Warning: This report contains details heard in court that readers may find disturbing.
The victim of an “abhorrent” sexual assault by an older relative in a small NWT community has suffered more shame than the accused, a prosecutor says.
The man – who holds an important job in the community – invited the woman to his house in June 2017, got her drunk, raped her after she passed out and took photos of his naked victim, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane told a Supreme Court sentencing hearing last week.
Neither the man nor the woman can be identified to protect the woman’s identity. Similarly, the identity of the community is withheld.
“His role in the community, his familial and friends’ support, those are some of the things that have been taken [from the victim] by virtue of his acts,” said Fane on Thursday. “[The accused] continues to enjoy the support of his family and friends, [while the victim] talks about not being able to trust anyone that is not her mother or her young son.
“This was a traumatic event for her and continues to be a traumatic event for her. This was an abhorrent invasion of privacy.”
In her victim impact statement – which she wanted read aloud in court – the young mother said she has suffered anxiety and depression since the attack.
“I always think something bad is happening all the time. I just don’t trust anyone with my son … my family helps me out quite a bit,” the statement read.
“It hurts me that a family member that was around my whole life could hurt me like that. That make me question other people around me, and who is around my son.
“Many family members don’t talk to me any more. I don’t know why they don’t talk to me. I am a daughter and he has a daughter – what would happen if something like this happened to his daughter? He is a parent and he should understand. I always ask: why me?”
The woman said she has increased her alcohol consumption since the attack. She has been talking with a counsellor, but that has been difficult to accomplish during the pandemic. She wanted to return to school, but has found that hard to do. She has not been working, as being around people makes her anxious.
The starting sentence for major sexual assaults – rapes – in the Northwest Territories is three years. Fane explained the man’s guilty plea and “his personal circumstances and background” resulted in the joint recommendation of a sentence of two years less a day in custody, which takes into account accumulated remand time, followed by three years’ probation with conditions.
Fane noted that except for very few RCMP officers, lawyers and court officials and the victim’s sister, nobody else has seen the photos the man took of his unconscious victim during and after the assault.
“There is no chance they will circulate and show up again,” he said, as they were never posted online.
‘A bad choice’
The attack on the woman was interrupted by her boyfriend, who went to check on her welfare. The accused was seen “dressing himself after the assault,” read an agreed statement of facts, and the victim’s sister was summoned to the residence.
The sister noticed the accused’s camera in his bedroom. She removed the memory card and gave it to police.
Fane conceded the joint submission was a “lenient, but fit” sentence in these circumstances. The man has a limited and unrelated criminal record. The Crown agreed to drop a charge of voyeurism in exchange for the guilty plea to sexual assault, which also avoided the need for a trial.
The victim did have to testify at an earlier preliminary hearing. The victim noted in her statement that having to testify at the preliminary hearing was hard on her.
“I always think about that and the way I was treated badly in court, and why did it take so long?” she stated.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran said the accused admitted alcohol abuse throughout his life has caused him difficulties and he is ready to confront his addiction. He submitted a number of letters in support of the accused.
“He is an avid hunter, he spends time on the land, he provides for his family and for the community,” said Bran. “This [offence] is something that is certainly out of character for my client. It’s mentioned by several of the individuals who provided support letters. They say they are very supportive of my client, even in light of this very serious offence that he has taken responsibility for.”
The man’s partner is also “very supportive” of the man, the court heard.
Asked if he had anything to say, the man apologized for his actions. He noted his partner has been sober for many years and will help him in his quest for sobriety.
“I’ve grown up in a community that has struggled with alcohol back then and still now,” he said. “I made a bad choice, one that I won’t repeat.”
On Friday, Justice Shannon Smallwood said she reluctantly accepted the joint recommendation.
Smallwood noted the victim is Indigenous and was in a vulnerable state. She was also at a family member’s house, which violates the sense of trust she must have had, the judge said. After the two-year territorial sentence, the man will be on probation for three years. During that time he will be forbidden to consume alcohol, will take counselling as directed, and must not contact the victim.
He must provide a DNA sample for the national databank and be included in the federal sex offender registry for 20 years. He will also be prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years but, as he provides for his family and the community, he will be able to apply for an exemption.
The images printed for the trial will be permanently sealed in the court records. The memory card will be destroyed once any of the man’s non-criminal photos are returned to him.