Thunder Bay

'It's not right, it's racist': First Nations woman criticizes Thunder Bay police response to alleged rape

A First Nations woman says Thunder Bay, Ont., police ignored her complaint about being raped and beaten until months later when a non-Aboriginal woman had a similar experience.

Indigenous woman says police took a statement, didn't follow up until non-Indigenous woman was assaulted

'I think these cops are racist,' says Jessica Raven. Thunder Bay police ignored her report of being raped, she says. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A First Nations woman says Thunder Bay, Ont., police ignored her complaint about being raped and beaten until months later when a non-Aboriginal woman had a similar experience.

Jessica Raven said she was attacked on Simpson Street on Oct. 10, 2015, when she was involved in the sex trade.

"It was supposed to be a date," she said. "He pulled my hair. He beat me. He raped me. I ran off with no pants, no shirt."

The 27-year-old said she didn't call police for two days because she was "too scared to do anything" in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

When police officers came to her apartment building on May Street on Oct. 12, they refused to go inside and took her statement "on the street," Raven said.

It was months before she heard from police again, she said, and only after a non-Aboriginal woman had also been raped under similar circumstances.

"I was raped and beat up and the cops didn't do anything," she said. "One of my friends was raped, a white woman, now they want to talk to me?"

"It's not right, it's racist," Raven said.

Raven provided the badge number of one of the police officers she spoke with so CBC News could inquire about her case.

'Why should I call them now?'

A spokeswoman for Thunder Bay police said an investigation is continuing, but police are limited in what they can say because of the victim's right to privacy.

"Investigators would still like to do more followup with the victim," Const. Julie Tilbury said. 

"Why should I call them now?" Raven asked. "They only called me back about the other woman."

Police could have prevented the attack on the other woman, she said, if they had taken her October complaint seriously. She said she provided police with a description of the man who attacked her, his vehicle and his address. She believes it was the same man who attacked her friend.

Raven said she has not been involved in the sex trade since the attack, when she was three months' pregnant. She has since moved and is "feeling safer" staying at home with her new baby.

"I just didn't want it to happen to other girls," she said about sharing her story. 

Few services for sex workers

CBC News asked Thunder Bay police what they do to ensure the safety of women in the sex trade in the city.

Tilbury said investigators make efforts "to reach out directly to street workers in the area of personal safety" and encourage them to seek help from local service agencies.

But there are few services available in Thunder Bay for sex trade workers, according to Karen Puddicombe.

The pastor at the Salvation Army said she has studied the issue and found there are few safe spaces for women involved in the sex trade to turn for support, advocacy or even a hot meal.

Puddicombe was the co-ordinator of Sex Workers Action Network, or SWAN.

It's the group Thunder Bay police said they worked with in the past in an effort to keep vulnerable women safe.

Unfortunately, Puddicombe said, with little funding the group of volunteers was only able to operate a weekly drop-in for women briefly between February and May of 2015.

Police "may misunderstand … what has happened," she said. "I just think because there's nothing in town and because SWAN had a name to some degree that was assumed.

"There's not really a connection with the police," she added. Police "may feel that we were their only resource as a group of people advocating for women in that field."

Puddicombe said the SWAN committee is regrouping and hopes to start a monthly drop-in, under a new name: Supporting Women through Adversity in the North.