Nfld. & Labrador

The courts failed my daughter, says accuser's mom after sexual assault acquittal

"A broken bone will heal in time. A bruise will heal in time. Psychological trauma from sexual assault never heals."

Male teenager cleared of all charges against girl in November

A Stephenville mother fights back tears describing how difficult the court process was on her daughter. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Tears cover her face. She grips a tissue.

She tries to put words to the depths of her frustration and hurt over watching what her daughter has endured.

"A broken bone will heal in time. A bruise will heal in time. Psychological trauma from sexual assault never heals," she told CBC.

"It's a wound that will not heal. This is something she will carry for life."

Neither the male teenager, the female teenagers nor the mother can be identified due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The mother is angry, and not holding back, about the way the court system handled a trial in Stephenville, which saw her daughter take the stand against a male teenager accused of sexually assaulting her.

The male teenager pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual assault, assault, and an alleged attempt to choke her, in a nine-day trial that played at the end of June.

Neither the teenagers nor the mother can be identified due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. 

But the memories, of the mother watching her daughter take the stand and explain her story from a night in December one year ago, remain crystal clear.

By the end of November, Judge Lynn Cole had acquitted the male of all those charges. She also cleared him of another set of sexual assault charges against him, forming part of a series of three trials, with three female complainants, that rocked the local community and caused changes in the provincial Schools Act.

The male teen will hear his third, and final, decision in this series of sexual assault trials in January 2019. 

Janice Kennedy of the Bay St. George Status of Women Council says the recent acquittal continues a familiar pattern. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Girls 'at risk'

The justice system failed her daughter, and Cole was too lenient on the defendant, said the mother.

"I think very clearly, society is now coming on board with a no means no [attitude]. So how then, can a judge say, her no didn't mean no?"

The mom called the teenager a predator, and says her daughter is now distraught and, in a small community like Stephenville, scared of thought of seeing him again.

Psychological trauma from sexual assault never heals. It's a wound that will not heal.- Mother

He currently has no court conditions against him, according to the girl's family.

The daughter, along with the two girls and male teenager, all attended Stephenville High School when the alleged sexual assaults took place.

"The girls in the community are now at risk," the mother said.

"We will be seeking to have a peace bond against him, She is still very fearful of him. He has gone to her place of work. She was very alarmed by that."

Change the system, says mom

The mother is now seeking better support for those who come forward about sexual assault within the judicial system, starting with how complainants must repeat their stories. 

"Each time they say it, they are re-victimized. Again and again," she said. 

Her daughter, along with the other girls involved in the other trials, had to recount details repeatedly, said the mother. Then, the defence lawyer would use new memories against the girls in his line of questioning.

The mother, whom CBC cannot identify under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, shares with CBC the story of her daughter's fear of a male high school student who she says sexually assaulted her a year ago. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The complainant should tell the details of the sexual assault once, she said, and it should be recorded and used through the judicial process.

"They are not mature or eloquent enough to perhaps explain when they have said something in trial and what they meant by that," she said.

A familiar pattern

It's a pattern — especially within the youth court system — that Janice Kennedy, executive director of the Bay St. George Status of Women Council, sees frequently.

The trial process, she said, is not designed properly to deal with trauma, and she wants a better understanding of the word "consent" within the Criminal Code.

The mother says her daughter is fearful of the student, who was cleared of sexual assault charges. (colleen connors/CBC)

"I think we need to take into account trauma that victims of sexual assault go through. Because of that trauma, they are not going to remember every single detail of that night," said Kennedy.

"Our brains protect ourselves, and our bodies, and it's going to do what it needs to do to survive. That may not look like what the courts want it to look like to convict somebody."

The system has told them, in essence, 'we don't care.'- Mother

As the mother reflects on the past year, she doesn't regret that her daughter came forward with the sexual assault allegations, and says she hoped the court would hold him accountable for his actions.

She will continue to speak out about how she feels her daughter's experiences were dismissed by the courts.

"This system has basically told them, in essence, 'we don't care,'" she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.