Warning: This First Person column contains graphic content and may be triggering for those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it. It is written by Meghan Simard who lives in Toronto. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
Back to school is a hard time for me every year. It aligns with the anniversary of my rape at university in 2014. This anniversary was made even harder by the news coming out of Western University.
Police are investigating four reported sexual assaults since school began this month. On TikTok and other social media platforms, there have been allegations of more sexual assaults. It might be tempting to look at this as a Western problem, or a class of 2021 problem. It’s not.
Every year, approximately 600,000 sexual assaults occur in Canada. An estimated five per cent of sexual assaults against people 15 or older were reported to police. This makes sexual assault the violent crime least likely to be reported to police. I am one of the 95 per cent who does not have an official report of my sexual assault — but not for lack of trying.
I was raped in my third year of university by a so-called friend. I had turned down his sexual advances earlier in the week, but agreed to watch a movie with him and two other people. When I arrived at his house for the movie, the other people were nowhere to be found. I told him twice I didn’t want to have sex. I tried to leave. I removed his hands from my breasts and genitals four times. I still remember the moment when I realized what was going to happen, whether I wanted it or not.
Distraught, I turned to institutions that should have protected me for support. I received next to none.
I went to Kingston General Hospital to have a rape kit done. At the request of the nurses, I recited my story at least twice but no one wrote anything down. I surrendered my jeans and underwear. I expect they have since been destroyed to make room for clothing from more recent rapes.
I spread my legs for an internal swab and was told after the fact that DNA evidence would be useless in a he said, she said. He wouldn’t deny that he was in me, but would just say it was consensual. I wanted to report my rape then and there, along with the rape kit. The nurse said I would have to make a report to the police. I could not report it at the hospital.
I went to the Queen’s University Human Rights and Equity Office to speak with the school’s sexual harassment prevention co-ordinator. She asked me to explain what had happened. Again, I recited my story — this time with many interruptions and incredulous outcries from the co-ordinator.
At one point, she interrupted me to ask for more detail about the sexual positions in which I was raped. Despite demanding every sordid detail, she didn’t take any notes. When I’d finished, she asked what I would like to see happen. I said I would like to see him expelled, or at least suspended until I graduate.
The response was another incredulous outcry: “He has rights too, you know!”
That same academic year, one of my friends was not at school because his grades were not sufficient to stay in his program. Apparently, you can be suspended for poor grades but not for raping another student.
The co-ordinator tried to dissuade me from making a report with campus security or local police, but eventually agreed to set up a meeting with a detective from Kingston Police.
I met with the detective a few days later on campus. She asked me to recite my story again. Again, no one wrote anything down. Face wet with defiant tears, I asked the detective what my chances of a conviction were. She said none. Then she proceeded to tell me why:
Because it was he said, she said.
Because I didn’t leave when I started to feel unsafe.
Because it took me four days to realize what had happened.
Because I didn’t scream.
Because I had slept with him before in the previous school year.
Because I stayed the night and left in the morning.
All of the reasons she provided laid the blame at my feet. I had failed to be the “perfect rape victim,” and so I had no chances of securing a conviction.
She then offered some advice. She said I am too nice and need to learn to teach people how I want to be treated. She then said that if I really wanted to make a report (I have a faint memory of this being accompanied by a labored sigh) that I would have to go to the police station where they would take my statement, and then close the file without an investigation. I could not make a statement from campus or my student house. I didn’t even know where the police station was — nor did she offer to tell me.
I left these meetings with a hatred for myself I did not know was possible. I thought to myself that if I could just take responsibility for my actions, for my failure to stand up for myself, for my meekness and weakness, that I could accept it was my fault and move on.
The meetings with the human rights office and the Kingston Police were more traumatizing than the rape itself.
I’m not saying that to diminish the trauma rape inflicts, because the assault caused immeasurable harm all on its own. But being failed by one person is more manageable than being failed by system after system.
The rest of my school year was more or less a garbage fire. Attending university classes with newly developed, untreated, and severe PTSD is hard enough, but I also had to see my rapist regularly on and around campus. I am indebted to my friends who held my hands through panic attacks and to my family who picked up the phone in the middle of the night when all I wanted to do was die.
The summer following the assault, I was back home, living with my family — away from my rapist and the place I was raped. I’d achieved some form of stability and calm for the first time in eight months. I thought that perhaps here, in my hometown, while I felt safe(r) I could report the crime. I even had a constable in mind, one I trusted and had known since childhood. I mentioned this to a social worker I was seeing at the time.
She said that she thought I would have to report the assault to Kingston Police, that my local police wouldn’t take the report since it had not happened in their jurisdiction.
By this point, I had been defeated so many times. It was not worth the effort or the disappointment to find out for certain if I could report locally. All it took was one hint of discouragement to scare me off.
I was raped and never reported it. Our systems are an obstacle course that keeps us from reporting. My trauma isn’t limited to the rape itself, but extends to my denied attempts to report my assault and from my denied attempts to seek justice.
I am in some ways heartened to see a media, police, and institutional response, however insufficient, to the reports of sexual assault at Western. For far too long, survivors have been silenced and disbelieved. To see news coverage and student walkouts over these assaults is a welcome change.
To my fellow survivors, I see you. I hear you. I believe you. Your assault is valid even if you never reported it.
If you are the victim of sexual violence, reach out to your provincial hotline.
Editor’s note: CBC News contacted the Kingston Police, which did not provide a response to questions about Meghan Simard’s experience by the time of publication. It was one of many police forces across Canada that decided to review sexual assault cases after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that one in five sexual assault cases across Canada was classified as unfounded, meaning the investigator didn’t believe an offence occurred or was attempted.
The Kingston General Hospital said it could not provide information on Simard’s experience due to provincial privacy laws.
Queen’s University declined to comment on the specifics of Simard’s case. The school hired an outside consulting firm to investigate complaints against the co-ordinator at the human rights office. There was no finding of impropriety by the staff member, the university confirmed to CBC in an email. A spokesperson said the school has developed a policy on sexual violence involving students.