After the man convicted of raping her vanished, the victim says police in Saskatoon have done little to find him despite leads suggesting he is still in Canada.
“I’m not waiting for a phone call I’m never going to get,” said the woman CBC News is calling Sarah, to protect her identity.
Sarah was raped for hours at the University of Saskatchewan’s McEown Park dormitory in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2012. She’s not sure exactly how many attackers there were but DNA testing detected the presence of semen from two men.
‘I just collapsed, and I was underneath the table, like, shaking and bawling.’
Timloh “Butchang” Nkem was arrested, charged and convicted of sexual assault but never showed up for sentencing and hasn’t been seen since.
Sarah says police at first treated her case seriously, but for nearly three years now, she has come up against one roadblock after another in her pursuit of justice.
1 suspect acquitted
Sarah had identified one suspect in her rape, an international student. She said the student was the one assailant she could remember
When Justice Richard Danyliuk acquitted the man of sexual assault, saying he believed the man honestly thought Sarah had consented to sex that night, she was heartbroken.
“I just collapsed, and I was underneath the table, like, shaking and bawling,” she said.
The second suspect, Nigerian-born Nkem, had come to Canada on a student visa in 2006 but was no longer a student at the time of the assault.
In 2013, police had charged Nkem with marijuana possession, depositing fraudulent cheques and using stolen identification to withdraw money and cash cheques. Those charges were eventually stayed.
During the trial, Sarah said Nkem’s friends would attend and laugh at her and her family, sometimes smuggling alcohol into the courtroom.
After he was convicted, Crown prosecutor Buffy Rodgers requested the court hold him in custody. Danyliuk denied the request, permitting Nkem to remain on bail until his sentencing.
Still, on Oct. 31, 2014, Sarah was hopeful as she headed to court for Nkem’s sentencing, blasting Queen’s We Will Rock You in the car.
But when she and her friends walked into the courtroom, Nkem was not there.
Neither were his friends.
‘Investigating my own case’
After waiting more than an hour, Danyliuk issued a Canada-wide warrant for Nkem’s arrest.
A Saskatoon police spokesperson told reporters that officers believed Nkem was likely on his way back to Nigeria.
Crown prosecutor Rodgers notified officials at Interpol he was a wanted man.
Last month, Sarah’s mother contacted Nigerian immigration officials, who said they had never heard of the case.
Sarah is convinced Nkem is still in Canada, protected by the cousins who posted bail for him.
She says police have told her and her mother to stop calling, and they have failed repeatedly to follow up on tips she has provided, including possible sightings of Nkem in Calgary and Victoria.
“I was basically investigating my own case,” she said.
In March, Sarah emailed a sergeant to ask whether there were any updates in locating Nkem. His picture was no longer posted on the Wanted section of the Saskatoon Police website.
Sarah says the sergeant assured her Nkem would be added back to the site and promised to email the next day with an update.
That email never came.
In May, Sarah and her mother again requested an update on Nkem, and again there was no reply.
When CBC News called the Saskatoon Police Service last month to inquire about the status of the search for Nkem, a spokesperson said: “We’re not just sitting on the information. We’ve shared information with other [police] services, certainly.”
Police in Calgary told CBC News they have no record of the Saskatoon Police ever notifying them Nkem could be in Calgary.
Municipal police in Victoria and the Westshore detachment of the RCMP also said no one from the Saskatoon Police has contacted them.
‘We may never find him’
“We may never find him,” Sarah said. “How I see justice now is really by the police acknowledging that they humiliated me and kept re-victimizing me. Made me feel like I was a burden.”
Sarah’s mother has called and emailed Saskatoon’s mayor and its police commission, opposition politicians and even Saskatchewan’s justice minister and premier, Brad Wall, with whom she secured a meeting in October 2015.
“Saskatchewan must do better by rape victims and more to stop rapists before they strike,” Wall wrote in a handwritten response to Sarah, thanking her for her courage. “We will be following up with your mom to further explore how this can be done.
“I am so sorry for what you have gone through in the system.”
Sarah’s mother said she’s called and emailed Wall’s office several times since that meeting, but has been ignored.
In September 2016, Sarah’s mother was given five minutes in front of the Saskatoon Police Commission to present her concerns about the way the case was handled.
She said she never received an official response.
“There’s been nothing done,” said Sarah’s mother. “We’re just getting deeper into being pitted against the people that my taxpayer dollars pay to protect and serve.”
CBC’s calls to the chair of the Saskatoon Police Commission were not returned.
Sarah and her mother have filed a complaint with Saskatchewan’s Public Complaints Commission about police handling of the case.
They want assurances the police have changed the way they question victims of sexual assault.
And they want an apology for what they see as the dismissive, disrespectful way officers dealt with Sarah and her family over the years.
Sarah said Saskatchewan’s ombudsman started looking into the case, but then his term ended and the investigation stalled. She says she’s run out of places to turn.
“Nothing has worked so far. There’s no accountability — and that has to change,” she said.
‘You will experience so much more pain by going to the police.’
The Saskatoon Police Service and its former chief, Clive Weighill, declined CBC’s interview requests.
“The service and its investigators have worked with the complainant and her family over several years as part of this investigation and have also spoken publicly, on several occasions, about past concerns,” the service said in an emailed statement to CBC News, adding it could not comment further “in the event that the commission decides to launch a review.”
Sarah never was able to complete her university degree. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is in counselling while she works as a flight attendant. She says she’s regaining control over her life — but she’s worried about all the other women who’ve been in a situation similar to hers.
“Think of how many people have reported sexual assaults since then,” she said. “And how many would have been handled the same way as my case was. It’s a lot.”
She says she regrets having come forward.
“You will experience so much more pain by going to the police,” Sarah said. “And so much more trauma. And so much more hurt and humiliation.
“You won’t heal by reporting it.”