After reporting sexual assault, student expresses frustrations with university procedure

Following more than two months of investigation, a student has come forward with her personal account of the shortcomings of Mount Allison’s sexual assault procedure. When the first-year student approached the university to report a sexual assault, she said she didn’t know what to expect. The student said she was raped in her residence following the Mount Allison Students’ Union-hosted SackVegas party on Sept. 12, and she reported the assault to Melody Petlock, Mount Allison’s sexual harassment advisor, on Sept. 28. The university investigation was not completed until Nov. 19 and did not find the accused guilty.

The student said that at first she had a hard time accepting she had been raped and didn’t come to terms with it until a few weeks after it had happened.

“At the beginning, I think I actually said I didn’t want to ruin his life,” she said. “But I didn’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

A letter addressed to the student from Adam Christie, the director of student life who conducted the investigation, stated, “In the absence of witnesses or other evidence that might offer more conclusive support for one position or the other, the investigative panel is unable to make a definitive determination in the aforementioned allegation.

“Nevertheless, the investigative panel is troubled by what transpired and how it has been represented in the two accounts. It sees this as an important opportunity for education around consent,” the letter continued.

Christie, who was unable to attend the interview, indicated to the Argosy that Petlock would answer all of the Argosy’s questions about the investigative process.

“We talk a lot about things like a balance of probabilities,” said Petlock. “We don’t say somebody is guilty or innocent. We try to see where the preponderance of the evidence seems to be leaning […] I would expect, if we’re seeing intent, it’s going to be more severe than something that might be more opportunistic, like those kinds of things where people find themselves in a situation and make a less advisable choice.”

The student said she decided not to report the incident to the police but was told by Christie that she could change her mind at any time.

Initially, she expected everyone she met with to be as supportive as Petlock had been. The student said Petlock was helpful and present throughout the process. “I didn’t realize that Melody’s job is to support people that report assault, whereas other people in the process are there to figure out what happened – to be neutral,” she said.

The student wrote a statement of events, as did a friend of the student and first-year student at Mt. A, and, later, the accused. The student agreed on a no-contact order between herself and the accused.

“When people say, ‘That was rape,’ you think of a dark alley with a strange man and a knife,” she said. “You don’t expect it to be someone you kind of know, a friend of a friend.”

The student signed a confidentiality agreement which stated that she would speak only to Petlock and her friend about the investigation while it was ongoing. The students were told the agreement was intended to prevent any potential witnesses from being influenced.

“It seemed like it made a lot of sense at the time,” said the student’s friend. “I can understand where that’s coming from, but society already makes you feel like it’s something you should be ashamed of, and now it’s written on paper saying ‘Don’t talk about it.’”

The student said if she had known she was able to, she would have spoken to her parents about the incident sooner but felt limited by the confidentiality agreement.

“Confidentiality is critical so that people can feel safe and trust our process,” said Petlock. “During an investigation, we need to make sure when collecting evidence that the integrity is there. In any legal process you pose a reasonable person test,” she said. “Whenever we have a confidentiality agreement, it’s understood that people need support.”

Originally, when she asked Petlock, the student said she was told that the process would take approximately a month to complete.

“By the end we just got so frustrated and so fed up and just wanted to be done,” said the friend. “We wanted to be done so badly that it almost felt like [whatever the outcome of the situation], we were going to have to accept it.”

“I just wanted to move on from this,” the student said. “I didn’t want to have to think about it every day, and here [the investigators] were asking me questions about it once a week.”

In their first meeting with Christie, the student and her friend said they were presented with possible consequences which the school could administer to the accused.

Consequences included education, suspension, or paying a fine, as well as possibly receiving a campus alcohol ban. The student said she was displeased with the option of an alcohol ban. “That’s like saying, because you drank, that’s why this happened,” she said. “Which it is not.”

The draft of Mt. A’s new sexual assault policy, which is currently undergoing a consultation process, outlines potential consequences for sexual assault cases. An alcohol ban is no longer an option, but a ban from certain events on campus is included.

The student said the agreement was that both her friend and Petlock could be at all of the meetings with Christie. However, the student said her friend was not allowed to be present at a number of interviews during in which she was asked to recount the events of that night. She said the meetings were very difficult to coordinate and were scheduled based on Christie’s availability.

The student said most of the meetings consisted of clarifying questions. “One of their questions was which door of the building we left through. I think they scheduled an entire meeting for that question.”

“They asked specific things about the statements that we had written when things didn’t line up with mine and his, which was a lot,” said the student.

The student said in one of the earlier meetings, she used the word “rape” to describe her experience.

She said Christie immediately corrected her, saying “alleged rape.” This happened again in the same meeting. The student said Christie explained that he was supposed to be “neutral” in the situation.

“It doesn’t matter if [Christie] is neutral,” said the student’s friend. “You don’t need to cause someone who has been through that to have any other doubt in their mind that it happened.”

The student said the only reason she was given for the school not being able to prove rape was that the accused said that the sex was consensual.

In the letter Christie wrote to the student, two actions taken by the school are outlined. “[The accused] will be required to complete approved educational training around consent,” and “[the accused] will be placed on probation for the duration of his studies at Mount Allison. A record of this report will be kept on file in my office and may be taken into consideration should [the accused] be implicated in any future allegation of non-academic misconduct.”

The student and her friend said that despite their frustration, they want to encourage others to report assaults to the school. “I think, before we went through the process, we had both internalized a lot. I was constantly saying I should have stopped her from going [out] that night, or done something to prevent it,” said the student’s friend.

“It’s a learning experience that you shouldn’t really have to learn from but you do,” said the student.

“The main thing that needs to happen is to make the survivor feel like they’re believed, that it’s not their fault,” said the student’s friend. “That wasn’t our experience. It wasn’t centered around the survivor, but that’s what it’s supposed to be going forward in the new policy.”

“We will try to respect, always, the wishes of the survivor,” said Petlock, “because something like sexual assault is such a loss of power, you want to keep them feeling in control.”

“I would really hope that anybody that comes forward after my friend will have a way better experience,” said the student’s friend.

The draft of Mt. A’s new sexual assault policy will be passed to the Board of Regents for approval in May.

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