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Woman says London police discouraged charges after alleged sexual assaults by two hockey players

Story by Rick Westhead Photo provided by story subject

Content Warning: The following article contains references to sexual assault.

A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted in London, Ont., in March 2018 by two men, one a Western University hockey player and the second a minor-league pro player, said in a series of interviews with TSN that she was discouraged by London police from pressing charges in both cases.

TSN has reviewed the woman’s correspondence with London police and King’s University College, a college in London affiliated with Western where one of the men attended school while playing for the university’s hockey team.

A London police spokeswoman declined to comment on the woman’s allegations. No criminal charges were filed in court in connection with her case. King’s University College dean of students Joe Henry declined to comment on the incident. 

Neither of the hockey players involved in the alleged March 2018 assault are believed to be connected to the alleged sexual assault in London three months later in June 2018 involving eight former Canadian Hockey League players, at least some of whom were members of Canada’s 2018 World Juniors team.

After closing an initial investigation in February 2019 without laying any charges, London police announced in July of 2022 that detectives would reopen an investigation into the allegations related to the World Juniors players. That case has gained international attention and is also being investigated by Hockey Canada and the NHL.

The woman who spoke with TSN about her alleged assault in March 2018 requested anonymity and said she was hospitalized three times between December 2019 and April 2021 after experiencing suicidal ideation and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said she wants to share her story because she’s concerned about how some victims of sexual assault are re-traumatized during police and organizational investigations. She also hopes it will help ratchet up pressure on police and others in the justice system to improve the way they deal with alleged sexual assault survivors.

“Basically, the message the police came back with repeatedly was this was a lot of work to go through and there was nothing they could do to assure me that my name would not come out,” the woman said in a series of interviews with TSN over the past three months.

She said police told her that if her alleged assailant was acquitted, they couldn’t protect her or prevent him from going where he wanted to. 

“I wasn’t provided with any support on what to do, got no guidance in any way. I was told, ‘You’re going to take a peace bond and move on,’” she said. “This has shattered me. I've developed PTSD. I have nightmares. I don't trust anyone.”

She said that while she wanted to get help to try to heal mentally, she found the financial cost overwhelming.

“Being assaulted is expensive,” she said. “Maybe that’s why so few people report their cases. I was spending $200 per week for therapy. I couldn’t afford to keep doing that.”

The woman’s case helps to illustrate why some abuse survivors do not go to police, said Laurie Hepburn, executive director of the Halton Women’s Place, which operates women’s shelters in Burlington and Milton, Ont.

“It’s good for police to be transparent and realistic and to explain this is going to be difficult and ask about the kind of support someone might need going through this,” Hepburn said. “We know when people come forward with these complaints that their integrity may be attacked and torn apart in cross examinations. It can be difficult. It’s not okay for police to basically say this is going to take too long and don’t bother filing a complaint.”

Hepburn cited government statistics that six per cent of abuse survivors report their incidents to police.

The woman’s story also highlights actions of a southern Ontario police force that has been under scrutiny in recent years for how it has responded to sexual assault allegations.

The Globe and Mail’s Robyn Doolittle reported in 2017 that nearly one-third of such allegations between 2010 and 2016 were considered to be “unfounded,” by London police, meaning they did not believe a crime had been committed. That was far more than the national average.

London Police
The woman said police told her that if her alleged assailant was acquitted, they couldn’t protect her or prevent him from going where he wanted to.

While London police promised the same year to change the department’s approach to sexual assault allegations, including appointing an arms-length committee to independently review case files and scrutinize how they were handled, more criticism of their methods followed.

In 2019, the CBC interviewed a woman named Dayna Hildebrandt who said London police also had mishandled her sexual assault complaint.

Hildebrandt said police showed up at her house at 7 a.m. to take her statement, and repeatedly asked whether she had said no to her alleged assailant.

The woman who spoke with TSN said she moved to London for school and had been dating a Western University hockey player for about six weeks when she was invited to a party at his parents’ home in London on March 24, 2018.

She said the player asked her to have sex with him in his parents’ bedroom. She was drinking alcohol and doesn’t recall whether she consented. However, when several other people opened the door and walked into the bedroom, she said she told the player to stop. The player did not agree and sexually assaulted her, she said.

Afterwards, she said she locked herself in a bathroom for hours, as the player and several of his friends stood outside the bathroom hollering insults at her.

“Five hockey players in that house who knew what had happened and not one of them stood up for me and said anything,” the woman said. “All of them bystanders. None of them would say anything to stop what was happening.”

She said she phoned and asked several of her friends for help. TSN reviewed her text message correspondence with friends.

The woman said she finally unlocked the door, ran outside, and went home.

Later the same day, a minor-league pro hockey player, one of the university hockey player’s friends, texted to say he wanted to come over, she said.

“I thought he wanted to check on me and see if I was okay,” she said. “He didn’t. He raped me.”

For more than a year, the woman declined to report her allegations to police.

“I was concerned about my personal safety,” she said. “These guys knew where I lived. I didn’t feel I had any support and eventually I moved away from London because I was afraid.”

On Aug. 30, 2019, the woman was in a London restaurant with her boyfriend when she realized they were sitting close to the men who had allegedly assaulted her.

“I froze,” she said. “The guys at the other table started calling my name, not in a nice way. My boyfriend stood up and told them to f--- off and said they were sexual predators. It wound up with one of them throwing a glass that hit me in the head.”

She said she reported her allegations the following morning to both London police and King’s University College.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Henry emailed the woman to make contact. The following morning, at between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., London police constable Dylan Dixon phoned the woman saying he was outside her home and was ready to take a statement.

“That was a surprise. I had no notice he would be coming that early,” the woman said.

“Showing up that early, with no notice, catching someone so off guard, without the opportunity to have someone with them for support when they are sharing their story, is not the way to do a trauma-informed investigation,” Hepburn said.

Four days later, Henry emailed the woman to say the Western hockey player had been given notice that an investigation was being opened into the alleged incident.

The university hired Toronto lawyer Ashley Richards, who conducted an investigation over the subsequent two months at the same time as London police investigated.

Richards interviewed the woman and her alleged assailant. The woman wasn’t happy with some of the questions Richards asked her.

“You had inquired about mine and the respondent's past sexual behaviour and how that would ‘change your lens of the evening’ – past sexual behaviour does not have any relevance to what happened to me on March 24th, 2018,” the woman wrote to Richards in an Oct. 22, 2019, email. “This comment made me feel as though my choices in a relationship with [redacted] beforehand somehow made me deserve how they treated me the evening of the 24th - even though I did not consent to any of it…

“You discussed how this has already negatively impacted [redacted], stating that he had to tell his mother and his coach. This is irrelevant to the facts of the case, and sadly I don't believe this would be a notable mitigating factor in most other criminal investigations… The topic of my feminist values was brought up. I am also not sure how this has any relevance to the evening of March 24th, 2018… You made a point of telling me that [redacted] was very well prepared and that his story was corroborated. The corroboration was from his teammates and friends that he has known his entire life. On the contrary, having lifelong friends and sports teammates who support him is not unique at all.”

Richards said that her investigation and its conclusions “speak for themselves.”

“The complainant’s allegations were found to be credible and her complaint was substantiated,” Richards said in a brief interview with TSN on Thursday.

Nearly one-third of such allegations between 2010 and 2016 were considered to be “unfounded,” by London police, meaning they did not believe a crime had been committed. That was far more than the national average.

On Nov. 14, 2019, King’s University College suspended the player for one and a half years, according to Henry’s email to the woman. The player was also removed from Western’s hockey team and told that if he re-applied to the school that he would be required to complete a course on sexual violence education.

On Nov. 20, 2019, London police constable Ken Steeves emailed the woman.

“I am nearing the end of my investigation,” Steeves wrote.

The woman said that she heard from Steeves once more. During a brief phone conversation in the days after his Nov. 20 email, Steeves told the woman that the Western hockey player had been arrested.

Henry emailed the woman again on Dec. 23, 2019, to say the hockey player’s appeal of the school’s decision to expel him had been denied. At about the same time, the woman said her mental health deteriorated to the point she needed to be hospitalized for the first time. 

In late May 2020, the woman said she was contacted by a Crown attorney – the only conversation they had – and was told that the Western University hockey player would sign a recognizance to keep the peace, also known as a peace bond.

“I had no say about this, about why they weren’t going ahead with charges and a trial, they just told me this was what was happening,” she said. “I guess that’s why I didn’t press for charges with the second player. If this guy wasn’t going to be found guilty, or even face a trial, why go forward with it?”

According to a peace bond dated June 2, 2020, the player agreed to pay a $500 fine and agreed not to communicate with the woman, be within 200 metres of her residence, employment, or place of education, or be within 25 metres of her.