UBC Okanagan students hold march for sexual assault survivors

March with Survivors held at UBC Okanagan

Approximately two dozen UBC Okanagan students participated in a march for sexual assault survivors on Friday.

Tashia Kootenayoo, one of the organizers, shared her story of being raped when she was just 15 years old and still in high school.

“I survived sexual assault,” she said. “But I nearly didn’t because people around me were afraid to have the conversations.”

READ MORE: Civil claim says former Kelowna RCMP officer sexually harassed assault victim

“I was met with a lot of commentary of, ‘are you sure it was sexual assault? There’s a difference between sexual assault and rape’,” she said.

“I really felt that people were trying to control my narrative and tell me what it was I experienced. I didn’t feel heard.”

Kootenayoo said she felt alone.

Story continues below advertisement

“I just wanted someone to hear me. I wanted somebody to believe me,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘It’s appalling’: Women’s advocates outraged Kelowna RCMP dismissed nearly 40% of sex assault complaints last year

Seven years after the assault, Kootenayoo says she’s on the road to dealing with her trauma and is ready to report the rape to police.

“I just received all of my files from when I went to the hospital, so then I’m going forward with those, and I have an appointment to meet with them,” she said.

“It happened out of province, but I have to report it to one of the RCMP offices in Kelowna, which makes me reluctant and nervous that they’ll pass it along to the right people,” she said.

READ MORE: High number of dismissed sexual assault cases in Kelowna sparks protest

Kootenayoo said some of her apprehension stems from the detachment’s statistics that indicate nearly 40 per cent of sexual assault cases reported in Kelowna last year were dismissed as unfounded.

“Hearing the report that they have such a high case of doing nothing, it doesn’t make me feel supported,” she said.

“It doesn’t make me feel like they’re going to do anything.”

Okanagan RCMP are dismissing a high number of sexual assault cases as unfounded
Okanagan RCMP are dismissing a high number of sexual assault cases as unfounded

Kootenayoo said she also had concerns with the recent allegations that two RCMP officer had been sexting assault victims.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Kelowna RCMP officer suspended for allegedly sexting assault victim

“It makes me sad because it reminds me that systematically we’ve created a space where those people wouldn’t even see themselves as committing any violations,” Kootenayoo said. “As an Indigenous woman, it’s something all too common that I’ve heard.”

Walk participant and UBCO student Taya Jardine believes it’s important for people who are investigating sexual assault cases to be culturally sensitive and trauma-informed.

“Honestly, I think the only way to fix the systemic problems is to go to the RCMP,” she said.

“We need to completely restructure the way that they’re running these cases.”

READ MORE: Civil claim says former Kelowna RCMP officer sexually harassed assault victim

Kootenayoo is hoping that by sharing her story, others may find courage.

“I want [sexual assault survivors] to know that they are not alone, and whenever they feel that they can share their experience in a safe space, I encourage them to,” she said.

“And if they feel like they can never get there, that’s OK and their experience is just as valid.”

RCMP have said that its national headquarters is reviewing all of its unfounded sexual assault cases for 2018 and 2019.

“Sexual assault is a devastating crime, and the RCMP is committed to improving how its employees respond to victims and investigate allegations of sexual assault,” Cpl. Meghan Foster previously wrote in a news release.

Story continues below advertisement

“The RCMP wants 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.”