WARNING: This story contains claims of sexual assault that some people might find distressing.
For more than four years, Jordan MacEachern-Johnson couldn’t shake the feeling that police didn’t take her case seriously.
MacEachern-Johnson was 17 years old in 2017, when she told Fredericton police she’d been sexually assaulted by a man a few years older.
Last fall, after years of working up to it, she got a copy of her file from the police, thinking this would help her find closure.
Instead, she said, she was struck again by shortcomings in the police investigation.
“When I looked at the report … that’s when it kind of hit me that what had happened was not OK, and how it happened was not OK,” she said.
The records, which she shared with CBC News, show that a detective didn’t interview her until nearly four months after she first went to police, and that he closed the case before picking up medical evidence from a sexual assault examination kit.
MacEachern-Johnson also feels they show a difference in tone when describing the interview with her and the one with the man.
Charges have not been laid in the case, and MacEachern-Johnson’s allegations haven’t been tested in court.
A long delay
MacEachern-Johnson said she went to the man’s house in Fredericton in February 2017, thinking several other friends would be there. Instead, it was just the man and one other person.
She said she was promised a ride home to Oromocto, outside Fredericton, that night, but it never materialized.
She tried to contact her parents and a friend for a ride but wasn’t able to reach anyone. She found herself stuck at the home overnight, and that’s when the man sexually assaulted her, she said.
Police notes show the man told the detective the encounter was consensual.
“It just came back to me, blaming myself, because, for example, with the questions like, why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you go sleep in the living room? Why didn’t you go running somewhere else? Why didn’t you scream for help?” MacEachern-Johnson said.
“It just made me feel like there was more that I should have done and that I didn’t do it, and therefore, it’s my fault.”
The notes show MacEachern-Johnson went to police a couple of days after the alleged assault. She provided a statement to an officer at the hospital in Fredericton, and nurses collected evidence using a sexual assault examination kit.
But nearly four months passed before a detective interviewed MacEachern-Johnson.
She said some of the delay was on her, as she went back and forth on whether she wanted to go through the difficult process.
The notes also show two months passed between when the detective told her he would be investigating the case and when he called her to schedule an interview.
“It just really bothered me that it had taken so long that I was just like, do they really care?” MacEachern-Johnson said.
During the months before police interviewed her, MacEachern-Johnson said, she’d tried to block out many details about that night.
On top of that, the experience of being interviewed, in a room alone with the male detective, made her feel “I wasn’t going to be believed.”
‘The kind of detail that most survivors would never know’
The interview finally happened in June, when police took a videotaped statement, called a KGB statement, from MacEachern-Johnson.
The notes show the detective asked her for specific details, such as what time she was allegedly assaulted and what hand or how many fingers she believed the man used.
When she could not recall those details, the detective described MacEachern-Johnson as having a “major lack of memory,” and her account as lacking in detail and “inconsistent.”
CBC asked Blair Crew, the director of legal aid for Queen’s University, who has worked on cases involving victims of sexual assault for about 20 years, to review the police notes.
“That’s the kind of detail that most survivors would never know, nor would they want to hang on to it,” Crew said.
“Yet it seems to me that in this case, it’s one of the things that they used to say, ‘Well, you just don’t have enough clear detail, so we’re going to doubt that it actually happened the way that it did.’
“I think with a proper trauma-informed approach that they would kind of see that what she didn’t remember with clarity is consistent with what many survivors don’t remember.”
Retired officer questions police interview tactics
Bruce Pitt-Payne, a retired RCMP major crimes investigator, has trained officers across Canada and internationally on interview techniques. He’s offered to help MacEachern-Johnson file a complaint about the way the Fredericton police handled her case.
Pitt-Payne reviewed the police file but wasn’t able to watch the interview the detective conducted with MacEachern-Johnson because the police force won’t give her a copy.
Pitt-Payne said it’s important to know whether police considered using a polygraph test on MacEachern-Johnson.
“The polygraph is not by nature meant for use on victims,” Pitt-Payne said.
“It’s not supposed to be a shortcut for a proper investigation.”
During her taped interview, MacEachern-Johnson said, the detective asked her to take a polygraph test, telling her the man was going to take one too.
“I remember looking at the camera and being like, ‘OK, have fun with the polygraph test,’ because in that moment, when he said he was going to do the polygraph test, I was for sure convinced that OK, this is going to go to court,” she said.
The notes from the detective refer to a potential polygraph test for the man but don’t mention whether one was considered for MacEachern-Johnson. Another officer ultimately decided it wasn’t a suitable case for a polygraph.
Case closed before evidence picked up
Less than three weeks after interviewing MacEachern-Johnson, the notes show, the detective closed the case.
“Looking at the totality of the evidence provided at hand, I do not foresee any [likelihood] of conviction,” the detective wrote in the file.
“Because of so many inconsistencies and contradictions, this impacts and discredits the elements of the offence for a sexual assault. That said, I do understand this incident has affected the victim greatly and that is why I ensured that the victim had full access to the Provincial Victim Services for counselling.”
The notes show the decision was made before the detective picked up the medical evidence collected at the hospital.
They also show the detective only interviewed three people: MacEachern-Johnson, the man she accused, and a witness who was at the home that night.
Police never interviewed MacEachern-Johnson’s parents and didn’t get a copy of her phone records.
As he concluded the investigation, the detective wrote that MacEachern-Johnson “may not fully understand the notion of consent and the definition of sexual assault described in the Criminal Code.”
Of everything he read in the case, Crew said that note by the officer was “the most devastating.”
‘Lack of understanding’
“He completely turns his lack of understanding of what’s required for positive consent on its head by saying, well, she doesn’t seem to understand what the Criminal Code requires,” Crew said.
“You often see the police make this kind of appeal to authority, of saying that we know better. And in this case, clearly they knew worse.”
Crew said many sexual assault investigators grew up with an outdated idea of consent and don’t understand that the Criminal Code requires consent to be positive and active.
A 2017 review by the New Brunswick government, which looked at how municipal police forces handled crimes of sexual violence between 2010 and 2014, found investigators didn’t understand elements of some of the crimes they were investigating, including what evidence is required to lay charges.
The review was prompted by the Globe and Mail’s “Unfounded” investigation, which found significant flaws with the way police across Canada investigate sexual violence.
The New Brunswick review found officers routinely gave up too quickly when investigating cases. In nearly half (42 per cent) of cases labelled “unfounded,” police closed the case when there were still witnesses that could have been interviewed, the report says.
It also found some investigators “form opinions early in an investigation without having exhausted all avenues of investigation.”
Police won’t discuss case
Police Chief Martin Gaudet declined to discuss any details about this case or address MacEachern-Johnson’s specific concerns.
“I can’t speak and won’t speak about a file that was not processed through criminal charges or that is still under investigation,” Gaudet said.
“But I can tell you that the investigators collect all the facts and determine what happened.”
He said polygraph tests aren’t supposed to be used on victims, and there are “very strict conditions” for getting a KGB statement, but he didn’t explain why the force used the approach it did in this case.
Gaudet said the police force has strengthened officers’ training and awareness about sexual assault. He said it has also improved victim support, public education and communication. He pointed to partnerships with Sexual Violence New Brunswick and the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, organizations he said have helped design training in trauma-informed approaches.
“We want all survivors of sexual assault or harassment to feel comfortable in bringing their allegations to the police, knowing that they can trust us, trust investigators to do a thorough and professional investigation,” Gaudet said.
The chief said the force’s sexual assault files are reviewed at the end of every year by advocates who work with victims of sexual assault, a process typically referred to as the Philadelphia model.
It’s not clear whether MacEachern-Johnson’s case was subject of a review, but she said she’d support one.
“I’m glad that they are doing [the advocate reviews], but it just comes back to a matter of trust and regaining that trust, I think, for me personally.”
‘This is not my fault’
After obtaining the police file, MacEachern-Johnson raised her concerns with the Fredericton Police Force late last fall and was told a new investigator would review the file.
She said the investigator told her he’d try to obtain her phone records from five years ago, but she’s not sure what, if anything else, has been done.
MacEachern-Johnson said she decided to speak out publicly because she felt she didn’t have a voice when she went to police at 17.
Now 23, she feels she has the strength and knowledge to speak up about what she feels investigators did wrong.
“It’s more for my younger self, because I repressed it so much and decided to just blame myself for it,” she said. “It’s more now to be like, this is not my fault.”
What happened back then has impacted her relationships, leaving her fearful of being with people she doesn’t know.
But it’s also given her strength to speak out about how to improve things, including how police can do better.
“Whether you do get the justice that you deserve or you don’t get it, it’s still worth fighting for,” she said.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.