Court ban serves neither victim nor society in ‘high profile case’

Posted November 20, 2014

Written by Beth Lyons

Last April, a young woman in Nova Scotia died three days after her family found her hanging in a bathroom in a suicide attempt. Her family linked her actions directly to her, reportedly, being sexually assaulted two years prior, and circulation of photographic documentation of the assault being circulated amongst her peers on social media.

While trying to cope with the aftermath of a sexual assault, this young woman was re-victimized by what has inadequately been called ‘bullying’ from her peers. It would be more apt to place what she endured on the spectrum of harassment, abuse and exploitation to understand it as gender-based violence.

The police declined to become involved, stating that the incident – an alleged sexual assault against a minor and distribution of a photograph of it – was a community matter.

Following her death, her name and pictures of her flooded the Internet and Canadian media. Public pressure lead to an investigation and, eventually, charges against two males who were minors at the time of the offence. There followed an expanded national conversation on the distribution of sexually explicit images without the permission of the person(s) appearing in the images.

Last week, one of the two (now adult) men being charged in this case was sentenced by a court in Halifax. He received a conditional discharge (no jail time) and was ordered provide a sample of his DNA to a national database (but will not appear on any public registry). He must also apologize to the young woman’s parents.

You’ve likely heard of the young woman that I’m talking about and may be wondering why I’m not simply naming her. I’m not trying to build suspense or employ a rhetoric device. I can’t write her name in this column as neither The Times & Transcript nor any other news media are allowed to distribute it.

Because the charges ultimately brought against the young men were of making child pornography, there is a publication ban on the young woman’s name (and the names of her parents, as naming them makes her name all the easier to identify), as well as the young men charged because they were minors at the time of the offence.

The young woman’s parents vehemently oppose the publication ban and media outside of Canada are disregarding it, with the parents’ thanks. In Canada, the case is now being referred to by media as “a high profile child porn case in Halifax.” In social media, the hashtag #youknowhername has been attached to reporting of the case, as well as public outcry over sentencing and the publication ban.

Despite media doing the best they can, short of straight-up disregarding the ban, to make it clear what they are covering, too many people do not realize exactly what case they are reading about when scanning a story about a “high profile child porn case in Halifax.” That’s part of the reason why I spent the first part of this column detailing the violence the young woman endured: to hopefully make it painfully obvious who and what I am writing about.

Why would I want it to be obvious? Because the publication ban on this young woman’s name is an injustice perpetuated by our so-called justice system. It is adding insult to grievous and fatal injury. It is, frankly, a cruel joke.

Because everyone already knows her name, what was done to her and how she was failed by her peers and her broader community; by the police and by the justice system.

We know because the only way her family could get the police to consider the violence and exploitation enacted against her was by getting her name, her face and her story out there.

Only now that she is dead and charges of child porn (but not assault) are laid, only now that her name and face and story are synonymous with sexual violence and injustice, only now that her identity is readily available through the simplest Google search, are institutions taking steps to protect her – in name only, of course.

It’s a cruel joke because a publication ban on her name doesn’t protect her or her family in any way, it only obfuscates much needed discussion of sexual violence and the justice system in Canada.

It’s also particularly poignant that this is happening while we hold out hope that the public dialogue surrounding accusations of violence against media darling Jian Ghomeshi means that we’ll be able to trust institutions like the media and the justice system going forward.

A cruel joke, indeed.

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