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‘Why did I come forward?’: Ontario woman says OPP mishandled sex assault investigation

An Ontario woman who says she was sexually assaulted at a community fire hall outside London, Ont., says an investigating officer yelled at her, told her she was lying and threatened to charge her for doing so.

Now, she’s sharing her story in the hopes others understand the challenges survivors face in coming forward.

“It made me lose so much confidence in policing,” said Amy, whose real name CBC News is withholding to protect her identity. “It made me think: Why did I even come forward with this?”

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In February of 2021, Amy was enrolled in a pre-service firefighting certification program at a community college and met with an ex-boyfriend at a regional fire hall, where he volunteered.

He had agreed to help her prepare for an upcoming test, she said.

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“I was thinking everything was normal and then he ended up leading me into this lounge area at the fire hall where he said he had extra notes,” said Amy. “That’s where he sexually assaulted me. He held back my arms and used physical force over me.”

There are just so many rape myths that continue in this exact, particular moment. Things around what makes her believable or not,– AnnaLise Trudell of Anova, a non-profit that works to prevent gender-based violence

Initially, Amy feared reporting the incident because the man had threatened her. “He said, ‘You can’t tell anybody. I’ll ruin your career if you do.'” Amy said he also coerced her into recording a video saying he had not sexually assaulted her.

The threats kept coming over text, she said.

“It wasn’t until that point that I was super scared that he was actually going to ruin my career or make me look like a bad person, that I went to the police,” said Amy.

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AnnaLise Trudell is the education director at Anova, a non-profit agency in London, Ont. that shelters and counsels victims of sexual violence. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

OPP response ‘traumatizing’

Two OPP constables in Ingersoll, Ont., took Amy’s statement in October of 2021, eight months after the incident, she said. The interview went well and when Amy got a phone call to return to the detachment for further questioning, she assumed it was routine follow up.

She was wrong. 

“[The officer] sits me down and immediately says, ‘I can go into why we think you’re lying and the evidence we have to support that, but if you call a lawyer, I can’t go into that.'”

“[The officer] also said, ‘You’re not being charged with lying to police at this point, but there’s a chance that you could be,’ and that freaked me out. I was so scared,” said Amy.

Amy said the officer pointed to the video her ex-boyfriend made her record as proof she was lying. 

“The whole interview honestly was just as traumatizing as the actual incident and that’s what really made me upset.”

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This woman’s alleged assault happened at the Ingersoll fire hall in February 2021. She reported the incident to police in October of that year. (Submitted)

“There are just so many rape myths that continue in this exact, particular moment. Things around what makes her believable or not,” said AnnaLise Trudell of Anova, a London, Ont., organization that works to prevent gender-based violence.

“The fact that she was with this guy at some point has no bearing on whether consent was given or not and that persists so readily within our culture, including in policing.”

“Over 80 per cent of survivors are in 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 (OIPRD), which oversees all complaints about police in Ontario. According to a letter from OIPRD to Amy on January 18, 2022, the office referred the case back to the OPP commissioner to investigate. 

In February of this year, Amy said she received a phone call from an OPP officer who walked her through the final report. She was told the officer in Ingersoll agreed she could have handled the case differently, but did not an offer an apology, Amy said.

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The Ingersoll OPP detachment initially investigating the sexual assault case, before sending it to the detachment in Seaforth, Ont. (Google)

“The Ontario Provincial Police takes all allegations of sexual assault and violence seriously,” said Derek Rogers, the media relations coordinator for the OPP’s west region, which takes in southern Ontario. 

While Rogers wouldn’t respond to Amy’s case specifically he added, “The OPP requires any member investigating sexual offences to complete the sexual assault investigator course, the general investigative techniques course and major case management training.”

He also said the OPP is developing additional training sessions for officers as part of the police’s victim response support strategy.

Rogers wouldn’t say if the investigating officer in Ingersoll faced any disciplinary action.

Charges never laid

When Amy filed a report with the OIPRD, she also complained to the Ingersoll officer’s supervisor. As a result, her case was moved to the Seaforth OPP detachment, and the investigating officer who followed up was great, said Amy. 

However, on the advice of the Crown’s office, the OPP did not lay charges, Amy said.

It made me lose so much confidence in policing. It made me think why did I even come forward with this?– Amy, victim of alleged sexual assault

“I broke down,” Amy recalled of the phone call she received from the officer in Seaforth telling her the news this February. “I went this far and went through this much and nothing’s happening.” 

“It made me realize how messed up the court system is in Canada, like he could basically and go out and do the same thing he did to me and know he could get off.”

Amy wants people toknow how difficult it is to come forward when reporting a sexual assault case. “You can get stepped on by police,” she said.

“It is incredibly rare that our criminal justice system brings forward a sense of actual accountability for survivors,” said Trudell. 

“In terms of a survivor coming to the police, going through the system, getting their day in court and arriving at a conviction, we’re talking about less than one per cent,” she said.

“Her story is one of the majority, the vast majority.”

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