Help for students and members of Brock University dealing with sexual violence.
The recent need to refocus my attention on this matter has left me writing what seems to be a bit of a manifesto, and a bit of a memoir. I apologize for its length, although I deem every word necessary.
It has been just over four years since a professor at Brock University sexually assaulted me, intimidated me, propositioned me to set up a sexual arrangement, and then threatened me. It has been three years since that same professor admitted his behavior to me over the course of sixteen emails, manipulated me, lied to me, and tried to guilt me into protecting him. Luckily for me, I had a few close friends who held me up every day during that time and encouraged me to move forward with a formal investigation. Luckily for that professor, he had Brock University behind him, who demonstrated through their actions during that time, that their priority above all else, was to give him every possible avenue and protection to ensure his career would not be put in jeopardy. If you listen closely, you can probably hear Brock’s Administration conjuring up ways to deny that allegation. While they can dance around it, and state the things they said after the CBC news article broke, they cannot in good conscience state that they handled my case in a respectful manner.
My interest is no longer focused on the man who assaulted me. He is one man. He is a reprobate and after the external investigation found me credible and suggested discipline for him, his character was judged in the court of public opinion, and I am certain he has suffered the consequences of that negative publicity. With that I am satisfied. Maybe I’ve spent too much time studying medieval history, or maybe I have just been too jaded by the bureaucracy designed to gaslight complainants, but if it were possible to repeal a few Canadian Laws, I think a trial by combat would have brought me justice much more swiftly. (I wonder if I could have asked The Mountain to fight on my behalf?) Unfortunately, I was left with the nonsense that comprised Brock’s Human Rights and Labour Relations Board, Human Resources, and the Office of Human Rights & Equity Services. One woman oversaw the running of all those positions.
What I am about to focus on is the absolute deplorable treatment I received from Brock University over the course of roughly seven months, from the time I reported the incident in September 2015 to the time CBC aired my story on The National in March of 2016. Now this story can go one of two ways: 1) Either Brock was understaffed, under-prepared, and lacked clear protocols to handle the reporting of a sexual assault and simply “pretended” to have the capabilities to handle my case, or 2) They were the “experts” they claimed to be in communications with me and purposely misled me into filing a lesser complaint. If it was the first case, then their deceit and negligence allowed them to toy with me, and led to the extreme distress I suffered during the reporting process and the months that followed, and in which case they should be considered culpable. The second scenario is that Brock’s Administration were indeed “experts” and never operated with transparency, knowing that if they could convince me to stay away from a police investigation, they could lead me down this path of deceit. I also cannot stress enough that everything I will focus on in this statement comes from written correspondence I have had with the aforementioned offices of Brock University, a phone conversation with the then President of the University (recorded and retained on the advice of CBC’s reporters), statements released by the Brock Administration, and statements from legal counsel. I sincerely hope that any response from Brock University does not attempt to discredit any statement I make here as I am all too happy to release all documents and correspondence highlighting their words and actions. Have some integrity this time please, my patience, naivety, and ability to be intimidated have faded substantially in the last few years.
Before I begin that appraisal of events, I should also point out that with the recent news of the professor’s return to the classroom, after a three-year hiatus spent travelling the world on the university’s dime, I have been contacted by a number of news outlets looking for my opinion on the matter. More importantly, I have been contacted by the same legal counsel I sought back in 2016 who has assured me then that “recent changes in the law have effectively eliminated limitation periods with respect to sexual abuse in Ontario, and therefore, you are free to commence legal action at any time.” I wholeheartedly hold the Brock Administration responsible for my assault, particularly since they were already made aware of a previous incident and had not imposed any restrictions on said professor’s interactions with students and therefore facilitated my assault. In my communication with legal counsel January 4, 2019, I was asked if I wished to pursue a civil case against Brock University.
The only reason I even considered legal action against Brock was because they gave no apologies for their egregious treatment of me during the reporting process, for their lack of respect, or for the mockery I received in emails from their appointed point of contact. When I was told I was not allowed to know if any discipline would be imposed on the professor, I expressed concerns for my personal safety if I were to return to Brock for my upcoming graduation since I would not know if he was on campus, and if I were to run into him, he certainly had cause to be angry with me. Knowing that I was currently 4000KM away studying overseas, her response was that if I felt in danger, I should call 911 immediately. (I should call 911 when I see a potential threat in my future, but not when I actually disclosed the sexual assault to you – at that time you told me “I would prefer if this were handled internally.”) So no, I didn’t go to my graduation, because I felt unsafe to be anywhere near St. Catherine’s having little to no information on the status of that professor. Brock’s Administration made it very clear that their agenda was to try to resolve this as quietly as possible, mainly by intimidating me into thinking I was bound to confidentiality regarding the entire matter. They had no remorse for their lack of clear protocol, no remorse for what this did to my mental health, no remorse for their false information provided to me from the onset, and no accountability for their faults. It reminded me of something an RCMP officer once told me. He said he learned early in his career that you often can’t pin hard crimes on people, but that those people often use money acquired by those crimes to obtain assets. He also said they often hide those assets from the CRA and that sometimes the only way to really get someone is to cripple them financially. Now I highly doubt any legal action on my part would result in an outcome that crippled Brock, but it might inflict at least a flesh wound. You don’t care about me, you don’t care about your other students, or your academic integrity – but money – I bet you care about your bottom line. I had inquired about pursuing Brock’s PhD program, since doing so would have offered another TA position, and perhaps another full scholarship, like I had received to study my MA there. But the situation had made me crazy and so in a frantic change of plans, I ran away as far as I could go in the English-speaking world to study abroad. It cost me considerably to change those plans so drastically and over the course of three years abroad, I am sure I spent more than $50,000. During that time, I experienced what you might call extreme duress. So much so, that the nine years I had spent acquiring an undergraduate degree, a B.Ed, a M.Litt and a MA were spoiled so much by your actions that I no longer wanted to work in a university and I changed career paths, instead opting to take a third MA in counseling psychology to help other people. This career change also comes with the hefty price tag of $35,000. If you think about it, roughly $85,000 of my money needed to be put towards education because of your actions. Luckily, I work hard and haven’t had to go into any debt for these changes, and therefore I don’t need your money. But maybe inflicting a financial flesh wound would make you consider your response to the next assault victim differently, and what I want to do above anything else is make you pay attention to your shortcomings.
So here we go…
On October 21, 2014 I asked “What would happen if I make a formal accusation of assault against a professor at the university.” I was told that it was a serious accusation and I would be removed from his class while a formal investigation took place. [It’s important to note here that HE would not be removed from his class – just me.] So I would have been taken out of a mandatory class, and with a group of just 10 in the MA program, I likely would have had to tell the other 9 students why I was removed.
On October 21, 2014 I read their Sexual Assault Response Protocol which stated that any incidents on campus regarding harassment or assault should be reported to Campus Security. [Let’s highlight here that their response to a theft from the university stated that you should contact the police because it is a criminal offense, but that for a sexual assault, your first point of contact should be campus security and Brock Administration, because…although a much greater criminal offence, this one they like to handle internally, despite having no legal authority to do so and no ability to determine “sexual assault” as it comes with the burden of proof and is a term used under the Criminal Code of Canada.] I did not learn that, however, until after Brock had lied to me about their ability to file a complaint of sexual assault. Because of the outcry after my story aired on CBC and the backlash the university received, they did change their protocol to state that you should call 911 first. I cannot reiterate strongly enough that no one in any university setting has the ability to determine if a crime has taken place so please, if you experience anything you deem to be illegal on campus, call 911. You have no responsibility to inform the university first. I can see now that that is nonsense and the route I took was a farce.
Students at Brock should be aware of services available to them on campus, such as A Safer Brock (The Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre) which offers services and support for those who have experienced sexual violence. I was so happy I reached out to a Support Services Coordinator back in 2015 when I decided to move forward with a formal investigation. Having someone to talk to, check-in with, and advocate on my behalf made a terrible situation tolerable. Without the support of that service, I would not have made it through the reporting process. I encourage anyone who needs assistance to reach out. I truly felt like Ellie Donohue-Miller carried half my burden for me, which was essential because it was too much for me to carry alone.
On October 21, 2014 I disclosed what happened to three friends: two male friends and one female friend. All three offered right away to support whatever decision I made and continued that unwavering support for two years that followed between the occurrence and the conclusion of the report, and publication of CBC’s news story. Be that kind of friend for people. It was because of those three people that I made it through the absolute mental hell I experienced during the reporting process.
On October 22, 2014 I downloaded an app to record conversations on my phone and I sat in my office a few doors down from the professor’s and I tried to force myself to go confront him and record his admission, but I couldn’t do it. I had no idea what to do, so like most women who experience assault, I decided to just let it go because the alternative meant getting into a really intrusive investigation at the same time I was trying to get through a one-year MA. Instead, I opted to put up with remaining in his class, continuing to go to his mandatory meetings he held at bars with the class, and put up with some comments, the most interesting one being his unprovoked disclosure at an end of the year colloquium to another female faculty member that he “was happy my male friend was with me because he had had so much whiskey he feared he might do something untoward.” Who jokes to female staff members about assaulting women you’ve already assaulted? I suppose overconfident predators do. Luckily, a different male friend overheard that comment and told me about it (I have some pretty loyal friends). This statement was confirmed during the investigation.
So I trudged on. I would not open my mouth in his class, for fear of screaming at him in front of everyone, and therefore, despite making all A’s on his papers, I received the lowest mark of the year in his course for my lack of contributions during seminar talks. So yeah, I trudged on, but my God was I mad. But I was also trapped. I couldn’t threaten him, because uttering a threat is a punishable offense. Despite the offers from some male friends to solve the matter privately I couldn’t do that either, because vigilante justice is also a punishable offense. I couldn’t report him, because the burden of proof fell on me, and with just my word against his, do I even have to get into what happens when respectable females try to take on powerful men in positions of authority? (cough: Kavanaugh/Ford).
So I got my degree and then I booked it across the ocean and when I was physically far enough away from the school, I confronted him in an email. After exchanging sixteen messages, I decided I had enough written evidence to move forward with a formal investigation. This is the part I truly want to focus on. Although he was the catalyst of the situation that played itself out with the reporting process, the process itself was what absolutely destroyed me. Not the professor. Sure he messed me up a little bit, and I’ve turned into the annoying friend who demands her male friends drop her off safely at home first because I’m really uncomfortable being alone in cabs, or situations where it’s just me and some older man, but the greatest psychological trauma came from the feeling of being powerless that was imposed upon me by the university administration.
On September 21, 2015 I called campus security and handed over the email exchange.
On September 21, 2015 I also called the Niagara police and reported the incident but said that I wanted to see the outcome of the university’s investigation before I moved forward with a police investigation. I asked them about my involvement in the event. I had gone there willingly; I had stayed reluctantly, but willingly after my male friend had left. I had accepted his alcohol. Despite the encouraging things you see and hear about violence against women, you cannot help but blame yourself for acting so stupidly. I absolutely knew with certainty what his intentions were, but up until the moment someone acts on those intentions it’s very hard to voice your concerns for fear of labelling someone something they are not at that moment. But he did act on those intentions, closing the door behind my male friend and wasting no time. And I did tell him to stop, through plenty of tears, and he persisted. Unfortunately, my response during an unexpected assault was not fight or flight, but in my case it appeared to be freeze. They assured me it did indeed constitute sexual assault.
On September 25, 2015 I received the first deceptive email from the university. It stated that my complaint would be taken very seriously and would be overseen by their “Human Rights and Labour Relations Experts” as well as in consultation with “Human Resources” and the “Office of Human Rights and Equity Services”. Wow, it sounded like they were involving a lot of people to make sure my complaint was taken seriously, and impartiality was ensured. It didn’t take much investigation on my part, however, to figure out that the OHRES had no employees focused on sexual assault complaints, and was being overseen by the same woman who also headed up Human Resources and Labour Relations. So one woman held influence over this process. I’m sure they meant to articulate that to me.
On September 28, 2015 that one woman emailed me and said “I have emailed our legal counsel to provide background and seek advice on the best way forward for getting an effective result for you and for Brock.” I should have watched more John Wayne films. I would have noticed them circling their wagons around what they of course perceived as an attack. They stated from the first communications that they wanted a result that was also effective for Brock. Why didn’t I notice that at the time? Oh right, I was busy being completely out of my element and just trying to keep my head above water. Later on September 28, 2015 when I stated I might also proceed with the police investigation, she replied “My preference is to address the matter internally but we will speak to the lawyer about all the possibilities.” Wait, why would she speak to the school’s lawyer about the possibilities of me pursuing legal charges? Again, I was naïve and scared and truly thought at this point that she was there to help me.
On September 30, 2015 she sent me Brock’s “Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy” which she stated was used to resolve complaints “of this nature”. But I read it, and it didn’t seem to have a box to tick that said “I was sexually assaulted”. In fact, the most egregious offense that you could claim on this form was “harassment”, which of course is more like an awkward shoulder rub, and getting called “sweetcheeks” by a creepy boss. It’s not quite the same thing as being in a closed office alone with a much older man who just insisted you stay when your male friend left, and who, despite your hysterical crying and insistence that this was not what you wanted, calmly said ridiculous things like “just accept a man who loves you” and after assaulting me, suggested I come back once a week for an “arrangement”. A man who when you were now screaming at him, tried to turn it around on you and threaten you by saying “If you say anything I will tell everyone you came on to me all night.” Nope, this seemed a bit more serious than just “harassment”. So I made sure to respond to this lady’s email and ask if this was really the appropriate route to take to report a sexual assault. She was described to me as being the “Labour Relations Expert” so why would I have any reason to doubt her when she replied on September 30, 2015 and said “RWLEP is the forum on campus for dealing with all forums of harassment as well as sexual assault.” Knowing what I know now about the outcome of my reporting, I view this as an intentional act of deception. I’m sure the University would rather say that their “Labour Relations Expert” was actually no expert at all, and simply made a mistake. But I believe, because of the mounting evidence to suggest it was in their best interest to mislead me and keep this event quiet, that this was a strategic move on their part to have me file the incident under something much less serious and therefore protect the professor’s job and their reputation.
By October 8, 2015 nothing had happened. I had now rehashed my story to Campus Security, to the Niagara police, to the Labour Relations department, and also wrote up a statement that I provided with my formal complaint. Every time I tried to speak on the phone to these people, I apologized for my uncontrollable crying. It turns out that having to relive an awful event over and over and over is actually pretty traumatizing. So I found myself alone, in a foreign country, crying every time I joined new friends for a beer and burdening everyone I met with my failing ability to control my emotions or mental health. So on October 8, 2015 I also contacted my current university psychologist to try to help me cope with the stress. Just my luck, they were on an extended leave and that university hadn’t deemed the service essential enough to fill, so I was on my own.
Yet again I trudged on. Only by now I was experiencing insomnia, failing one of my classes, staying in bed until 2PM, crying almost all the time, I obsessed over what was happening, or not happening, and my hair started falling out. I did the only thing I had the power to do and ordered myself some hair extensions and tried to appear normal. My hair by the way is only now starting to recover.
In mid-October, they hired an external investigator who interviewed me right away. They provided the professor with details of my complaint but did not interview him until November 11, 2015. He had a full month to consult anyone necessary and work on a response that by now, as you might expect, contained a lot of “I don’t recall.” Despite their promise of swiftness, it had now been two months and they had just gotten around to talking to the man I accused. It didn’t feel “swift” to me.
November 17, 2015 I got my first bit of bad news from the external investigator. She informed me that while I would receive a copy of the report and her determination as to who was credible and who was at fault, she had no authority to actually impose any punishment and that decision fell back to the Brock Administration. Wait now? You’re telling me, that this was all smoke and mirrors, and that the administration who had already misled me twice and who I already suspected were working in their own favor were the only ones responsible for disciplining their employee? She also informed me that they had no obligation to tell me anything. So even if they did decide to punish him somehow, I was never going to know if my grueling effort ever amounted to anything. On the flip side, why punish him if you never have to disclose it anyway? We know of course, thanks to the CBC investigation, that they opted for this option. Despite him being found responsible, and despite me being found credible, and despite the investigators’ recommendation that he be punished, he was left on campus, to continue to teach in the classroom.
I expressed my concern for my personal safety and of course didn’t want to attend my graduation. Would you feel comfortable returning to a campus where you knew the predator who was now probably pretty angered by the outcome and public outcry, was free to walk right up to you at your graduation and do or say whatever he wanted? With no knowledge of any imposed restrictions on contact, or any disciplinary action I didn’t want to test the waters and received a mocking response that stated “I was very alarmed that Ms. Donohue-Miller ([Support] Services Coordinator [with The Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre]) mentions in her letter a concern for your personal sense of safety. Since you are currently living abroad I would have to do some work to determine any supports that I can put in place to ensure your safety.” She followed that up by “urging” me to “contact the police” if I felt in immediate danger. It certainly came across as being saturated with sarcasm. I opted not to go to the graduation, because I felt that their priority was in fact to protect his personal safety and not mine.
On December 3, 2015 I started to get the emails telling me that no matter the outcome “actual discipline issued to any employee is a confidential matter” and that they will “respect the confidentiality of both parties.” Had I known that in the beginning, I may have opted for the police investigation which would have most certainly disclosed the outcome of an investigation. But you had lured me into a false sense of security with your “expertise” in Labour Relations.
On December 3, 2015 I responded by saying that the external investigation was indeed just smoke and mirrors, as the final decision for discipline fell back to Brock’s administration, who of course, were not impartial, (and obviously did not act on the advice of the impartial investigator they had hired.) I said that because of my lack of trust in Brock’s process, I was committed to taking another route and would speak to the police.
On December 18, 2015 I received the draft report and was happy to see that they found me credible and recommended discipline for the professor. I wanted the people I had trusted with this information to know the outcome but was told by the Administration “In my view at this point in time you should not share this report. This is an internal process and while I appreciate that you have an advocate from [The Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre], that does not mean that she is entitled to see a confidential document.”
On December 22, 2015 (It’s almost Christmas and my holiday is completely ruined) I get another email. I am now pretty upset with what has turned into a 3 month process and am increasingly adamant about going to the police. I express my desire to share the report with the police and am told “You should not share the draft report with the police at this time as it is not finalized.” Christmas comes and goes and I have become increasingly frustrated.
On January 8, 2016 I receive yet another email stating “I can confirm that the draft report and pending final report are confidential documents” and that “confidentiality is of the utmost importance and must be maintained at all times.”
These direct quotes from the emails I am looking at as I type this document are important because when I told CBC that I was pressured into keeping quiet, a statement on March 11, 2016 from the then President of the university stated “If any complainant ever wishes to discuss their experience, they are free to do so. We regret if we led the complainant to believe otherwise."
But of course, I received a few more emails stating “I’ve highlighted the important role confidentiality plays in this process, and how it applies to all parties, not just those who initiate complaints. Unfortunately, I cannot give you any legal advice on how you should proceed with these matters after the process is complete.” I was already nervous of what repercussions the professor or the school might take against me for even filing a complaint, my personal safety was mocked, and now I definitely felt like I was being told I would be breaking some kind of confidentiality agreement and could be subject to legal repercussions if I disclosed anything about the outcome.
January 11, 2016 and I get another blow. I had received the final report and noticed that instead of “assault” the report claimed the professor “harassed” me. I asked the investigator why she chose those words since I had contacted the police before filing the complaint with the university, explained what had occurred and asked if it constituted a sexual assault. The police confirmed in a phone conversation that indeed it was sexual assault. Why then would she label this incident “harassment” and why did the investigator choose to downplay it? Her response stated that she of course, cannot determine it to be sexual assault as that comes with due process under the Criminal Code of Canada and that determining this to be a “sexual assault” is not something the RWLEP can do. But Brock’s administration ‘experts’ had explicitly told me that it could, and my concerns about the impartiality of this process began to grow. It seemed to me that purposely misleading me to file a complaint that could only result in a determination of harassment worked quite well in the professor’s favor. Lesser crime, lesser punishment, or no punishment at all as we came to discover. Despite how fragile and powerless I was feeling, I was still me and deep down I knew that I wasn’t someone who put up with this kind of bullshit. I started looking around online for instances of sexual assault on other campuses and realized that everyone had pretty much the same story – universities that were trying to shut students up and brush these experiences under the rug. Of course they encourage you to handle it confidentially, they don’t want to add to the published statistics that demonstrate how many sexual assaults occur at each university in Canada every year. No one wants to show off that number. I saw an article someone had written from the CBC about a similar incident at another university so I reached out and basically said “Hey, if I send you a ton of correspondence, some reports, and a bunch of emails from my professor, would you mind looking through them and determining if you think something went wrong here?” To my surprise two reporters contacted me, thoroughly went through every detail of what I had sent them and wanted to do an investigative report on the handling of my reporting process through Brock.
By March 3, 2016 CBC had finished their investigation, had set up cameras in the hall outside his class and determined that he was indeed still on campus and actively teaching. They also determined that the university had mishandled my case and had tried to intimidate me into staying quiet. They arranged for me to be interviewed abroad and my story appeared on CBC’s The National with my face blurred out and an actor doing a voice-over because, despite the chaos, I hadn’t told anyone outside those few close friends what had happened and I didn’t want everyone finding out.
Later on March 3, 2016 I received an email saying the President of the University wanted to speak to me. It’s about time. Now that CBC had aired their dirty laundry, the President had to circle those wagons even tighter and swiftly (and this time I mean swiftly) released a statement that grossly misrepresented what had taken place, trying to make it appear that the university had taken appropriate steps to handle this situation. Brock’s President stated “I’ve spoken with the complainant directly” but failed to mention that he called me from his car after the CBC had released their article but before he released his statement so he could be sure to tell the public he congratulated me on being so brave. Brock’s President also stated “I can tell you that the employee involved is not teaching any classes and is not on campus” but he failed to mention that from the time the investigation concluded and recommended discipline, none was issued, and he was in fact on campus and teaching. It was only after CBC outed the university that they swiftly (and again this time I mean swiftly) removed him from campus. What really got me though, and what continues to bother me, was the President stating “If any complainant ever wishes to discuss their experience they are free to do so.” Of course he also stated “It is important you all know that Brock staff were supportive and responsive as soon as they learned of the complaint,” but failed to mention that I felt mocked and ignored, and had to be the one to initiate almost all contact for up-dates. He attempted to make it seem like the process had gone over smoothly and they had held my hand throughout, not admitting that they had misled and lied to me to lure me into a false sense of security that they hoped would protect them.
I ended an email to the President on March 6, 2016 by saying “All I wanted from Brock was help.”
In response to CBC’s article, a number of news outlets and student organizations contacted me for follow-up. I also sought legal counsel and began discussions of a civil suit against the university for its handling of my case. I was also trying to write the first chapter of my PhD thesis, and was planning a road trip with a friend who was travelling abroad to visit me. The morning of the road trip, I had checked my email and found another request from someone asking my opinion about an article published supporting the professor, titled something along the lines of “We have to Stop these Witch-Hunts,” calling my credibility into question after everything I had released publicly, and solidifying my belief that there are just some members of the “good old boys club” who will die members of that club. I was so distracted and angry that 45 minutes into the road trip I somehow managed to smash my rental car into the only other car on the road. I realized that keeping it a total secret was resulting in some dangerous behavior, like smashing a thousand-pound piece of metal into another thousand-pound piece of metal and so I decided to be slightly more open about it. I still haven’t told everyone in my life, but the experience has been a determining factor in my decision to shift the focus of my career trajectory away from academia to counseling psychology.
Whenever things have upset me in life my mantra has always been “put it in a bubble and blow it away.” I have managed to put the professor into a bubble and blow him away. I don’t think of him now, and even when I recently heard that he is returning to campus I didn’t dwell on him and what that means. My thoughts went to the university and how that highlights their failures and their priorities. He is one man, and unfortunately you will find men like him everywhere. What is more concerning are the powerful institutions that protect these predators. This has never been more evident than in the past few years when we have seen women take some agency for themselves and demand accountability for this unwarranted and undeserved protection of criminals by powerful institutions.
Your focus and anger should be directed to those in positions of power. Stopping one man does not stop those above who produce and protect predators. It is those above who reinforce confidence in predators through intimidation tactics and silence. I don’t know what the outcome of his reinstatement will be. Perhaps the university’s hands really are tied now. If his union and the university agreed on legally binding arbitration that resulted in him being allowed to return to work, then to quote another one of my favorite sayings, “it is what it is, and it ain’t what it ain’t.” If you are saying “I wish women had that kind of protection, power, and influence” I would have to say #metoo.
The girl Brock completely let down.