An Ontarian woman who says she was sexually assaulted at a community fire station outside London, Ont., says an investigator yelled at her, told her she was lying and threatened to charge her .
Now she shares her story in the hope that others understand the challenges survivors face in coming forward.
“It made me lose so much faith in the police,” said Amy, whose real name CBC News is withholding to protect her identity. “It made me think: why did I even come up with this?”
In February 2021, Amy was enrolled in a community college pre-firefighting certification program and met an ex-boyfriend at a regional fire station, where he volunteered.
He had agreed to help her prepare for an upcoming test, she said.
“I thought everything was normal and then he ended up driving me to this lounge at the fire station where he said he had some extra notes,” Amy said. “That’s where he sexually assaulted me. He held my arms down and used physical force on me.”
There are so many rape myths that persist at this particular and particular time. Things around what makes it believable or not,– Annalize Trudell of Anova, a non-profit organization that works to prevent gender-based violence
Initially, Amy was afraid to report the incident because the man had threatened her. “He said, ‘You can’t tell anyone. If you do, I’ll ruin your career. “”Amy said he also forced her to record a video saying he hadn’t sexually assaulted her.
The threats continued to come in via text message, she said.
“It was only then that I got really scared he was ruining my career or making me look like a bad person, that I went to the police,” Amy said.
OPP response is ‘traumatic’
Two Ontario Provincial Police officers in Ingersoll, Ont., took Amy’s statement in October 2021, eight months after the incident, she said. The interview went well and when Amy received a phone call asking her to return to the detachment for further questioning, she assumed it was a routine follow-up.
She was wrong.
“[The officer] sits me down and immediately says, ‘I can explain why we think you’re lying and the evidence we have to back it up, but if you call a lawyer, I can’t go into detail.'”
“[The officer] also said, “You’re not charged with lying to the police at this point, but there’s a chance you are”, and that freaked me out. I was so scared,” Amy said.
Amy said the officer pointed to the video her ex-boyfriend recorded as evidence she was lying.
“Honestly, the whole interview was as traumatic as the incident itself and that’s what really upset me.”
“There are so many rape myths that persist at this particular, particular time. Things around what makes it believable or not,” said Trudell of Anova, a London, Ont., organization that works to prevent gender-based violence.
“The fact that she was with this guy at any given time has no bearing on whether consent was given or not and it persists so easily in our culture, including in the police.”
“Over 80% of survivors have a relationship in some capacity with the person who sexually assaults them,” Trudell said.
After seeking advice from the London Abused Women’s Centre, Amy filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OPIRD), which oversees all police complaints in Ontario. According to a letter from the OIPRD to Amy on January 18, 2022, the office referred the matter to the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police for investigation.
In February of this year, Amy said she received a phone call from an OPP officer who explained the final report to her. She was told the Ingersoll officer agreed she could have handled the matter differently, but did not apologize, Amy said.
“The OPP takes all allegations of sexual assault and violence seriously,” said Derek Rogers, Media Relations Coordinator for the OPP West Region, which includes the southern Ontario.
Although Rogers would not respond specifically to Amy’s case, he added, “The OPP requires any member investigating sexual offenses to take the Sexual Assault Investigator course, the on general investigative techniques and major case management training”.
He also said the OPP is developing additional training sessions for officers as part of the police victim support strategy.
Rogers would not comment on whether the Ingersoll investigator was being disciplined.
Charges never laid
When Amy filed a report with the OIPRD, she also complained to the Ingersoll agent’s supervisor. As a result, her case was transferred to the Seaforth OPP detachment, and the investigator who followed was terrific, Amy said.
However, on the advice of the Crown Office, the OPP did not lay charges, Amy said.
It made me lose so much faith in the police. This got me thinking why did I even come up with this?– Amy, victim of alleged sexual assault
“I broke down,” Amy recalls the phone call she received from the Seaforth officer breaking the news to her in February. “I’ve come this far and been through so much and nothing happens.”
“It made me realize how messed up the justice system is in Canada, like he can basically go out and do the same thing he did to me and know he can get away with it.”
Amy wants people to know how difficult it is to come forward when reporting sexual assault. “You can get trampled by the police,” she said.
“It’s incredibly rare that our criminal justice system brings out a real sense of accountability for survivors,” Trudell said.
“As for a survivor who comes to the police, goes through the system, spends their day in court and comes to a conviction, we’re talking less than one percent,” she said. .
“His story is that of the majority, of the vast majority.”