John Abbott student says police, college mishandled sexual assault allegations
WARNING: This story contains graphic content
A John Abbott College student who alleges she was choked, slapped and made to perform oral sex in a campus washroom says Montreal police and the school administration didn't take her complaint seriously.
The 19-year-old student says investigators dropped the case and accused her of lying after reviewing school surveillance video.
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The alleged assault began during a class in June, the woman said, when the male student put his hand on her thigh. She repeatedly pushed his hand away but "didn't want to make a scene."
The woman asked not to be identified, saying she fears for her safety.
He choked me, he slapped me, and then he made me perform oral on him by pulling my hair down, and then when he was done he just got up and walked away.- John Abbott College student who says she was sexually assaulted on campus
After the class, the student pushed her against the wall and kissed her.
"I kind of laughed because I was in complete shock, and I was confused so I kind of just brushed it off," she said in an interview with CBC News.
Then, she says, she was pulled into an elevator.
"This time it was more aggressive, and he put his hands around my throat," she said.
When they got out at the sixth floor, she said, he pushed her "up against the wall again and kissed me, but this time he put his hands down my pants and started doing things."
"When I would tell him to stop, he would slap me across the face," she said.
Then, she said, the classmate "picked me up, and he brought me into the boys bathroom."
"He choked me, he slapped me, and then he made me perform oral on him by pulling my hair down, and then when he was done he just got up and walked away," she said.
'They told me I was lying'
The student said she immediately told her mother about the alleged incident, and together they told a member of the school administration, who called police.
She said investigators listened to her story, noted the bruises on her neck and photographed them.
She asked the officers if she should go to a hospital to collect evidence for a rape kit.
"I thought I might still have some DNA, or something," she told CBC. "But they said no, it wasn't necessary, because I chewed gum and drank some water."
Still, she said, she felt that in the initial encounter with police they were taking her case seriously. But when she met them again a couple of weeks later, the tone had changed.
Police officers said that they had reviewed surveillance footage from the school.
"They told me I was lying because I walked into the school with the perpetrator, and apparently, according to the video, it looked like I enjoyed it," she said.
"I was in complete shock.… From a video you can't tell my feelings, what's going through my head at the time."
Sometimes there will be leads, gathering of evidence, that contradict the victim, unfortunately.- Montreal police major crimes division chief, Insp. Patrice Carrier
Montreal police have refused CBC's request for comment on the case. They would not even confirm there was, in fact, an investigation involving the 19-year-old student.
However, in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, a police spokesman said investigators dropped the case because the surveillance video contradicted the young woman's statements.
Speaking generally about police investigations, Montreal police Insp. Patrice Carrier, the chief of the department's major crimes unit, told CBC News that video would only be part of the evidence-gathering process.
"We're seeking leads to support the victim's story," Carrier said. "Sometimes there will be leads, gathering of evidence, that contradict the victim, unfortunately."
Carrier did say it is standard practice to ask an alleged victim to go to a hospital for a rape kit, and he could not explain why an investigator would have told the student not to bother because she chewed gum and drank water.
"Maybe he did not know better. Maybe he was misled. I can't answer," Carrier said.
Students set to return to school
The student said John Abbott did not offer adequate support after she raised the allegations, despite claims they would provide her with a social worker.
She said she's "terrified" about going back to school in two weeks.
In an emailed statement, John Abbott College confirmed a female student had reported an alleged sexual assault in a campus washroom.
Spokeswoman Lison Desclos said the college "has taken this situation very seriously and continues to do so."
"The alleged aggressor was immediately suspended and restricted from coming on campus pending the outcome of the investigation," Desclos said.
Now that police have dropped the case, Desclos said John Abbott is "now focusing on the re-integration of both students."
Community group offers support
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said the family approached his organization for help.
Niemi said the handling of the incident raises questions about the police's sensitivity to sexual assault and "the notion of consent, and especially with the need to act in a preventative way."
"They have not received much support from the college," Niemi told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"We're trying to help them at least to cut through the red tape and to eventually look at what can be done in terms of protection for the student."
For his part, Insp. Carrier said he hopes the media attention around this case does not discourage other alleged victims from reporting incidents to police.
"We have a team of 30 dedicated members that are doing thorough investigations," he said. "We have to take a look at both sides."
"Sexual assault being such a damaging crime for both the victim and somebody who would be falsely accused — we have to be very, very careful about our investigation and very thorough," he said.
"But hopefully nobody is going to be discouraged to come forward.… Please, don't stop disclosing. We want to put perpetrators behind bars."