Calgary

Medical student's rape conviction first of its kind in Calgary

When Laura woke up on June 1, 2014, she knew she had been raped. What she didn't know was how she wanted to handle it but a program in Calgary allowed Laura to delay her decision to have police pursue an investigation until she was emotionally ready.

U of T medical student Prachur Shrivastava was found guilty of sexual assault earlier this month

Former University of Toronto medical student Prachur Shrivastava was convicted of raping a woman who had passed out at a party in Calgary in 2014. (Facebook)

When Laura woke up on June 1, 2014, she knew she had been raped. What she didn't know is what, exactly, she wanted to do about it. But thanks to a program in Calgary, Laura was able to delay her decision to have police pursue an investigation until she was emotionally prepared for the aftermath.

This month, four and a half years after the attack, former University of Toronto medical student Prachur Shrivastava was found guilty of sexual assault and will be sentenced in the new year.

CBC News is calling the victim Laura because a court-ordered publication ban protects her identity.

Shrivastava's conviction is believed to be the first time a defence lawyer challenged the admissibility of a Third Option kit. Third Option is a reporting choice for victims of sexual violence which, in Calgary, started in 2011.

The three options are as follows: victims can choose not to report an assault to police, they can choose to report and pursue an investigation right away, or they can have a rape kit done and stored for a year while they decide what they want to do.

Ultimately, in Shrivastave's trial, the rape kit was allowed in as evidence. 

The rape

The details of Shrivastava's crime come from Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench Jolaine Antonio's written conviction decision, released earlier this month.

Her decision was based on evidence presented at trial — testimony from the victim, the accused, and friends who witnessed portions of the night in question.

On May 31, 2014, Laura was partying with a group of friends at Molly Malones, an Irish pub in Calgary's Kensington area. By the time she arrived at her friend Rob's house, she described herself as "blackout wasted."

Laura passed out in the living room where sofas and mattresses had been set up to accommodate Rob's friends when they returned from bars to eat pizza and stay the night.

Many of those involved were med students at the time and have since gone on to become doctors.

Laura passed out on one of the mattresses almost immediately after arriving at Rob's.

'No capacity to consent'

Another group of Rob's friends — who had been drinking at Wurst — arrived after Laura. When Shrivastava walked into the living room, he pointed at Laura and asked who she was before saying; "I guess I'll stay here tonight," one man testified.

One of the other men in the room testified he thought it was strange Shrivastava would want to sleep beside someone he had never met.

Rob told Shrivastava to sleep on the sofa because he felt Laura "had no capacity to consent to sharing a bed at that time, let alone anything else."

At some point in the early morning hours, Shrivastava lay down next to Laura. In the middle of the night, Laura woke up to someone raping her.

"She tried to push the person away by swinging her hand back," wrote Antonio in summarizing the evidence. "She still felt drunk and head-spinny, with a foggy brain. She did not fully understand what was going on."

DNA evidence stored

Laura estimated she passed out again after about 30 seconds.

When she woke up, Shrivastava was sleeping on the mattress beside her. Paired with her flashback memories of the night before, Laura described feeling "disgust and violation."

"What's your name anyway," Shrivastava asked, according to Laura's testimony. She then told the court she felt as though she wanted to choke him.

After leaving Rob's, Laura went to the hospital where evidence was collected as part of a rape kit.

He deprived her of control over who touched her body and how, and thereby criminally violated her human dignity and autonomy.- Justice Jolaine Antonio, Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench

Forensic testing would later show Shrivastava's DNA was found on and inside Laura.

The kit was stored until Laura felt ready to participate in the investigation.

In her final assessment of the evidence at trial, Justice Antonio found Laura an "honest witness" and rejected Shrivastava's testimony, finding it "irreconcilable with other credible evidence" and a "self-serving fabrication."

"I believe he wanted to obtain sexual gratification from an unconscious stranger, and that is what he did," the judge wrote.

"He deprived her of control over who touched her body and how, and thereby criminally violated her human dignity and autonomy."

'The gift of time'

Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) estimates about 20 per cent of sexual assault victims opt to have their rape kits stored for up to a year. 

The third option gives victims "the gift of time," says CCASA's CEO Danielle Aubry.

It's very critical for people to be empowered into making their own decisions.- Danielle Aubry, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault

"What we know about trauma — and people who experience sexual violence do experience trauma — is that it's very critical for people to be empowered into making their own decisions."

Similar programs exist in Nova Scotia, Ontario, B.C. and Yukon, but the option is far from wide-spread and typically only exists in larger city-centres where proper training and storage prevent defence lawyers from being able to make an issue out of the continuity of the crucial evidence, should the case advance to charges and then a trial.

Several of the other cities, such as Halifax and Whitehorse, have third option-type programs that store the kits for just six months.

In urban centres, sexual assault teams consisting of nurses, doctors and others offer psychological services, medical care and evidence collection, if needed.

In Calgary, victims who show up at ERs or urgent care facilities within 96 hours of an assault can be connected with the Calgary's Sexual Assault Response Team (CSART). 

Leave of absence from med school

A spokesperson for the University of Toronto said the school cannot discuss Shrivastava's status with the program because it's considered "personal information."

Instead, Elizabeth Church referred CBC News to the medical school's Standards of Professional Practice Behaviour policy which says "in urgent situations, such as those involving serious threats or violent behaviour, a student may be removed from the university in accordance with the procedures set out in the student code of conduct."

According to a source close to the case, Shrivastava was on a leave of absence from the university's medical school since 2015 without having completed his medical degree.

A faculty profile for the Masters of Biotechnology program on the University of Toronto's website says Shrivastava graduated from the program this year, after taking an academic leave from 2014 to 2016 "in pursuit of multifaceted development."

It also says he coordinated a clinical trial at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Shrivastava's conviction was believed to be the first under Calgary's Third Option program, a reporting choice for victims of sexual violence that started in 2011. In fact, Shrivastava's conviction is believed to be the first time a defence lawyer challenged the admissibility of a Third Option kit.
    Jul 18, 2019 2:14 PM MT

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.