WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
A woman attending Memorial University says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student during her first month in school, and despite the police laying charges, she says the man accused of the crimes is still on campus.
“I can no longer get my proper education because of what happened, but he can, after doing that to me,” the 18-year-old student told CBC News. Her identity is protected by a publication ban due to the nature of the charges.
The student and her father are going public about their dealings with the university, which they believe have been flawed since the day of the alleged assault. They say the experience has left them believing the current system does more to protect someone accused of a crime than it does for the victim.
She feels her complaint wasn’t taken seriously at MUN’s sexual harassment office. She felt discouraged from going to police, she says, and university administration didn’t do enough after she notified them that charges were laid.
The university, however, says it has a policy on sexual harassment and assault and does what it can to support students who come forward.
The complainant says she met a 20-year-old male student at the Queen Elizabeth II library on MUN’s St. John’s campus the second week of September. He introduced himself and asked if he could help her with her assignment.
A few days later, she says, he asked her to walk with him to his house across the street from campus to get his school project. Their friendly meet-up took a turn, she said, after he insisted she come inside his house then guided her to his bedroom and locked the door.
The female student says he grabbed, choked, and sexually assaulted her, then got angry when she tried to get away.
Eventually, she says, she unlocked his bedroom door and he let her leave.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
“I was pretty much in shock. But my friends helped calm me down. And then when they asked me what I was going to do about what had happened, I said I was too scared to do anything, but they helped me understand that I needed to speak up about it,” she said.
She says she visited MUN’s sexual harassment office the afternoon of the alleged assault. According to the office’s website, they offer consultations, handle sexual harassment and assault complaints, provide referrals and hold education sessions. The main office is in St. John’s, with a satellite location on Grenfell campus in Corner Brook.
But the student says she received a cold reception by the person she met with, and she didn’t feel believed or supported.
“[The counsellor] said it’s very unfortunate, but these things happen, and there was only a little bit that they could do about it. They could give the man a printed-out copy of a complaint that I would write for them, and just hope that in response he would not act out again.”
How sexual assault complaints are handled at MUN
Memorial University says it has procedures for sexual harassment and sexual assault concerns and complaints. Those options include requesting an informal resolution, mediation or a formal resolution, including an investigation. Students can face discipline ranging from mandatory educational sessions to expulsion.
However, the student says she was worried about filling out the form with her contact information and address because she believed it would be sent to her alleged attacker.
“It immediately scared me. I was less hopeful after hearing that than I ever was, because letting him be aware of the situation with no enforcement to stop him from doing anything to me,” she said. “I thought that he was going to do it to me again, that there was nothing stopping him, and that I was going to get hurt again.”
Memorial University’s sexual harassment office turned down an interview request, but the university did answer questions from CBC News.
“We want every student who comes to us to feel supported and taken seriously and regret that a student who sought our office’s support feels this has not been the case,” wrote MUN spokesperson Dave Sorensen, adding the university could not comment on this specific case.
“The university aims to support survivors of sexual assault and harassment through a trauma-informed approach to care.”
Sorensen said the details on the complaint form are vetted by the complainant, adding that no one is required to fill in the address or contact information on the complaint form for the complaint to be processed.
The student says that was not communicated to her.
She says the counsellor she spoke with gave the option of going to police.
“But she also said that handling it at a university level was more civil and probably easier for me,” the student said.
“I was very discouraged and I was scared to go any other steps further than that. I thought what had happened to me wasn’t valid.”
In cases of reported sexual assault, the university’s website says, “Persons are encouraged to contact the appropriate legal authorities immediately.”
In an interview with CBC, the student’s father told much the same story. He said he was called to the office after his daughter and her two friends arrived.
“The counsellor seemed to be trying to impress upon us that this was some kind of misunderstanding,” he said.
‘Decision that is right for them’
Sorensen said all students who come to the office are provided with information and support on making a self-directed informed decision.
“Students are provided all options and are provided guidance in making a decision that is right for them,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen said MUN will act once a formal complaint is made, and the university’s investigation would be put on hold during the criminal proceedings. In the meantime, the university could enforce interim measures.
“If no formal complaint has been made and there is no investigation, and the university becomes aware of a charge, appropriate interim measures are put in place to protect the campus and others, pending the outcome of that trial,” he wrote.
“Memorial is generally not aware of a criminal charge until it is brought to the university’s attention. Courts have no responsibility to contact the university when a person is charged, and if a person is released on bail or on their own recognizance, they are generally free to pursue their lives.”
The university said interim measures have been taken in this case.
“The respondent was ordered not to have direct or indirect contact with the complainant, including but not limited to email or other electronic communications or through social media; the respondent is not to be present on Memorial University’s campus except to attend class or to write in-person examinations,” wrote Sorensen.
“They were ordered to go to class or exam by the most direct route and leave campus immediately after the class or exam is completed.”
Those conditions essentially mirror those already set out in the accused’s court order, and the student believes they don’t go far enough.
Sorensen added that MUN’s campus patrol and enforcement was notified of the conditions and they are monitoring for compliance.
RNC lay charges
The student left the meeting with MUN’s sexual harassment office without filing an official report there. She went to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, where she says she received a different reaction.
The 20-year-old male student was charged in late September with choking her during a sexual assault, sexual assault and assault.
He was arrested again two months later and charged with failing to comply with two orders — to stay away from the complainant and to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The female student says he showed up to her place of work, breaching a condition of his release.
The male student’s defence lawyer told CBC News his client has not yet entered a plea and is still waiting on disclosure of evidence from the Crown. He did not comment on specifics of the case.
Given parking permit
The father says he didn’t think the university was taking their concerns seriously. He encouraged his daughter to meet with MUN’s president, Vianne Timmons.
“If the police [proceed] with charges then the student needs to be immediately banned from all campuses and place them in remote or online learning,” he said.
The 18-year-old student says she attended a meeting with Timmons, who she says was sympathetic, but left unsatisfied after being told there wasn’t much that could be done.
“The only thing I really got out of it was a parking permit, so I no longer had to pass his house every day on the way to school,” she said.
She says she followed up with Timmons in late 2022. She says Timmons told her MUN was not at fault but asked her to provide a letter detailing again what happened. The student says she decided against it, as the accused had been charged and she had already explained the situation in person and by phone.
Timmons — who is on a six-week leave from the university — did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview.
Since the alleged assault, the student says she has passed him on campus, and seen him in the library — sometimes just metres away.
She says she struggles to go to class out of fear of running into him on campus.
“I can’t even describe how painful it is to see him,” she said.
“And the fear, the paranoia of having to go to school and having to see this man that did so many hurtful and painful things to me, it’s awful.”
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.