St. John's woman says military failed to help her after sexual assault

A St. John's woman says the military mishandled her case after she reported she had been sexually assaulted by two of her fellow reservists in 2012.

Courtney Dunne says she was fined for underage drinking after she reported being raped by fellow reservists

Courtney Dunne, 22, says she was sexually assaulted by two fellow reservists when she was 16 years old. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

A St. John's woman says the military mishandled her case after she reported she had been sexually assaulted by two of her fellow reservists in 2012.

Courtney Dunne, 22, says she reported the alleged assaults, but the military said it didn't have jurisdiction and instead charged her with underage drinking.

Dunne says the assaults happened less than two weeks after she signed up for the army reserves.

"I was 16 years old and I was raped in the military by two guys at the same time," said Dunne.

She has spoken about it publicly before, the first time as a Miss Newfoundland and Labrador contestant in 2015. But at that time she was still a reservist and didn't speak about the military's role in her story.

Sought help from padre

Dunne says the assaults happened Canada Day weekend at a hotel in St. John's, where she and other reservists were attending a party in one of the rooms.

The military handled the situation completely inappropriately.- Courtney Dunne

She says that while she was assaulted, a knife was left in the room in plain sight. She says her assailants showered her afterward — she believes they did that to try to remove evidence — and then left her alone in the room.

Dunne says she turned to someone she thought she could trust and filed a written report to a padre or chaplain, with the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service.

"I came forward to a padre in the military and he got the ball rolling, but the military handled the situation completely inappropriately," said Dunne. 

Dunne says it was the padre who arranged for her to seek medical help and have a rape kit done.

'I didn't sleep'

She didn't expect what happened next.

Dunne says after she filed a written report, the military charged her with underage drinking. 

"Because I had been given an order [under the Code of Service Discipline] not to drink underage, I was charged with disobeying a lawful command by a superior officer. I had to pay a fine. I was the one who got charged — and, as far as I know, the other people of that night did not," said Dunne. 

She was fined $300 for underaged drinking. She says what happened next made things worse.

"After I reported that I was assaulted, one of the guys [I accused] was on my course, and he slept across the hall from me, not even 10 feet away from my bed, for two weeks after it happened until I was medically released from the course. Terrifying. I didn't sleep," said Dunne.

Outside military jurisdiction

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence confirmed by email to CBC News that a complaint was made by Dunne in 2012 but said it was a matter for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

"The incident is alleged to have taken place off military property and while the individuals (complainant and subject) were off-duty. As such, the RNC had jurisdiction," DND spokesperson Jessica Lamirande.

Dunne says the military mishandled her case, instead charging her with a violation of the Code of Service Discipline. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Lamirande said there is no contradiction in sanctioning Dunne for underage drinking while saying local police had jurisdiction over her assault allegations.

"While Canadian Armed Forces members are subject to the Criminal Code of Canada, they are also subject to the Code of Service Discipline, which is uniquely military in nature," Lamirande wrote.

"So while local police may be able to charge someone under the Criminal Code for a criminal offence, the military can also charge someone under the Code of Service Discipline for something that is not criminal in nature, such as going against a restriction specified by chain of command."

Lamirande said the RNC had received Dunne's complaint and conducted an investigation.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in 2015 announced Operation Honour to deal with allegations of abuse and assault in the military. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Dunne says the RNC's investigation is ongoing, but the RNC told CBC News it can't confirm or deny whether it's investigating. They said discussing any details of Dunne's case with the media would breach her privacy.

Four more years

Dunne served with the military reserves for four years where she was training to become a weapons technician, but during that training, she says she was frequently harassed and verbally abused.

"I stopped coming forward with what was happening because I started being labelled. The first time I came forward I was 16 years old and I had only been in the military for 10 days and from that day forward I was known as the girl who cried rape," she said.

From that day forward I was known as the girl who cried rape.- Courtney Dunne

While Dunne was still in the reserves in 2015, the Canadian Forces  acknowledged it had received many complaints of sexual abuse in the military and launched an investigation it called Operation Honour.

Dunne said that within the ranks there were many people who thought Operation Honour was a joke.

"Right off the bat it had its own name: 'Operation Hop on Her.'" she said.

"We were in a briefing and they were like: 'Well, this doesn't really happen. Girls aren't actually being assaulted as much as is claimed.' I had to walk away because I was so angry," said Dunne.

Dunne says she hopes to help others by speaking out. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

In 2016, following  a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Dunne was discharged for medical reasons. She said it was heartbreaking because it spelled the end of her dream of joining the regular forces and serving overseas.

"I have major depressive disorder now and I've actually tried to kill myself,"  said Dunne.

But she says she's still fighting.

"I'm here as an advocate so people will understand that even someone who they think is very strong, there are times when they feel weak. It's a roller-coaster."

She's at the College of the North Atlantic, studying to become a rehabilitation assistant and says she'll continue to speak out and try to raise awareness about the importance of consent.

"I need to get it into kids' minds — and not just kids; teenagers, everybody — what consent is. If you say, 'No, don't touch me,' no one has the right to touch you."

About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.