According to Statistics Canada, nearly 40 per cent of sexual assaults reported to Kelowna RCMP were deemed “unfounded” in 2018. That number is more than double the 15 per cent average across the province and dwarfs the under-5-per cent averages in Vancouver and Victoria. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)

According to Statistics Canada, nearly 40 per cent of sexual assaults reported to Kelowna RCMP were deemed “unfounded” in 2018. That number is more than double the 15 per cent average across the province and dwarfs the under-5-per cent averages in Vancouver and Victoria. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)

‘Steeped in rape culture’: Sexual assault survivor speaks out against Kelowna RCMP

‘I can’t imagine being a fresh survivor and having to deal with them’

Heather was 15 years old when she was gang-raped.

For more than 30 years, she lived with the shame and anger of her trauma until she finally decided to report it to the Kelowna RCMP when she was 48 years old.

A year later, she was told by investigators that there wasn’t enough evidence and her case was closed, leaving her with more questions than answers and a sense of betrayal by those who are supposed to serve and protect.

Her experience with the police, like so many others in Kelowna, appears to be a common story many survivors of sexual assault have encountered.

READ MORE: Forty per cent of sexual assaults in Kelowna deemed ‘unfounded’ in 2018

READ MORE: Property crime continues to drive crime rates: Kelowna RCMP

According to Statistics Canada, nearly 40 per cent of sexual assaults reported to Kelowna RCMP were deemed “unfounded” in 2018.

That number is more than double the 15 per cent average across the province and dwarfs the under five per cent averages in Vancouver and Victoria.

The alarming statistic represents 35 victims in Kelowna who claimed they were sexually assaulted but were never able to find justice.

Heather is one of those victims.

“Kelowna has a problem,” she said. “There is no such thing as justice in this city for survivors and victims of sexual assault.”

Heather, whose last name the Capital News has agreed to keep anonymous, was in Grade 10 at a party with some friends on spring break when she was allegedly gang-raped.

While she’s not sure if she was drugged, she said it was at that party in April 1986, where she was found unconscious and barricaded in a room with three of her classmates who sexually assaulted her.

“The last thing I remember was sitting on the couch drinking,” Heather said. “Rumours are that I was drugged.”

Heather said when she woke up the next day, she was “sore everywhere,” and she “just knew” she had been assaulted.

Upon returning to school the following Monday, she had been deemed a “slut” by her classmates.

It took Heather’s friends — whom she now refers to using air quotes — 32 years to tell her the names of two of the alleged culprits, allowing her to file a police report with the RCMP in September 2018.

She said her “friends” wouldn’t divulge the name of the third culprit.

According to Heather, the RCMP’s initial investigation was limited to a single phone call, which was made to the wrong person with the same name as her assailant.

“He denied knowing me. They closed the case,” said Heather, reliving the frustration she felt.

Feeling unheard, she decided to go up the chain of command.

“I spoke with someone who knows how to fight the RCMP,” she said.

“He did some digging and he found out that they had just randomly phoned some guy with the same name.”

After demanding a more thorough investigation, Heather said the RCMP made two additional phone calls to both of the men she accused, only for them to deny the allegations and the case to be closed in August 2019 — less than a year after it was opened.

READ MORE: Kelowna mayor proud of his first year in office after re-election despite community pushback

READ MORE: Former Kelowna social worker sued again for allegedly stealing from foster children

Adding insult to injury, to this day, Heather said she is still seen as a slut by her classmates and feels betrayed by those she called her friends and classmates.

She even wrote a letter to them explaining the pain she felt when they looked the other way the day she needed them most.

“I did not have a good time. I did not deserve what those boys did to me, but more than that, I did not deserve what you all did to me after. I was raped and you all either covered it up or created a narrative where I was a slut and liked it,” reads an excerpt from the letter she wrote to her classmates entitled Happy 30th Reunion.

Still raw from her embittered battle with law enforcement, Heather said there were times she could’ve screamed at the officers handling her case.

“I tried so f—king hard to keep it together when I reported,” she said.

At one point, during what she described as a very intimidating reporting process, Heather said she was asked whether or not she consented.

“I was 15 and I was unconscious. How would I have consented?” She said.

“I walked into that office and I’d had 32 years to resolve my trauma…I can’t imagine being a fresh survivor and having to deal with them.”

According to Heather, the RCMP is “steeped in rape culture” and systemic change is needed in the way sexual assault cases are handled, adding she wasn’t surprised 40 per cent of sexual assault cases in 2018 were deemed “unfounded” by the RCMP in Kelowna.

“We need proper sexual assault investigators in this city and we need cops who understand what rape culture is and how they’re contributing to it,” said Heather.

She slammed the police force for its poor training practices and described the current situation as an “epidemic.”

“We need proper training; we need to hire better RCMP officers to begin with…they need to be empathetic and they need to care about this epidemic because it is an epidemic.”

Michelle Novakowski, executive director for the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, agreed that more training needs to be given to police officers handling sensitive crimes, however, she said RCMP officers are still human and fallible.

“While we do hold police to a higher standard, they’re still part of our culture and there are a lot of myths around sexual assault,” she said.

She cited familiar tropes such as “women ask for it” or “she shouldn’t have been drinking” as unfortunate myths that are still perpetuated in society that place the blame on victims instead of putting the blame on the assailants.

“Those come out when somebody reports a sexual assault,” she said.

Novakowski said the Elizabeth Fry Society has been working with the RCMP for a couple of years on developing a trauma-informed practice, but says more work still needs to be done.

The RCMP declined an interview request, but in a statement said the investigation into Heather’s case was concluded because the evidence did not meet the threshold to lay a charge.

That threshold, according to RCMP, is set out by the attorney general and must include the “substantial likelihood of conviction.”

“We the RCMP know that sexual assault is a devastating crime that has traumatic and long-lasting effects on victims,” read the statement.

“Moreover, a poor experience with police investigators can bring more trauma to victims and discourage others from reporting these crimes.

“We are committed to strengthening police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support and public education and communication.”

The RCMP said it is committed to ensuring sexual assault survivors feel comfortable coming forward.

“We want to ensure that all survivors of sexual assault feel comfortable bringing their allegations to the RCMP, receive the same standard of care regardless of jurisdiction, and trust investigators to thoroughly and professionally investigate these crimes,” said the RCMP statement.

While those words might bring comfort to some sexual assault survivors, for Heather, it’s too little, too late.

“Kelowna is an incredibly toxic city when it comes to this stuff. It hasn’t changed since I was 15.”


@michaelrdrguez
michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

A BC Hydro outage is affecting nearly 4000 customers in Kitimat. The cause of the outage is under investigation. (Screenshot/BC Hydro Outage Map)
Cable fault responsible for Kitimat power outage, BC Hydro says

At its peak, the BC Hydro power outage affected near 4,000 customers

Graph showing the 2020 passenger totals at the Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace. (Submitted/Northwest Regional Airport)
New year brings an end to a turbulent 2020 at Northwest Regional Airport

Passenger totals half of what they were in 2019

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read