The System Failed Me

The following is an account of my rape, PTSD, and the abject failure of the police. Content warnings in place for graphic content.
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The system failed me, just like it fails other women (and men) every day. In North America, 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in one form another another in their lifetime. Of those women, somewhere between 6% and 34% will approach the police about the matter (depending on which studies and age brackets are considered). And finally, less than 1% of all incidents of sexual assault result in the perpetrator being arrested or held accountable in any way. Compared to other crimes, the rate of incarceration for sexual offenders is obscenely low.
However, this personal essay/think-piece, whatever you want to call it, is not about statistics; most people know how bad it is and don’t need to have the stats repeated for them. This is about the fact that, for survivors of sexual assault, all of those statistics are so much more than numbers. I am a victim of rape and sexual assault and I am not a statistic; this is my real life and my real pain. No number can describe the incredible difficulty of dealing with the fear, anxiety, and health issues related to the trauma I have experienced.
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I’d like to add that, although I’ve been raped on multiple occasions, there’s one instance that I’d like to focus on with this piece. To focus on more would entail telling my entire story, which would probably take far more pages than most of you would be willing to read.
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PART A: The Event
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November 18th 2015. It feels so long ago, now that we’ve started another new year. It’s drifting slowly into the past, but the pain associated with what happened never seems to drift or fade away with time. So that’s where I’ll begin.
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(Actually my rapist.)
On November 17th 2015, one of my friends, let’s call him Barry*, wanted to hang out for his birthday. I’d been friends with Barry for years, and we were quite close. He’d dated a friend of mine briefly, we’d travelled together, and was dating another friend of mine (Catherine*) at the time. She was out of town on co-op and so, unfortunately, she was unable to join him for his birthday. Barry didn’t invite anyone else to hang out for his birthday, but at the time, I didn’t really give that a second thought. Barry had my trust, and he knew it.
* Names changed for my own safety.
I joined Barry at his house, where he was living with some of his frat-brothers. I was low on money, so I’d brought rum and coke mixed in a travel mug to drink before we went out. However, Barry insisted that, since he’d had so many shitty birthdays in the past, he just wanted to make this one a great one. He shared his rum with me, and then we made our way uptown. We went to Chainsaw, and since it was a Tuesday, they had a deal on their cheap, crappy, eponymous beer. Barry bought a few pitchers of the beer, until we’d both had more than enough. He even bought me a poutine when I told him I felt that I needed some carbs to counteract the effects of the beer I’d just drank. Barry did these things because he was a good friend… or so I thought.
We continued drinking around town and eventually, some time between 1 and 2am on November 18th 2015, we made our way back to Barry’s house in a cab. I couldn’t afford my own, and we’d agreed that I could crash at his place. When we returned, Barry began drinking more beer, Block 3 to be precise, straight out of a massive growler. I’d had enough already, but I enjoyed Block 3 beers, and after the swill we’d been drinking all night, I took a few sips to wash down the taste. His room was set up just like any other typical student-aged guy’s room. He had a large monitor across from his bed, which we used as a seat as we watched Rick and Morty. We laughed, chatted, and watched the show to wind down from the loud night out.
Some time later, I woke up. Because it had been so late, because I’d had a fair amount to drink, because it’d been so comfy there on the bed watching the show, I’d fallen asleep without moving to the couch. No big deal, right? Just move over there now. However, as I regained consciousness, I knew that something was wrong. It was darker; the show was no longer playing. I was on my stomach, face pressed down into a pillow. My pants were pulled down to my mid-thigh, and Barry was on top of me.
***** Content warning: the following paragraph describes graphic detail of rape *****
I froze. I didn’t let him know that I’d woken up. I kept my face down into the pillow, and just lay there, trying to tense up my body as best as I could. I wouldn’t make it easy, I thought. His hands were on me, inside me. His mouth was on me, his tongue inside me. I felt like I was going to be sick. I shut my eyes harder. I’m sure he’ll stop soon, I thought. But he didn’t. Instead, he pulled down his pants and tried to force himself inside me. Aha, I thought, that’ll stop him. No way he won’t notice I’m on my period! But I was wrong, really wrong. He continued anyway, pushing harder, until eventually he managed to get himself inside me. He continued for what felt like an eternity, and eventually he stopped.
***** End of content warning *****
Now, Barry was a smart guy, and so he grabbed some Kleenex, cleaned me up, and pulled my pants back on as far as he could get them. My heart was racing; I just wanted to get out of there, but I was terrified. I listened carefully, what was Barry doing? Barry grabbed a sheet of paper from his printer, and began writing a note. “You passed out on my bed,” he wrote, “I’m asleep on the couch. Find me there.” He dropped the note on the bed next to me and left the room. I bolted upright, grabbed the note and my phone, and I used the light of my flashlight app to read the note, praying I wouldn’t be noticed. I shoved the note in my purse for evidence, but unfortunately did not think to grab the tissues he’d used.
At this point, I began to hyperventilate. I was still broke, and had no means to cab home. It was a 58 minute walk, I was drunk, and it was freezing. I texted Chris (my then-boyfriend-now-fiance). I considered calling him, or walking to his building, which would only be a 10-15 minute walk from where I was. In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to bother him with it, and didn’t call. I slipped my sweater, socks, and winter coat on, and curled up in a ball in the corner of the room. I’d wait until buses started running in the morning, I decided.
Once the sun was up, I slipped on my boots and quickly ran out of the house. I ran to the bus-stop, and hopped on the route 12 home. By the time I got home, Chris had responded to my texts, and I finally had to really admit what had happened. Unfortunately for me, my first instinct was to shower. I showered for an hour, letting the water scald my skin. I cried, screamed, and could not bear to look at my own naked body. It didn’t belong to me anymore. I stopped crying for a while, and covered myself in layer upon layer of baggy clothing, and curled up into my bed. But then, my silly fat cat fell off of my headboard onto my face and the crying started again; the facade of calm that I’d been maintaining was shattered by the smallest amount of pain.
The reasonable thing to do would probably have been to go to the hospital or police at that very moment, but I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had a scheduled group therapy session that day at Grand River Hospital, and since the sessions had been doing me some amount of good, I decided that no amount of crap was going to keep me from going. So after hours of crying and staring at my ceiling, that afternoon I made my way to the hospital. My session began, and when asked how my week had been, I instantly broke down. They recommended that I pursue help at St Mary’s Hospital, since they had a specialized sexual assault team.
That evening, after spending some time with my dear friend Darcy, Chris took me to the hospital to speak to someone. The sexual assault team was (seemingly) great. They were really kind and understanding, and they even gave me a care package before I left. Unfortunately, as I discovered after the fact, that night was the first failure of the system in a long series of (increasingly awful) failures.
PART B: The Aftermath
For starters, I did not trust the system. I’d heard so many stories of people who were failed/torn apart by the police, the courts, and everyone involved in their situation. So with that in mind, when I was in shock, sitting in the assault centre – I was not focused on making sure that they did their jobs correctly, or that evidence was correctly collected. I didn’t believe I had any shot at justice, and was still fully traumatized from the events of the night before.
They asked me if I wanted to have a rape kit done. I explained to them that I had showered, and asked if there was any point to doing one. They said no, and so the conversation moved on, and no kit was ever done. A year later, I found out that even if I’d showered, they still could have found plenty of microscopic DNA evidence on both myself and my clothes. I don’t believe that they maliciously left this information out… but I do believe that they either had a serious lapse in judgement, or don’t know the information they ought to know in their position.
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They asked me if I wanted the police involved. I specified that I wasn’t ready to press any charges against Barry at the moment, but did want the incident fully reported to the police. And so, I filled out a report form, in which I detailed the events of the night, that they then kept in their files. They didn’t send it to the police, the police were not even aware of it until I called them a year later. The police then told me that it didn’t count as a statement, as it was just a written accord and I hadn’t been spoken to by any police officers.
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Let me back up for a moment, and explain the events that led me to approaching the police a year after the event. Over the span of the year, I’d thought I’d be able to move on from the trauma. I’d been through trauma in the past, and was clearly still doing okay, so I thought that I could just move on with my life. Then, Donald Trump was elected. I’d thought it was impossible that a man who so clearly boasted about sexual assault and preached racism would be able to be elected. But I was wrong. And so I was reminded how little the world cares about sexual assault, and how few people actually get justice for what was done to them. The results of the election caused me to have a relapse of my PTSD, which I’d struggled with for years since I’d first been assaulted.
I decided that Barry needed to be held accountable for what he’d done to me. I approached the police, and was put in contact with a Detective. He told me that he’d pull my report from the hospital, and that I’d have to come in to make a statement. I knew that I was opening myself up to a world of hurt, but it was worth it if I could receive justice. (I had, at this point, somehow convinced myself that a system as messed up as ours could actually deliver justice to my rapist.)
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I bussed an hour and twenty minutes out the Cambridge Police Headquarters, to make it easier on the detective, so he wouldn’t need to transfer his files from another station. I gave them the note, and all of my chat history with the people that’d been involved. That day at the station was the worst experience I’d had since the day that Barry raped me. After leaving, I compiled a list of notable things that had happened/were said to me, and so instead of explaining the events of the interview, I will share that here.
  • After being asked to describe my skin colour for the information gathering portion of the interview, the detective complained about how “PC” our culture is regarding race and other matters.
  • The detective explained that unwanted ass-smacking in high-schools is not actually sexual assault, and seemed surprised when I appeared offended.
  • When I described Barry as a “rapist”, the detective scoffed. He asked me if I considered the sexual assault I experienced to be on par with a “Paul Bernardo rape and abduction situation”, and told me that it was a “different thing.” He explained to me that what happened to me was a “betrayal” but not the same thing.
  • The detective asked why I would wait a year to report, and explained on multiple occasions that the lack of evidence would work against me. Tried to convince me to drop it.
  • The detective asked me whether or not I thought Barry had maybe “changed” by now. I told him, “Rapists don’t change, a rapist will always be a rapist.” To that, he responded and asked me if in the past I’d done anything I am not proud of now, and that lots of people make bad choices.
  • The detective tried, on multiple occasions, to make me admit that I’d been lying about the rape kit, and tried to make me say that I’d actually refused one. When I explained that I was never told that evidence could still be collected after a shower, he told me that the workers at the assault centre do this for a living and I must be lying.
  • The detective asked me about my clothes and other physical evidence, and condescendingly asked why the assault centre had never asked for it. Pushed me to admit that I was lying or had refused to give it to them. Once I was sick of being accused of lying and snapped, the detective then asked “Oh, are you angry now?”
  • The detective stated that he was “not a social worker” and was not “there to make me feel better, just to tell me the truth” when I couldn’t stop crying during his constant drilling. Continued to push, drill, and accuse me of lying despite my crying for an hour and a half straight.
  • Asked me why I didn’t fight or say anything when I woke up and Barry was on top of me. When I said that I’d been too afraid, he laughed and said “that can’t be true, since you just described being such good friends with Barry, and stated that he never made any threats against you in the past”. When I insisted that, yes, I’d been afraid, he said “I don’t believe it.” Detective continued pushing me to tell him why I “really didn’t” stop him when I woke up.
  • The detective kept asking me what I wanted out of being there, and when I told him that “I couldn’t handle it anymore”, he replied with “Handle what, exactly?” I then had to explain how my rapist gets to live without any consequences, and he did not take that seriously.
  • The detective explained that he’d been doing this job his entire life, and that he was the most senior detective in his squad. He said that he knew when people were lying, and that his job had a lot on the line, not like “handing out tickets.” He stated that he would not stake his reputation on a case like mine if there was no further evidence.
  • When I was visibly upset during the last 1.5 hours of the 3.5 hour interview, he asked what I’d expected to happen when I went in there today. When I responded that I’d expected “pretty much this”, he told me that I “clearly have no respect for the police or the system”, and seemed angry and offended.
  • The detective told me that my friend Catherine, Barry’s girlfriend, definitely didn’t believe that he’d raped me. He said that she likely just believes that Barry cheated on her with me, otherwise there’s no way that a woman could stay with a rapist. He repeated this to me, regardless of what I said about her reactions/the situation.
  • The detective stated that if, by some chance, the case went to court, that no one would believe me, since I’d drank alcohol and gone back to sleep at a man’s house, which is what people do when they hook up. Pushed me to drop it.
  • The detective asked me approximately a half dozen times why my boyfriend was okay with my staying over at a male friend’s house (especially considering that we’d had some history together far into the past). Women are property, apparently?
  • The detective kept reminding me that in the past I’d initiated encounters with Barry while drunk, so clearly I could not have thought that he was a bad guy.
I left the station crying and unable to breathe, and Chris had to take an emergency leave from work for an hour to come pick me up at the station in Cambridge, because I couldn’t handle getting home on my own. I felt betrayed and disrespected, and I definitely did not feel that I was taken seriously or believed. And so, I did what I could and I moved on with my life while the police performed their “investigation”. I saved my list, and I thought about it every day until they finally contacted me a month and a half later, just this past week in January 2017.
The Detective first contacted me regarding their investigation on Thursday January 5th. They’d been investigating, and had “stumbled” onto information about my past rape claims (that I’d never reported to the police). I was hurt beyond belief. The police were investigating me rather than putting that same energy into my rapist and my case. They asked me if I had a history of making rape claims, and why I’d never contacted the police in those cases. The information they’d attained had enough of the truth to be credible, but it was littered with lies. So, despite not wanting to speak about the traumas of my past, I was forced to defend myself, to try and give them the correct side of the story, which is what they’d hoped for. I asked them why it was relevant to my current case and they wouldn’t give a straight answer, other than stating that “they have to follow up on all of their leads and information.” Despite being given the contact information of the people involved in the aftermath of my situation, not once did the detectives contact Chris. Chris, who was the first person I told, who took me to the hospital, who had eye witness experience as to what it was like when this happened to me. They did not call him once. But yeah, they were completing a super thorough investigation.
The very next day, the detective called me back, stating that he would not pursue my case any further. They’d spoken with Barry, and his girlfriend Catherine and his parents had come down to the station with him. I suppose I needed to know how supported my rapist was. They noted how he came in even though he didn’t have to, and explained that his description of the night was very similar to mine up until the event. Apparently, as Catherine had said to me before, Barry doesn’t remember the night of the incident after getting home. And so, there’s “no evidence” and no case against him, so they did not see a point in continuing. The detective even told me that he believed that *I* “didn’t really want to case to go forward anyway”, and that had been the feeling he got from me from the very beginning. He said that he thought I just wanted someone to listen to me, some attention, and not real legal action or consequences. I was in shock and wasn’t able to really fight back, not that there’s anything I could have done about it when their minds had been made up from the beginning.
That brings me to now. It’s been 5 days, and all the thinking and stressing in the world has not helped me to make any more sense of what happened. It has only caused my PTSD to flare up and provided me with a plethora of nightmare fuel. Because it doesn’t make sense. This should not be how the police and our system for sexual assault work.
I believe that the system has grossly failed me, and though I’m not sure what my next steps will be, I feel that it may need to involve the court of public opinion. Just need to get all of my legal ducks in a row first.
What I do know for sure is that the actions of a monster, and the disgusting, hurtful opinions of a broken system will not change who I am. I am survivor, and I get stronger every day.

(Not) Just Another Post About Sexual Assault

I’ve never tried to write about my sexual assault. There are so many accounts out there already, from women braver than I; women who fought to be heard despite living in a world that tries to silence them.
I’ve asked myself, “Why does the world need to hear the story of yet another rape victim?”
I’ve told myself, “People in your life don’t need to know this sort of thing, they’ve heard enough. You’ll hurt them.”
However, it has occurred to me: my story is necessary because it’s yet another story, like the millions that came before, about a rapist who will never pay for what he did. Another story about a rapist that probably does not believe he’s really a rapist. Another story about a girl who couldn’t turn to the systems designed to protect people for fear that she wouldn’t be believed, or that the system would turn against her. No, this story may not be unique. But that is exactly the problem.

The first time I was raped, it was someone I went to high school with, and I was seventeen. The second time, I was eighteen, and it was a university classmate. I was in denial and refused to call it rape, insisting that I’d just been wrong to put myself in situations alone with these boys and that they must have thought I wanted it somehow. And then I was raped again and again when I was nineteen and twenty, by figures of authority I’d thought I could trust. It was time for me to admit it was rape.

I spent a large amount of my adult life trying to come to terms with everything that’d happened to me (or as I saw, that I’d let happen to me). I spent most of my life blaming myself for always freezing, for never being physically or mentally strong enough to get away. For being a victim and allowing more people to victimize me.
By the time I was twenty-three, I’d recovered from the PTSD I had developed, and I’d started to move on from the blame. But then it happened again. Worse than before, because this time it was a friend that I loved; a friend that’d been there for me for years; a friend that knew about my previous assaults.
Because of these things, this has been the hardest by far to move on from. Over the past nine months, I’ve had long periods of time where I was fairly certain that I’d ‘gotten over it’. I’ve had periods where I’ve wished harm on myself and on my rapist. I’ve had periods where I denied what had happened and considered trying to re-establish our friendship.
So because of all of this, that is the story that I’m going to tell you today.

Last November, I spent the night with a close friend for his birthday. Whether he didn’t have anyone else to invite or if he just wanted to spend it with me, I don’t know, but the two of us hit the town. We drank, and we went to a karaoke bar, and we drank some more. This was not the first time we’d done this; this was a kinda regular thing for us. I was, by all accounts, drunk. And so was he. Not blackout drunk, but drunk enough that I couldn’t manage an hour long walk home. I couldn’t afford a cab home, or much of anything that month, and he’d insisted that the night had been out of his pocket so that he’d have a fun birthday that year.

So, I decided to stay at his place since there was plenty of space.I dozed off in his bed while watching Rick and Morty, assuming (based on all past experience) that he’d wake me to move to the couch, or move there himself. However, what I was jolted awake by was much less pleasant. I’ll not go into detail, but the long and short of it is that I froze, afraid to let him know he’d woken me for fear of what worse things he would do. And so he raped me, slid my clothes back up, and left a note on the bed next to me and snuck out to the couch.

Screenshot 2016-08-15 at 8.55.57 PM

The moment he was gone I began to sob. I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to move in case he realized that I knew what he’d done. I had no way home since I couldn’t afford a cab and was still unable to walk a full hour. And so I stayed there, curled up, waiting for the morning busses to begin.
In the morning, I snuck out of the house and went home as quickly as possible. I immediately jumped into the shower, where I stayed for 45 mins, sobbing, retching, and trying not to think of how filthy and violated I felt. I curled up in the baggiest clothes I owned, not wanting to see my body. Not wanting to acknowledge its existence. My body was no longer my own; he’d taken it.

Later that day, I was taken to the hospital to report the rape, get shots, and file a police report. I was asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought about the justice system, and I thought about what had happened. I counted the factors: I had been drunk, he’d paid for our drinks, I had been close friends and had a history with my rapist, and I’d willingly slept at his house. I knew I didn’t have a chance, and so I filed the report anonymously, such that it would only be brought up should he ever be involved with the police in the future.
Would I have wanted to press charges? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. But do I think that they’d decide in my favour? No. The system is not in my favour nor any other victim’s. I know this from the million stories that came before mine. So, I decided not to open myself up to the kind of pain that would come from rehashing the details in court, and having both my testimony and my character torn to shreds by a defense attorney.

I moved on in the only way I could. I confronted my rapist via online message, advising him that I knew what he did and that I’d filed a police report, and then blocking and deleting him from every piece of social media that I could.
After that, I spent days agonizing over how to tell his girlfriend, a mutual friend, who I felt had a right to know. With help from friends, I was able to tell her. She took it surprisingly well, better than I expected (and in hindsight, perhaps too well). She insisted that he must have been too drunk, that he said he didn’t remember, and that he wasn’t coherent. She ignored the fact that he was coherent enough to clean me up and leave me a note. She wasn’t sure what to do; she loved him and she cared about me, and she had to make a decision.

In the end, she decided to stay with him. And she also decided to remain friends with me. In all fairness, I could have severed the friendship myself, but I am not one to burn bridges, and I did care for her. I thought I’d be able to handle it. I thought, “I’ll just never really think about it.”
However, that became increasingly hard to do, because, over the span of a few months, she began talking about him as if nothing had really happened. She’d tell me the mundane bits of life and what he was up to.* And at first, I thought that I could be okay with that. But now, I’m not so sure. I don’t like remembering that he hasn’t paid for what he did. I don’t like the reminder that he’s still just happily living his life, being a success, when what he did to me has deeply damaged me; has severely impacted my mental health, and made it so that I can’t trust a large majority of men that I would not previously have categorized as untrustworthy.
*I’d like to note that I absolutely adore her and value her friendship, and don’t want to sound in any way that I want that to end.

And so that’s why, on a not-so-special day like today, I finally decided to write about this. On a day where I was reminded about the number of rapists out there who will not pay for what they did, I decided to add my story to the growing archive of stories just like mine. Today I will acknowledge that I will likely never get any closure with this rapist. That this rapist will likely never acknowledge that he is, in fact, a rapist. That he will move on with his life and have his relationships unhindered by what he’s done and is capable of.
So I guess I have to move on too. Eventually, I’m sure that’ll happen. Though I’m sure for me, the pain will never really go away, not entirely.
But I’m not going to let it ruin my life. He will not have that power over me.
My life is mine, and he can’t touch me anymore.