After reporting on Carrie Low‘s experience and the story of a young woman who reported she was drugged at The Dome before being sexually assaulted, we invited survivors of sexual assault to share their experiences and how the police handled their investigations. We assured them anonymity. This is one in an ongoing series. See the entire series here.
I was 20.
I was visiting a friend who worked in a dorm at a small-town NS university. It was being used as a summer hostel.
Some guys who were staying down the hall invited me for a drink, while I waited for my friend to get off work.
I went. I can’t explain why. Why should I explain why I walked into a room?
I didn’t walk back out.
I regained consciousness in the hallway hours later, smelling of sex and vomit, my shorts halfway down. Or were they halfway up? No, down. There’s no place in this story for glass-half-full optimism.
Let’s skip ahead a few days. I was sitting at a desk on the last day at my summer job when an RCMP officer called. My friend who worked in the dorm had filled out an incident report, and the officer wanted to verify the facts. He started asking questions without checking if it was an okay time to talk. I spoke as quietly as possible, hoping no one in the office would hear.
He read the report my friend had given, emphasizing certain words, like “drunk” and “spacey.” He asked if I had anything to add. I explained that I didn’t remember much. I was pretty sure they’d put something in my drink.
“Did you see them do it?” the officer asked. I told him no. He asked if there was a toxicology report.
There was no report. The ER nurse, with hair the colour of a worn work boot, had looked me up and down as I clutched the edge of the gurney. She asked how much I’d had to drink. She clucked her tongue and asked, what did I think would happen when I went into that room? She asked if I’d called the police. She’d sighed, as though I’d inconvenienced her, and left to find someone to ‘deal with’ me.
I threw up in the garbage can, stuffed wads of paper towel into my underwear, and ran away before she came back.
The officer half-sighed, half-laughed, when I told him I hadn’t been examined. “So, you’ve got no proof this happened.”
My bruised thighs, my torn body — they were the proof. My vision, that faded in and out. My will to live, that faded in and out. I had the proof. But not the right proof.
They could get the names from the dorm booking and find them, if I wanted to press charges. But I didn’t want to do that, the officer insisted. It was my word against theirs. I’d be dragged through the mud. Every bit of my past and the carcasses of all the bad choices I’d ever made would be picked to the bone. Why do that to myself? Especially since, well, was I really sure that’s what had happened?
“You said you went there willingly,” he said. “And you drank. Are you sure you didn’t just go to a party and make some bad choices?”
Had it been a party? I’d been the only guest. I hadn’t had a good time.
The officer sounded impatient, like he was tired of dealing with girls like me, when there were more important things for him to be doing. His voice was loud and intimidating. What would your friends think? And your family? he asked. You don’t want that following you for the rest of your life.
That was the end of the call. There were no questions about whether I was okay, or whether I needed help. As far as he was concerned, it was case closed. I should just move on.
The thing is, I couldn’t.
Everything I’ve written here sounds like it could’ve happened last week, right? It happened in 1989. A whole generation ago. Not a damn thing has changed. Tale as old as time.
His voice saying, “You have no proof” became the little voice in my head that called me a liar and made me doubt my sanity. Eventually, my brain dealt with it all by shutting everything away, leaving only fragments of memories of the assault. But it also shut away memories of who I’d been before. I developed a kind of PTSD called dissociative amnesia, and for the next 25 years, memories of Christmases, proms, summer vacations — were all gone. My understanding of who I’d been before, and who I was supposed to be now — gone. I didn’t understand why I felt shaky and shamed every time I saw a police officer. I started getting my memory back around the time Christine Blasey Ford testified against Brent Kavanaugh. Her bravery in so publicly facing the questions that implied she was a liar helped open that door in my brain, just a crack.
According to Statistics Canada, more than 34,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2021. But the real number’s much higher, because only 6% are reported to police. People often ask, “Why don’t victims come forward?” I suspect for many it’s because they feel no one’s listening. They’ve witnessed survivors being put on trial. They know how the police will treat them.
But when we do come forward — like I’m doing, here – people will ask, “Why can’t you just move on?”
Why? Because I’ve got my memories and my voice back now, and maybe if we keep talking, making our voices louder and louder, the police will eventually hear us. When they don’t listen, we’re silenced. And when we’re silenced, there’s no safety for anyone, anywhere.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and would like to share your experiences with how the police handled your investigation, we’d be happy to hear from you. Anonymity is assured. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.