spokesperson with Peterborough Police Service says “at no time” was Margaret advised she would need to pay $75 to obtain records.
Margaret says that she appealed directly to the clinic and was told the same thing: The police wanted her to pay. (The Globe left two messages with the clinic for comment, but no one returned the calls.)
After that, Margaret says, months went by before she heard any more news.
“I didn’t get any calls or any updates through the whole process. They didn’t let me know nothing. They left me in the dark,” she says.
Finally, months after her initial report, Margaret got a call from the investigator.
“We talked to your father and he denied everything,” she says she was told. “They said, ‘We interviewed [his wife] and she said she knows nothing and denied it all.’ She told them I’m a liar and just trying to stir up shit,”
“They said, ‘Well, unfortunately, we can not help you. Get over it,’” she says.
The police spokesperson confirmed that the case was closed, but said it wasn’t the officer’s decision.
“The case was closed at the request of the victim. She was invited to reconnect with us if she wished to pursue the investigation,” the official said in an e-mail. “At no time did our service tell the victim of a sexual assault to ‘Get over it.’”
Margaret says that isn’t true.
“He told me to ‘Get over it,’” she says again. When the investigator told her that her father had denied the charge, she says her reply at the time was: “‘So what are you going to do? How are you going to proceed?’… I didn’t tell them to close the case.”
Mai and Rani
Mai and Rani
Mai said it began when she was just six years old and didn’t stop until she finally told her parents at the age of 17. For more than a decade, her paternal aunt’s husband – Uncle Armaan* – had been sexually assaulting her in both Montreal (where she lived) and Brampton (where he lived).
It started out as fondling, but as she grew older, the abuse increased in severity to fellatio and, finally, attempted intercourse. By late high school, Mai was contemplating suicide. And then in September 1999 – more than a decade after Mai says the abuse began – her mother confronted her about why she was so unhappy.
Her parents were horrified and believed her, but they didn’t want to go to police.
“I’m Sikh … He’s very big in the Sikh community,” Mai says. “They wanted to do an out-of-court settlement based on, you know, ‘your reputation, your image, who is going to want to marry you?’ It was a very cultural thing.”
Mai’s parents confronted the uncle and his wife and a deal was worked out where Armaan would give his niece $25,000 – to be paid out in monthly instalments – in exchange for her silence.
This arrangement continued until the summer of 2001, when Mai was 19 years old. She had a boyfriend and began spending long stretches away from home. Independence had given her new perspective. She decided to go to the police.
Armaan was charged with four sexual-assault-related offences as well as uttering a threat to cause death. The 11-day trial began in April, 2004. The defence acknowledged the existence of the settlement agreement, but claimed it was not an admission of guilt. Rather, Armaan claimed he paid his niece to keep her from spreading false allegations. (When first interviewed by police, Armaan initially lied about paying his niece money in connection to sexual abuse allegations, court records show. He later claimed the reason he “was not telling them the whole thing” was because duty counsel had advised that he need not make a statement at all.)
In his ruling, the judge said that while he found Mai to be credible, part of her testimony was hard to believe, particularly concerning her uncle’s alleged brazenness “including the immediate presence of other persons – in the same bed or room or vicinity” during many of the alleged incidents. Compounded with inconsistencies in some of the facts about how the settlement agreement was reached and the lack of eyewitnesses, the judge acquitted Armaan on all counts.
The police never questioned Armaan’s children during their investigation, Mai says.
And if they had, Rani – Armaan’s eldest daughter and Mai’s cousin – says she would have told them that she had been abused in the same way.
Rani, who is now 32, says that her father sexually abused her from the time she was six years old until she turned 14. The following year, Rani ran away from home, moved to a shelter and has never lived with her parents again. She attempted suicide as a teenager.
In January, 2016, Rani, who is now a nurse and mother of a young teenage girl, decided to report her father.
“Seeing my daughter actually hit 13 and then seeing her innocence at that age made me realize what was taken away from me,” she says. “It made me want to do that for her. So much more … I’m a parent and God forbid if anything like this happened to my kid and knowing that no one did anything to help me. Not one person.”
Rani, who says she had no idea what was happening with Mai, says she wished someone had come to her – and helped her – back when she was 14.
With her mother at her side, Marley walked up to the front desk of the Lethbridge Police Service and told the attendant that she had been the victim of domestic violence, including sexual assault. She was 21 at the time. Her now ex-boyfriend had raped her multiple times, she said.
“When I said his name, a lot of the police officers behind the desk laughed because he was very well known, which I didn’t know,” she said. “One officer showed me his extensive criminal record … he had been in jail.”
Marley hand-wrote a statement, explaining the relationship and abuse. She says that when she handed it to the intake officer, he smirked.
“‘Well, you really let this guy get away with a lot. Was he a sweet talker or something?’” she remembers him telling her. “I’d kept it pretty well together, but I remember it was at point that I pretty much fell into my mom and spent the rest of the day crying.”
A few days later, Marley says they assigned her case to an investigator, a woman, who seemed understanding and professional. The investigator took her through the specifics of the relationship and each incident, asking for dates and injuries associated with each event.
“At the end of the conversation, she said she didn’t want to get my hopes up. Because I hadn’t individually reported each thing, there wasn’t much they could do.”
Not long after her interview with the investigator – within the week, she estimates – Marley was cleaning out her car and found drugs and knives that her ex had apparently stashed. She decided to drop them off at the police station.
When she told the officer at the front desk her name, she says he told her he knew all about her.
“This officer [asked] when I was going to tell my mom that I was lying so this could all be over and so this man could get back to his life,” she says. “That was by far the most terrible part of the situation.”
When Marley told the female investigator what the officer at the front desk had said, the investigator apologized on behalf of her colleague.
Marley didn’t hear anything for several weeks. Her mother encouraged her to call for an update. When she finally got up the courage to call around Thanksgiving, she says she was told that the lead female investigator had quit the force.
“It had been months and months,” Marley said. “That’s when I decided that I didn’t want any more to do with it. They weren’t helping me and it was done.”
The Globe contacted the female investigator who had left the service. She said she did not wish to participate in this story. The Lethbridge police confirmed that after the lead officer “resigned from the LPS. Follow-up tasks were then completed by several other officers but ultimately the investigation did not result in criminal charges.”
A Lethbridge court clerk said there were more than four-dozen charges in the system associated with Marley’s ex-boyfriend, including theft, forgery and unlawful use of a credit card.
When police told Melodie Morin that they wouldn’t be laying charges because the man told investigators the sex was consensual, she decided to go public.
More than a year ago, Melodie spoke to to the CBC. The story was picked up by major news outlets across Ottawa.
Melodie had gone out with a friend to celebrate her 18th birthday in September 2015. That night, she met a guy from school – Melodie was a University of Ottawa music student – and he invited her over for an after-party. But when they were alone, he choked and then raped her, she alleges.
Melodie says she phoned police within minutes of the attack. She went to the hospital and had a sex assault kit done. She gave a detailed statement to Ottawa investigators. And then a month later, the lead detective phoned to say they were closing the case.
“She said that she had interviewed him and then she said, ‘Well, he doesn’t feel like he raped you,’” Melodie tells The Globe. The officer told Melodie that two accounts of the evening, Melodie’s and that of her assailant, corresponded up until the end of the night.
“She said I just have to assume it was a misunderstanding.” The man had apparently offered to take a polygraph.
“From what I understood, the simple fact that he told her I’m willing to take a lie detector test, that’s what really, I guess, triggered her to believe him,” Melodie says.
After Melodie’s story was blasted across local print and television news, the Ottawa police did an about-face.
“The media just put so much pressure on the police that I got a call,” Melodie says. She says she was told that the first investigator closed the case before explaining the facts to a supervisor, and that her decision may have been “premature.”
The file was reassigned to another detective and in December, a warrant was issued for his arrest – except by that point he had returned home to Lebanon.
Melodie felt some vindication that a charge had been laid, but she was frustrated police had bungled the investigation to begin with, allowing the suspect time to leave.
And then, in August 2016, Melodie got a call she never expected. Ottawa police arrested a man at the airport while he was re-entering the country.
Ayham Aloulabi was charged with sexual assault and a choking-related offence. The case is ongoing.
Despite the outcome, Paola says she was one of the lucky ones.
“I will say I am a blessed person,” she says. “The police took my case seriously.”
Paola was with her ex-partner for three years. He was jealous, controlling and constantly accusing her of cheating, she says.
“When he came to the Christmas party for my work, he actually got upset because he said my co-workers and I were giving each other [flirtatious looks]. I begged him to not look like a fool. I spoke to him in Spanish,” she remembers. “He actually pushed me around the wall in front of my co-workers. They held him back.”
Paola says he raped her on numerous occasions.
But despite everything, Paola still loved him and believed that he loved her, so it took a long time for her to finally seek help. When Paola finally decided to report, she brought a friend with her to the London Police Service.
Constable Alanna Hollywood, who had spent time working in the sex assault unit, came to her home and took a video statement. So also typed up notes during the interview, Paola recalls.
Paola says the officer was calm and non-judgmental.
“She just asked me what had happened… ‘What day was that? And what did he do? And what hotel?’” Paola says. “She made me feel very comfortable.”
Constable Hollywood, a 16-year veteran, told the Globe that although she can’t discuss specifics of Paola’s case, in general, when approaching a sexual assault investigation, her first priority is to help the victim feel as at ease as possible.
“They’re sharing a very personal experience and not only is it a very personal experience but it was also a very traumatizing experience for that person,” she said.
Paola’s ex-boyfriend was charged with two counts of assault and one count of sexual assault, connected to incidents in December 2012, June 2013 and September 2014.
“Even when I was in court she made me feel very comfortable … she talked to me. She knew I was nervous.… She told me I was doing a good job and not to worry,” Paola says. “When we were waiting to go into the courtroom, [he] was two steps away from me. All my feelings dropped to the floor. She told me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m here.’… She told me what I did was very brave.”
Const. Hollywood, who has received special training and spent four years with the sex assault unit, says she doesn’t like to meet victims in uniform, because it can look intimidating. (Paola says she appreciated this.)
“The first thing I normally do is talk to them and get a feel for what they’re about. Make them feel comfortable. Get them to tell me a little bit about what happened, without going into a lot of detail,” she says.
When it’s time for the full interview, Const. Hollywood says she starts by explaining who she is and what’s going to happen.
“I just tell them to take their time. Let them know [to tell me] if they need a break or a glass of water. If they’re not sure about something, don’t guess. Tell me in as much detail… at the end I’ll ask clarifying questions,” she says.
In February 2016, Paola’s ex-boyfriend was given a conditional discharge and six months probation for the first assault charge. The sex assault and second assault charges were withdrawn.
Shannon Murray remembers walking into the local Ottawa police station with her stepdad and feeling unsure of herself.
“I felt very awkward walking in and saying ‘Hi, I’d like to report a rape,’” she recalls.
She was taken to a private room. A police officer explained the protocol: Once a report is filed, police will investigate. It would not be up to her whether a charge was laid or not.
“I took some time to decide. I didn’t know if I wanted him in jail,” she says. “She gave me a minute with my stepdad alone.”
After some more careful thought, Shannon decided to proceed. She went home and wrote up everything she could remember about her relationship with the man she was reporting. She was told someone from the sexual assault division would be in touch.
That man was Detective Jason Riopel of the partner assault unit – a man Shannon calls “amazing.”
“Once I came forward and my process started … I read a lot about other people’s stories. I was surprised that others had such a horrible experience with police,” Shannon says. “[It] sounded like the detectives didn’t take them seriously.”
That was not Shannon’s situation.
Shannon says the detective began by explaining that it was a very serious offence to lie about sexual assault. He explained his role and made sure she understood the process. After that, he asked her to go through the full story, then he circled back for more detail at certain parts.
“It sounds like someone’s doubting because you’re being questioned. But I knew he had to collect as much information as he could,” she says.
When the interview was over, Shannon says he walked her outside and told her what would happen next. He was reassuring and she felt he believed her. Shannon says Det. Riopel kept her updated as the investigation progressed.
“He makes you feel like he cares. It’s not just about doing the job and checking all the boxes. He never felt rushed speaking to me. He looks at you like you’re a person and you matter,” she says.
“And I’ve never seen my detective in uniform. Any time I’ve seen him, he’s been in a suit or blazer. That helped me. It’s an overwhelming situation to discuss and sit through. I think him not being in uniform helped take some of the anxiety off the situation.”
In the end, the detective charged a man with sexual assault.
The case, which is ongoing, hinges on credibility, rather than physical evidence. Det. Riopel told The Globe. As the case is before the courts, he could not comment on specifics. Generally speaking, the officer said sex assault cases are incredibly difficult, because they will almost always come down to “he said, she said.”
“I let everybody know right from the get-go it’s going to be a difficult battle. You’re going to give me a version of events and more often than not the other person is going to say it didn’t happen,” says the detective.
“At the end of this, we may not lay charges. He or she may not be charged with sex assault but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe you and it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
When S.S. got to the part about having flashbacks, she says the two constables sitting at the table with her smirked.
“They kind of looked at each other and they were laughing – or trying not to laugh,” she says. “I didn’t think they were taking me seriously.”
S.S. filed her complaint in the summer of 2009, about three months after the alleged assault. She says she waited to report because she wasn’t sure if it happened or not. S.S believes her boyfriend drugged her and assaulted her while she was unconscious. When she woke up, she felt sore and confronted him, but he denied it. It was only when a trip to the doctor showed she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease that S.S. felt confident she had been raped.
S.S. and her then-boyfriend were both in their early 20s and had very strict parents. The couple had met at temple and despite being together for about 10 months, they had not yet even kissed, she says.
On the night in question, S.S. and her boyfriend rented a hotel room in Vancouver to have some time alone. They lied to their parents and said they were separately visiting friends.
They ate hot wings for dinner, headed to a dance club for a few drinks, then returned to the hotel and ate leftovers in their room.
“I asked him for a glass of water and he was taking a really long time … When I got the water, I remember looking at it and it was warm and the water was spinning,” S.S. recalls.
The next thing she remembers is waking up late the following day, feeling horribly sick despite the fact that she hadn’t had much to drink. She remembers her bum felt sore. A few days later, she began to have flashes of memory. There was the spinning drink. Then they were cuddling. Then her head was hitting something. She felt pain. There was grunting. She felt penetration from behind.
S.S confronted her boyfriend, but he denied everything – including the cuddling.
It wasn’t until about a month later, when S.S. noticed sores in her rectum, that she went to the doctor and learned she had contracted chlamydia.
“That was when I started putting the pieces together,” she says.
She told her boyfriend, but he insisted nothing had happened in the hotel room.
S.S. says she had had sex before with two long-term boyfriends. But after one of those relationships ended, she decided that, from then on, she would wait until marriage.That was more than a year before she met the man who assaulted her while she was unconcious, she says.
(When S.S. was in Grade 8, she says she was raped by an older boy at her parents home. She ended up in a relationship with that young man. “In our culture – we’re East Indian – you have to lose your virginity to your husband. In India, even if you lose your virginity to a rapist, your parents make you marry the rapist,” she says. “I kind of felt like I’m going to marry this person because I lost my virginity to him.” That relationship ended when she moved away.)
S.S. says she is diligent about her annual physical exams and the only explanation for the chlamydia is that her boyfriend had drugged her, raped her, and given her an STD.
Soon after she began antibiotics, S.S. made the decision to report him. She phoned her local RCMP detachment first (S.S lives an hour outside of Vancouver), but the officers told her she had to deal with the Vancouver Police Department, because the alleged crime occurred in their jurisdiction.
After meeting with the two constables – and feeling that she was being laughed at – S.S. complained to a supervisor. The Vancouver police reassigned the case and S.S. returned for a second interview.
“This time it was two women police officers. I think one was a counsellor or a social worker… they told me they weren’t wearing their uniforms because they wanted it to be more comfortable for me,” S.S. recalls.
The investigator asked S.S. to start at the beginning. When she mentioned the sexually transmitted disease, S.S. says one interjected – she can’t remember if it was the officer of the support worker – to inquire whether she may have contracted chlamydia from a toilet seat.
“I just lost faith and confidence in them… I was dealing with people who didn’t understand,” she says.
About a month after she first contacted police, S.S. says she was told the case was being closed. They said her ex-boyfriend had produced a doctor’s note, which showed he did not have chlamydia, so there was nothing that could be done.
“I feel like it was more a joke than an investigation.”
Stacey’s friend drove her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ont. the morning after it happened.
It was Sunday, September 13, 2015. A police officer met her there and questioned her for a little more than an hour after the nurses were finished with the sexual-assault examination kit. The officer had a laptop and explained that she would be typing out each answer.
“Please tell me what happened in this incident, starting at any point you feel is appropriate,” a transcript of the conversation shows the officer said.
The interview started out straightforwardly enough, Stacey said. She explained that she had been been dating a guy she met online. They had hung out about five times before. She made plans to go to his house and watch television. They started making out and it progressed. But, Stacey said, she was clear that she did not want to have sex.
“He’s like ‘You know you want to have sex,’ and I said ‘No, I don’t,’” Stacey told the officer, but “he kept pushing his penis against my vagina.”
Stacey told the officer that she asked him to put on a condom.
“I said ‘stop,’ and he asked if it hurts and I said ‘yes,’ and he said ‘we will just go slower and it will stop hurting’… I tried to push him off a couple of times and it got to the point that he wasn’t getting what I was saying so I just laid there ’til he was finished.”
Afterward, she got dressed and started to cry, Stacey said.
“Are you injured as a result of this incident?” the officer asked.
“I’m sore in my pelvic area.”
“Are you a virgin?” she asked.
The following morning, Stacey got a call from a female detective on the sexual assault unit, who was in charge of the file. She asked Stacey to come in for a videotaped statement that Wednesday. So on Sept. 16, Stacey arrived at the London police station and told the story - again.
“I just want to be straight with you,” said the detective, “is this a situation where, you know what, gosh, everybody has found themselves in … one thing leads to another and you guys are making out … and then things just progress, right? And the next thing you know you’re having sex, and it’s maybe not quite where you thought things were going to go but there you are, and then, you know, after everything’s completed, that shouldn’t have happened?”
“I don’t think so,” Stacey replied.
The detective told Stacey that, to her, the request that the man put on a condom sounded like Stacey was agreeing to have sex. Stacey told the officer that he was already penetrating her by that point – despite her protests – and that if it was happening, she wanted him to have on protection.
“It sounds like to me, things just went a little bit faster … than you anticipated,” the detective said. “Do you think he should potentially be charged with sexual assault for what happened?… This is a very, very serious accusation here, right? Do you think he should be charged with sexual assault?”
Stacey stuck with her story, that the sex was not consensual, but the detective seemed to disagree.
“You know sometimes women – or even just people in general – even though you’re thinking he may get the hint that ‘I don’t really want to do this,’ guys don’t,” the detective chuckled. “Right?… You think ‘I’m sending that message,’ but you guys are engaged in sexual acts.”
She had not yet interviewed the male suspect at this point.
On Sept. 27, 2015, the case was closed as an unfounded allegation, meaning the detective believed no crime occured or was attempted.
The London Police Service did not respond to a request for comment sent earlier this week. However, in the wake of a Globe and Mail investigation that has revealed police services are dismissing an average of one out of every five sex-assault complaints as unfounded, London Chief John Pare committed to reviewing all such cases going back to 2010. He also pledged to explore new training with detectives and he offered a broad apology to complainants “whose experiences left them feeling that they were not supported or that may have eroded their trust in this police service in any way.”
Stacie Wilkinson was still in bed the morning of Aug. 22, 1996, when she heard someone walking around her parents’ bedroom. She figured her mother had forgotten something at home and rushed back from work to grab it. But after 15 minutes, when the noises didn’t stop, she went to investigate. That’s when the 20-year-old found a strange man rummaging through her parents’ things.
“He had the intention to break in and steal… I caught him off-guard,” she says.
What followed lasted for about 30 agonizing minutes. Before he left, the man told Stacie that he would come back and kill her if she ever told anyone. The second the door closed, Stacie dialled 911.
“It kind of feels like an eternity waiting, but I believe [the Calgary police arrived] in 10 minutes,” she says.
Stacie was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Two male officers were assigned to her case, which made Stacie uncomfortable.
“Your trust is no longer there with males. You’re trying to explain to them what happened and it felt uneasy having to tell male officers,” she says.
Two or three days later, the police completed a composite sketch based on Stacie’s evidence. She also made a Crime Stoppers video and articles appeared in the Calgary daily newspapers. It was labelled the “Crime of the Week.”
“Shortly after that, I never heard back from them,” she says. “I was sort of left in limbo, not even knowing if the case was being worked on any more.”
A few years ago, Stacie can’t recall exactly when, she phoned to let the Calgary police know her name and address had changed. That’s when she was told that the case had been reopened.
She was put in touch with two new detectives.
“They came to interview me again – they came to my home. I kept my newspaper clippings and everything and showed them and they were kind of surprised that they didn’t have half the information that I had on file,” she says.
Stacie says the detectives were unaware that the clothing she had been wearing that day, her housecoat and pyjamas, had been seized as evidence. They didn’t know that neighbours across the street had seen the accused fleeing her home that morning. Even the composite sketch, which Stacie still had a copy of, apparently wasn’t in the file, she says. The detective told her the case had passed through a few sets of investigators.
For Stacie, the issue was never whether police believed that she was raped. It was how they treated her during the investigation.
“I don’t feel that I’ve been treated fairly through this whole process. You’re tossed around. There’s communication and then they shut you out. If there’s not anything, then communicate that,” she says.
The Globe asked the Calgary police to comment on Stacie’s story, particularly around whether evidence was misplaced and the lack of follow-up. A spokesperson said that the detective currently assigned to the file has retired and no other cold case detective has picked it up.
“With respect to the file itself, all the information in the report is updated. Items were sent to the lab for analysis, and we retrieved a partial profile. I’m told that without further advancements in technology, it is not enough to compare to the DNA database at this time. Our cold case detectives continues to monitor files like this to ensure investigations are continued with as new technology is developed that allows for resubmission of samples. The staff sergeant would welcome speaking with the victim if she’d like.”
The investigator wanted to take a statement right away, Taylor says, so her mother drove her straight from the hospital to the Chatham-Kent police headquarters. She arrived in an outfit that didn’t quite fit, because the nurses had taken her clothing as evidence.
By the time Taylor sat down in the interview room, the 21-year-old, who had been up for more than 30 hours straight, felt shaky and nauseous from the night before and uncomfortable in the spare clothing.
The constable asked her to recount her version of events as best as she could remember.
Taylor explained that the night before – Sat., June 11, 2016 – she and a friend had split a 26-ounce bottle of tequila before heading out to a sports bar in town. They arrived at 10:30 p.m.
During the course of the night, a stranger introduced himself. He hung out with Taylor and her friend until a little after midnight. At this point, Taylor told the officer, she began to feel dizzy and on the verge of passing out, so she phoned her grandfather for a ride home. Her next clear memory was being in the townhouse of the man from the bar.
Taylor recalls that he gave her a tour and then she had to sit down on the basement couch, because she was going to throw up.
“The next thing I know, when I came to, I was in his bedroom upstairs, on the top floor, with no clothes on. He was on top of me. We were having sex,” she says she told the investigator.
Taylor says she tried to push him off, and wanted to say no, but she wasn’t sure if she was actually able to say the words before passing out. (A person cannot give consent if he or she is unconscious.) The next time Taylor woke up, the man was downstairs on the phone, she says.
“I just grabbed my purse and ran out the door. I left my shoes behind,” she says.
As soon as she was done telling her story to police, Taylor says, the officer made her feel like he thought she was lying.
“Well, we all make mistakes when we’re drunk. Are you sure you want to press charges?” she remembers him saying.
“He said something along the lines of, ‘Well, any normal person, like me, [would think] if someone goes over to someone else’s house late at night that something sexual is going to happen.”
Taylor says the investigator then told her he had phoned the suspect that morning and the suspect said the sex was consensual. (The man hired a lawyer and declined to be interviewed beyond that brief conversation.)
Taylor left the interview furious. Her mother later complained to a supervisor and a female sergeant was reassigned to the case.
In a subsequent interview with that sergeant – a copy of which was obtained by The Globe – Taylor was told that while it was obvious something had happened, because she ran out of the house without any shoes, there were too many issues with the case to lay charges.
First, witnesses at the bar told police she and the man were “all over each other.” Second, there were text messages showing she willingly went to the man’s apartment. And third, perhaps most damaging of all, the sergeant told Taylor that the blood test that was done as part of the sexual assault examination kit showed her blood alcohol level was just 102 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – which didn’t support her claim that she was drunk enough to pass out.
“One hundred and two, from my 24 years of experience, is not an extremely high rate of alcohol in a person’s system,” the sergeant told her. The officer conceded that there may have been “a couple of hours” between her last drink and the blood test, but that would mean her level at its peak “might have been 110 … which is not an excessive amount of alcohol.”
But two forensic toxicologists interviewed by The Globe said the officer is misunderstanding the science. The body eliminates alcohol at a rate of between 10 to 20 points per hour. Medical records from Taylor’s sexual assault examination kit show that Taylor’s blood was drawn at 7:15 a.m. So if her blood alcohol was 102 at that point in time, seven hours earlier it could have been anywhere between 170 and 240 milligrams at its peak, which is well within the range for a person to be extremely intoxicated.
The Globe interviewed Taylor’s mother, as well as her friend from the bar, who supported her version of events. The Chatham police declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
“As is the case with every sexual assault complaint received, this incident was thoroughly investigated by the Chatham-Kent Police Service. The evidence was then reviewed by the Crown Attorney’s Office and charges were not proceeded with,” Inspector Ed Reed said in an e-mailed statement.
For her part, Taylor says the experience has been a nightmare and the police only made it worse. She can’t understand why anyone would think a woman would make up a sexual assault.
“So what, I wake up one morning and decide I want to falsely accuse someone and put myself through this hell, through the hospital tests and police interviews, for what, the hell of it?”
The abuse and control came on gradually over several years, T.R. says.
It started with belittling taunts. Then he isolated her from her friends and family. By the time the abuse became physical, T.R. felt powerless. T.R’s ex-partner beat her, sexually assaulted her and, eventually, forced her into prostitution, she alleges.
“I definitely stopped feeling like I could say ‘no.’ It was better if I did exactly what he told me to do. It was easier that way,” she says.
When T.R. finally found the courage to call for help, she was terrified that the police would not take her seriously. She had battled depression in the past and had once been charged with assault years earlier. She worried what this would look like in contrast to her ex-partner, who, she says, was university educated, had a good job and could be very charming.
The police surprised her.
“They were so professional. They made me feel human,” T.R. says.
The London police officers met her at her mother’s home. A male constable was the first to arrive. T.R. told him about the physical abuse, but asked to speak with a woman before going any further. She says it was no problem at all, and a female officer was dispatched the house.
T.R. says they met in the woman’s cruiser and talked for two hours. The case was then passed on to a detective with the sexual assault unit. T.R. was told to go to headquarters for a video statement.
“We’re going to go back to this room and have a little chat. How does that sound?” T.R. remembers the detective telling her when they first met. “Through the entire interview she wasn’t pressuring. She gave me a few breaks in between… She made me feel safe. The male officer – she introduced me to him – he was in the recording room. They let me know the entire way what was happening.”
The detective took T.R. through her version of events, asking to clarify certain facts. T.R. says she sobbed the whole way through it, but the detective was kind.
“It was her demeanour. She said, ‘It’s okay. Take your time. I’m sorry that happened to you. That must have been tough. I can only imagine.’ Things like that.,” T.R. says.
T.R. say she was able to provide investigators with online messages that supported elements of her narrative.
Police arrested and charged the now 42-year-old man with nine offences, including two counts of sexual assault, two counts of assault, and exercise control of a person for prostitution. The alleged incidents occurred between October 2013 and August 2014.
“I was really apprehensive [before phoning police]. I was afraid of my past. I knew how that was going to look and instantly she just – finally, someone talked to me like I was a normal person,” T.R. says.
More from this series
Reporting and writing by ROBYN DOOLITTLE; Data reporting and analysis by TERRA CIOLFE, MICHAEL PEREIRA, JEREMY AGIUS, STEPHANIE CHAMBERS, RICK CASH and TU THANH HA; Photography by GALIT RODAN; Illustrations by NICOLE XU; Design by JEREMY AGIUS and MATTHEW FRENCH; Development by JEREMY AGIUS, MICHAEL PEREIRA and CHRISTOPHER MANZA; Video by MELISSA TAIT and TIMOTHY MOORE; Editing by DENNIS CHOQUETTE, LISAN JUTRAS, VICTOR DWYER, GARY SALEWICZ and CHRISTOPHER HARRIS; Multimedia editing by LAURA BLENKINSOP; Photo editing by RACHEL WINE; Data science consulting and verification by SHENGQING WU; Proofing by STEVE BREARTON; Additional data verification by MADELEINE WHITE and ANDREW SAIKALI