Nova Scotia

Halifax man used 'coercive intimidation' to sexually assault wife, judge finds

A judge has sentenced a Halifax man to more than three years in prison for sexually assaulting his wife, saying he engaged in 'coercive intimidation' over the course of their marriage.

Warning: This story deals with sexual violence

A man convicted of sexually assaulting his wife was sentenced last month in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (Robert Short/CBC)

A judge has sentenced a Halifax man to more than three years in prison for sexually assaulting his wife, saying he engaged in "coercive intimidation" over the course of their four-year marriage.

The 38-year-old man — who CBC News is not identifying to protect the identity of his wife, whose name is protected by a publication ban — was convicted last year of three charges by Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Patrick Duncan.

In March, he was sentenced to three years and three months in prison for sexual assault, 18 months for a second count of sexual assault, and 30 days for assaulting his wife, all to be served concurrently.

He has filed notice to appeal the convictions, according to the Crown.

In his decision, Duncan said the pair met in 2013 at a mosque for recent converts to Islam.

It said they eventually decided to get married and things were going well at first, however the man became increasingly controlling of her behaviour, eventually resulting in her having to ask permission to meet friends or go to work.

Senior Crown attorney Alicia Kennedy said she hopes the case helps the public better understand how difficult it is for victims of sexual assault to come forward. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

The sentencing decision said the complainant found acts of intercourse to be painful and when this was the case, she would say "no." However, the man was persistent and either overrode her objections or attempted to negotiate for sex.

"It was his view that he had the right to have intercourse with her and she had the obligation to engage in this activity. He contended that this was a duty of a wife in a Muslim marriage," Duncan wrote.

"In my view, he was engaging in a form of coercive intimidation."

The decision also said the man assaulted his wife on two occasions, including one incident in which he "lost his temper and instinctively struck her after she made a rude comment to him," causing a black eye.

In her victim impact statement, the woman said she lost her self-respect, dignity, and her love for life.

"[The victim] has undergone counselling to rebuild her life with her children as she attempts to regain the confidence and self-esteem she once felt," Duncan wrote, noting the pair had two children together.

"She concludes that while 'the wounds are healing ... the scars will remain as a constant reminder of the pain, suffering and anxiety' that she has felt."

'Sexual violence is pervasive'

Senior Crown attorney Alicia Kennedy, who prosecuted the case, said the courts have made progress in an effort to improve outcomes for victims. She noted defence lawyers, for instance, used to be able to ask complainants about their prior sexual history with virtually no restraint, but they now must make an application before trial in order to do so.

She also said that sexual violence committed in the context of an intimate partner relationship is considered an aggravating factor at sentencing because of the violation of trust involved.

"The most important thing to understand is that we do know that sexual violence is pervasive," said Kennedy. "When someone reports a sexual assault to the police, that is an act of real courage."

Kennedy pointed a 2019 Supreme Court of Canada decision in which Justice Andromache Karakatsanis recognized that sexual assault cases are a detriment to both the victim and society as a whole.

"Throughout their lives, survivors may experience a constellation of physical and psychological symptoms including: high rates of depression; anxiety, sleep, panic and eating disorders; substance dependence; self-harm and suicidal behaviour," Karakatsanis wrote in the ruling.

Kennedy noted sexual assault cases are extremely hard on complainants, and it would be her hope that cases like this one would help the public better understand how difficult it is to come forward.

More training for law enforcement

Activists for survivors of sexual assault say the case illustrates how survivors are statistically far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know, and how more needs to be done to recognize sexual violence as a systemic problem in society.

"There is this general sense among survivors that if they do report … they won't be believed," said Sarah Rodimon, interim executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax.

"Or they'll have to continuously explain themselves, justify what happened to them, which ends up retraumatizing them by forcing them to relive the violence that was inflicted on them."

Rodimon said law enforcement need to learn to better recognize instances of intimate partner violence. She said that starts with providing ongoing training to police, and law enforcement working with institutions like hers so that victims feel supported.

A 'transformative' approach to justice

Ardath Whynacht is an associate professor in the sociology department at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., who researches family violence and mental health. She also researches coercive control as part of intimate partner violence.

She noted there are many barriers victims face when deciding whether to come forward with allegations of abuse against their partners, including finding a new place to live amid the housing crisis in cities like Halifax.

She said there are often concerns about how the victim would fare financially without the support of their partner and what impact reporting the assault would have on their children and extended family.

"A guilty conviction of a husband for sexual assault is not going to solve the crisis of where a survivor is going to live and how she's going to pay the bills and support her children when her partner goes to jail," said Whynacht, who was not involved in this specific case.

To that end, she said major investments are needed in our "social safety net," including affordable housing, income support, community-based social work and free and accessible mental health care.

"We need to take a transformative justice approach to sexual violence, which means transforming the conditions that teach violence, enable it, and prevent justice for survivors," said Whynacht.

"We need to be attentive to the ways in which we not only respond to individual acts of violence within a marriage, but also think about solutions to public education and changing our culture so that sexual violence within a marriage doesn't happen in the first place," she said.

Are you facing intimate partner violence? Here are some N.S. resources that can help

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

Reporter/Editor

Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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