Last summer, life was good for Shan Qin.
The 23-year-old varsity rower at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ont., was president of the student society, an orientation leader and top of her class.
She had just been accepted into law school in Windsor. She had a boyfriend who she thought she would marry.
That all changed the night of Aug. 14, 2016. She alleges her boyfriend sexually assaulted her, and the ensuing school investigation led her to file a human rights complaint against UOIT. CBC Toronto is only using the woman's first name to protect her identity.
Training in Windsor
In August 2016, Shan Qin's boyfriend accompanied her on a weekend trip to train with the University of Windsor's soccer team.
Back at the hotel the first evening, she says she had two glasses of wine before feeling dizzy.
She tells CBC Toronto she woke up at some point in the night to find her boyfriend on top of her, but somehow couldn't stay awake. While she says she had little recollection of what happened that night, she remembers the morning vividly.
'I was shocked, confused.' - Shan Qin
"I felt really sore," she said. "I looked under the sheets and I was covered in blood."
Medical staff at an Oshawa hospital found a vaginal tear following an internal ultrasound. Pharmacy records show she was prescribed various medications to stop the bleeding.
"I was shocked, confused," she said. "I didn't realize this would happen, especially with an intimate partner."
In the following week, her boyfriend repeatedly denied any wrongdoing before admitting to it in a Facebook message.
'I was never in the loop'
Shan Qin says she decided not to file a police report at the time. Instead, she filed a complaint with UOIT, thinking the university would investigate under its sexual assault policy.
A month later, the school informed her it would proceed under its student code of conduct instead, which doesn't address sexual assaults — the first of many developments that led her to file a human rights complaint against the school.
Over the next couple of months, Shan Qin said she received two more calls from the school.
"They would call me on a Friday afternoon asking me if I was sure there was no consent," she said, despite having her version of events recorded in the initial meeting with campus security.
She also said the university did not contact her about the status of the investigation after that. "I was never in the loop with what was going on," Shan Qin said.
'Slap on the wrist'
The university's investigation took three months. The school ruled her boyfriend violated the student conduct code "in that he engaged in sexual activity without your consent."
- Write a 2,000 word essay on how to create a respectful environment ... clearly articulating "the meaning of consent as it pertains to sexual activity."
- Suspension from enrolling in courses at UOIT until the end of 2017
- Suspension from participation in all UOIT athletic teams until the end of 2017
"They kicked him off the varsity team [four days] after he finished rowing nationals," she said. "They were weak sanctions, a slap on the wrist. I had trust in the university."
'How often do you drink alcohol?'
Her boyfriend appealed the sanction barring him from taking courses. As part of the process, which took about another three months, Shan Qin was asked to collect more records—from the pharmacy, the hospital and character references from her friends.
She was also required to complete a questionnaire prior to the meeting, which included these questions:
- What alcohol was consumed that evening?
- How often do you drink alcohol?
- How you felt about [your boyfriend] not accompanying you to the hospital?
While the school upheld its initial decision, Shan Qin said she was traumatized over the course of the half-year investigation.
"Assault is one thing. Having to relive it every week for those last five months was a whole different ball game," she told CBC Toronto.
Human rights complaint
In May 2017, Shan Qin filed a human rights complaint against UOIT, specifically citing the school's "policy and practice with respect to investigation of complaints of sexual assault" and "emotional and psychological harm, and injury to dignity."
Shan Qin says she filed the complaint because she wants schools to make their investigations more survivor-centric.
- U of T bungled 17-month sexual assault investigation, student alleges
- Mandi Gray, York University reach settlement in human rights case
Experts say there's a lot of work to do when it comes to sexual assault investigations on university campuses.
"It's so hard for a survivor to come forward as it is, and to have to go through multiple procedures on campus and still to feel like she hasn't been heard in some real way ... is a very sad thing," said Charlene Senn, a women and gender studies professor at the University of Windsor who specializes in sexual violence and campus interventions.
Despite the province requiring all universities and colleges to have stand-alone sexual assault policies as of Jan. 1, 2017, experts say carrying them out is not a straightforward task.
- Sex assault policies at universities fail the people they're supposed to protect, students say
- How these 3 women are helping survivors of sex assault
"It's not enough to have a policy," said Senn, who said most survivors don't go to police because they fear the criminal justice system re-victimizes them, so schools have had to step up. "We must make sure the people who are doing investigations or acting on tribunals and administrative panels are trained in sexual assault. It can't just be done by anyone."
'If the good outcomes are so bad'
A study published in 2003 in the U.S. journal Criminal Justice and Behaviour cites between eight and 35 per cent of female students are sexually assaulted in their college years, but despite the prevalence, most do not report it to the police. Experts, including Senn, say the number is closer to 30 per cent, and can be generalized to Canada and that number is much higher when legal definitions of sexual assault are included (non-penetrative sexual acts). And in most cases, the survivors know their perpetrators.
'Mentally, it's been a disaster.' - Shan Qin
Shan Qin didn't initially go to police, but in March 2017, decided to file a formal report in Windsor. Police there are investigating and have not laid charges.
"There was actually a good outcome. The survivor was believed and the university acted against the perpetrator," said Senn. "If the good outcomes are so bad for the survivor, that tells you something about how much work we still have to do."
As Shan Qin prepares for another school year, she admits she's still struggling. "I still can't go to the gym. I have lots of pains, cramps. I have trauma bleeding," she said. "Mentally, it has been a disaster."
She's taking sleeping medication. She's still dealing with anxiety. She no longer rows. Despite all that, she's starting her second year in the law program at the University of Windsor.
CBC Toronto tried to contact the boyfriend multiple times for comment, but did not receive a response.
UOIT confirms it received the human rights complaint and denies Shan Qin's allegations. Meanwhile, Shan Qin has agreed to mediation with the university, which put the human rights complaint on hold temporarily.
Sex Assault on Campus: Are schools failing students?
CBC Toronto is bringing you stories about survivors of sexual assault and how policies on campuses are working for them. Share your story: Lisa Xing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org