Defense in sexual assault trial suggests McMaster student raped to skip exam
Here is the conundrum: can a woman who has been drugged and raped be expected to remember it clearly when she testifies at trial?
What if she says her memories of that night are “hazy?”
What if the jury knows that a medical examiner must testify that in addition to the defendant’s semen, she also had MDMA and methamphetamine in her system?
What if the defendant, Christopher Yip, is charged with sexual assault and “administering a narcotic drug with intent to aid or abet the commission of the criminal act of sexual assault?
And, as if that weren’t enough for the nine women and three men on the jury, what if, in the final moments of his thorough cross-examination of the complainant, the defense attorney asked her if she knew what would the effects of MDMA — also known as ecstasy — actually be?
Yes, replies the plaintiff. It makes you feel “happy” and “sexy.”
“Do you know that it has no impact on memory?” Yip’s attorney, Lauren Wilhelm, throws back.
Wilhelm says this without the trial so far hearing a single piece of evidence to that effect. Indeed, since the complainant – whose identity is protected by a publication ban – is so far the only witness in the trial which began on Monday.
Yip is accused of meeting his friend, then an undergraduate student at McMaster University, for a beer on the night of December 13, 2018.
Two or three beers later, the student said she felt bad. Then she woke up, naked, in Yip’s bed.
In his opening address to the jury, Assistant Crown Attorney Gordon Akilie said the case was ultimately about the student’s ability to consent to sex that night.
Wilhelm suggested that at least two other people – a friend the student had coffee with just before meeting Yip and an “incomplete” guy at the bar – may have drugged her.
And she suggested that the student asked Yip to have sex with her.
But above all, Wilhelm attacked the credibility of the student – in particular her memory.
Besides the ‘foggy’ state she said she was in after drinking a weird tasting beer that Yip fetched for her from a bar on Augusta Street, she also testified that her memories faded. due to the passage of time since the night in question. and also because she tried not to remember the traumatic event.
Wilhelm pointed to “gaps” in the student’s memory. When the student tried to fill in some of those gaps, her current testimony doesn’t always match her initial statement to police or her testimony at the preliminary hearing — or even her own text message records. The student referred to these inconsistencies as “errors” or “faulty memories”.
Wilhelm called them lies.
For example, the day after the alleged rape, records show that Yip sent her dozens of text messages.
Later, when giving a statement to a police detective, the student scrolled through these texts and read some of them aloud. Specifically, she shared one in which Yip wrote, “Are you blaming me for last night after I tried to take you home?”
Wilhelm suggested that the student intentionally omitted the context of this text. It was written after Yip received a message from one of the student’s friends, accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting her.
Wilhelm said the student did not say Detective Yip’s text was prompted by the friend’s message.
The student said she told the detective by summarizing the thread of the texts and giving her phone to the officer so she could read the texts.
“You gave the impression that he spontaneously defended himself without any provocation,” Wilhelm said. “You were deliberately trying to paint a picture.”
During the preliminary hearing, the student testified that Yip “for sure” spontaneously texted about being blamed.
“That’s not true,” Wilhelm said. “So it’s a lie.”
Nobody pointed out, in return, that something can be false, but also not be a lie.
And why would the student lie?
Wilhelm presented his theory to the jury.
First, the student – who was double majoring in linguistics and neuroscience – had an exam the next evening.
Rather than study, she stayed out drinking and having sex and then was unable to pass her 7 p.m. exam, Wilhelm said.
Instead, the student went to the police station to report being drugged and raped. This would provide the university with an excuse for failing its exam and allow it to reschedule it at a better time.
The student told the court that she had an average of almost 100% on that exam and, although she tried to pull herself together to write it that evening, she was too distraught. When she wrote it, weeks later, her rating dropped drastically. She says the trauma she suffered and the passage of time affected her work.
Wilhelm also said the student lied because she usually needed an excuse for her “bad behavior” the night with Yip.
The lawyer pointed to a Facebook post from the student a month before the alleged sexual assault in which she apologized to friends for her recent bad behavior. She blamed it on a “dissociative snowball episode”.
Under questioning by Wilhelm, the student agreed that she never really had a dissociative episode. She said that was a bad choice of words.
Wilhelm called it another lie.
“Do you tend to overdo things when you’re stressed or looking for attention?” William asked.
“And you think there’s nothing wrong with exaggerating a serious matter in order to explain your bad behavior.”
Resources for survivors of sexual violence:
SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre, Hamilton and Area): 24 hour helpline 905-525-4162; sacha.ca.
Children’s Aid Society — Intake Line: (905) 522-1121.
Catholic Children’s Aid Society — Intake Line: (905) 525-2012.
SAVIS (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services of Halton): 905-875-1555.
Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Center at Hamilton Health Sciences: 905-521-2100 ext. 73557.