Warning: This story contains details that may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised.
When she was just a teenager, Aden Withers was interrogated by West Kelowna RCMP after reporting a sexual assault.
Seven years later, she filed civil action against the Ministry of Child and Family Development, the RCMP and officer Kenneth Hall for how she was treated.
In a video of the 2012 interrogation, Hall can be heard asking, “I mean, he’s taking your clothes off — how much of a fight did you put up?”
“Were you at all turned on during this at all, even a little bit?”
Withers answers ‘no’ several times throughout the questioning.
“You understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling, it is very difficult,” Hall continued.
Withers was a ward of the state and in foster care when she reported the rape.
She said she was charged with public mischief after the interrogation and was forced to apologize for allegedly wasting the officer’s time and resources.
“I had to write letters of apology to all those involved in my sexual assault case, including the man who raped me,” she said.
“It was very degrading.”
Withers said she wasn’t aware that she had been recorded when the officer asked her questions about the assault.
She said she watched the video with her doctor when it was released.
“I had blacked out a lot of the memories, but a lot of them resurfaced in the video,” she said.
“It was horrifying.”
Since stepping into the spotlight as a sexual assault survivor, Withers said she’s felt a groundswell of support.
Her case headed to mediation on Monday, and she said she felt believed.
“Having that video and Canada’s outrage on my side really helped,” she said.
Withers couldn’t give details of the agreement but said she’s ultimately satisfied with it.
“I’m confident that I’m putting an end to at least part of the rape culture that is in the Kelowna RCMP,” she said.
“I went up against the system and I won.”
“It felt a little relieving, a little insulting, and a little like, I just feel free,” Withers said.
Withers said no dollar amount could cover the cost of her trauma.
“I feel like too many times the government is paying out Aboriginal people, and our lives are not a dollar value.”
Marlene Squakin met Withers as a young student and attended the mediation to offer support.
“When I first got there, I was so full of rage,” she said, adding that she was upset that Withers hadn’t been offered support when she needed it.
When an agreement was finally reached, Squakin said that she still had her reservations about it, although she was glad Withers was happy with the decision.
“It was still one young girl against two or three Goliath representations,” she said. “It’s truly a David-and-Goliath situation, where she’s taken on the government and the social work system and is speaking on behalf of other victims.”
“They tend to minimize some of the trauma,” she added. “She had been victimized in a number of different ways, but she stands tall.”
Video surfaces of West Kelowna RCMP officer interrogating Indigenous teen reporting sex assault
Withers, meanwhile, said she wants to pursue a career in advocacy.
“I’m feeling confident that I’ll probably be seeing the people that I saw in the room again,” she said.
“I know that as a result of what I’ve done, I’ve helped a lot of people come forward, and I’ve helped a lot of cases be reviewed.”
Withers hopes her win against the RCMP will help inspire other sexual assault survivors to fight back, and says she has no regrets about stepping forward with her story.
“I just can’t believe it’s all done and it’s over, and I can move on with my life,” she said.
In a statement, RCMP said that it’s pleased that all legal claims related to the incident involving the plaintiff have been settled to the satisfaction of all parties.
“We regret this incident and remain committed to improving how our employees respond to victims and investigate allegations of sexual assault,” RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said.
“This incident highlighted the importance for the RCMP to continue to review and update our sexual assault investigative training, practices and policies.”
The Ministry of Child and Family Development said it can’t comment on confidential legal matters.
“Our government has been working on how to best support survivors of sexual violence,” spokesperson Shawn Larabee said in an email.
“We are committed to ensuring that Indigenous youth in care have the supports they need every day and especially when experiencing a traumatic event.”