POLITICS

Sask. Teen Who Says Ex-NDP Candidate Raped Her Is Tired Of Seeing 'Predators' Thrive

She said they met when she was 16 and he was 27.  

10/14/2017 10:35 EDT | Updated 10/14/2017 10:57 EDT

Rylee Ann Schuhmacher is a sociology student but at summer's end found herself learning all the steps in collecting a rape kit.

The 19-year-old met up with a former candidate for the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, who was canvassing for the party during the local byelection. As an active organizer with the party's youth wing, she had known him for years. They met when she was 16 and he was 27.

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Rylee Ann Schuhmacher, 19, wrote a public post accusing the provincial NDP letting an alleged "predator" run for office.

That August day, the teen welcomed the canvasser into her home, and he helped her move a chair, she told HuffPost Canada in an interview on Friday.

"He started kissing me and put my hand on his penis," Schuhmacher said, mentioning that the accused is about twice her size. He then forced his penis inside her mouth, she said.

"I remember almost throwing up and trying to bite his penis in hopes he would stop, but he wouldn't."

Things only got worse from there, she said.

After he left, the University of Saskatchewan student said she "just cried and cried for hours." She tried calling friends, but couldn't connect with anyone. Then she contacted the sexual assault centre on what to do next. That's when the teen was taken through the steps involved in collecting a rape kit.

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Schuhmacher published her experience in a Medium blog post this week titled, "When a Predator runs for Public Office." It includes claims of harassment by the accused over the course of three years and frustrations with how the party handled her case.

She said she was motivated to go public with her story following the New York Times' investigation that outed Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual harassment and assault.

Schuhmacher's story caught the attention of interim Saskatchewan NDP leader Nicole Sarauer, who spoke with reporters Thursday about the allegations.

"I think it's fair to say that mistakes were made in terms of our screening of candidates last election," Sarauer said. An internal review is ongoing into who knew what and when, she said, noting that she was made aware of the alleged incident "weeks" ago.

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Interim Saskatchewan NDP leader Nicole Sarauer speaks in the province's legislative assembly in the screengrab uploaded on June 30, 2016.

The interim leader also confirmed that an independent probe, spearheaded by the party's anti-harassment committee, is underway. It's unclear when its report will be ready.

"We believe survivors. I believe survivors," she said, adding, "This is a systemic issue. As a province, we have the second highest rates of sexual assault amongst provinces in Canada. This is a big issue."

An official sexual assault complaint was filed last month; both the Crown and Saskatoon police's sex crime unit are now investigating the case.

The spectrum starting with the objectification of women, to sexual harassment, to sexual assault have to be taken seriously and cannot be tolerated in our movement.Niki Ashton

NDP MP Niki Ashton shared Schuhmacher's story to her Facebook page, saying, "I stand with Rylee."

Ashton wrote that the article had shaken her up.

"The spectrum starting with the objectification of women, to sexual harassment, to sexual assault have to be taken seriously and cannot be tolerated in our movement," Ashton said in her post.

Though their words were of some comfort, Schuhmacher said that it's easy for politicians to say they believe survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Nicole Sarauer does believe survivors or that Niki Ashton stands with me or that the other people who have talked to me do support me, but I guess that really needs to be backed up by action," she said.

The accused in Schuhmacher's claims made headlines last year for a series of old Facebook posts, including one where he described a school campus as "rape-friendly." He was an NDP candidate vying for a provincial seat at the time.

His apology to then-Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten was accepted by the party. The party dropped four other candidates over three days for inappropriate social media posts, including one for commenting that "Brad Wall's mother should have taken the abortion pill." But the accused was permitted to continue his campaign for public office.

"He made rape jokes on the internet. And that, like, should have been enough to turf him as a candidate in 2016," Schuhmacher said. "The party just turned a blind eye to it ... I want to be able to feel safe and supported within my own party."

The accused did not respond to HuffPost Canada's interview request.

Schuhmacher said she lost hope in the justice system after giving a video statement to the sex crimes unit of the Saskatoon police.

She wrote about the experience in a Facebook post on Sept. 21:

She asked me every victim blaming question in the book. "Well, why did you have him in your house?", "it seems like the making out was consensual, wasn't it?" "Why didn't you say no earlier?" and finally told me "it'd be impossible to prove," and apparently my rape kit "meant nothing" because I also made the comment, off hand, that my rapist had a big dick.

Then the Weinsten story broke. In the shadow of how a man abused his power to freely harass women, there again grew a safe space to talk about their experiences, similar to what followed in the wake of damning revelations made about Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi, and former senator Don Meredith. That's when the university student decided to go public with her own story.

"People knew that Harvey was harassing women. That he was doing all sorts of just awful uncomfortable things and wielding his power over women. And people were silent. There are so many men out there who harass women, who get away with it because people stay silent," she said.

"I just was tired with that."

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