A man has been awarded $175,000 after being gang-raped during a “scared straight” prison visit over 40 years ago.
The plaintiff, who is just known as B.E.S. in court documents, alleged he was raped when he was 14 in the late 1970s during a prison visit required as part of the teenager’s probation conditions. As first reported by the CBC, the man testified in front of the Supreme Court of British Columbia earlier this year and the court reached their verdict on his case on December 4.
Youth visits to penitentiaries were first popularized after the 1978 documentary Scared Straight! and remained a feature of youth justice in Canada well into the next two decades. In the early 2000s, an analysis of the program found that it doesn’t work and may actually increase the recidivism rate in youth.
A judge recommended a scared straight visit for B.E.S. at Oakalla Prison in Burnaby following a break and enter conviction. Oakalla was a notorious and overpopulated prison in BC which housed hardened criminals awaiting trial. The prison was shut down in 1991 following a massive riot in 1987 and a prison break in 1988 which the prison tried to keep quiet.
B.E.S. says he was brought to the prison by a probation officer and handed over to a prison guard. They weaved through the facility and ended up in a corner of the prison with another guard, who promptly left. In front of B.E.S. and this guard was a cell filled with five prisoners. The guard shoved B.E.S. into the cell and closed the door. The court documents outline, in graphic detail, what happened next.
B.E.S said the prisoners grabbed him and tried to force his head into the crotch of a prisoner lying on a cot. He said that he fought back and kept his mouth closed, but the prisoners then pulled down his pants. He felt “extreme pain” as they began to pull his hair while three of the prisoners took turns anally raping him. The court documents say B.E.S. “felt he was fighting for his life” and screamed, “Get off me!” According to court documents, the guard “was standing at the cell doors laughing.”
Afterward B.E.S. saw blood on the ground and realized it was his. The court documents said he would continue to bleed for upwards of a week. He was pulled out of the cell by the guard, who pushed him against the wall and said “that’s what happens to little fuckers like you.”
The guard then took B.E.S. to a segregation cell where they locked him up for some time. Afterwards, the guard re-entered and held B.E.S. up to the wall and told him “nobody's going to believe you.” He was then sent home.
B.E.S. said the impact this had on his life has been substantial. His relationship with his parents became strained, he developed addiction issues and attempted suicide several times. A psychiatrist that testified on B.E.S.’s behalf said he suffered from several mental illnesses, including PTSD, severe depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. He said, “the incident at Oakalla was either directly related to B.E.S.’s conditions or caused them to be significantly more intense and frequent.”
Madam Justice Jennifer Duncan ruled that he found B.E.S. credible and that there was “little variation in his account of the sexual assault.” She pointed out that B.E.S. knew several details about the prison a layperson would not, including the housing of transgender prisoners and that the outfits contained zippers—something rare in Canadian prisons at the time. A significant portion of the case attempted to figure out the identity of the officer who brought B.E.S. to the cell where he was gang-raped.
The judge ruled the guard B.E.S. indicated was guilty—who has a long history of abusing prisoners—wasn’t the correct one, therefore, since the guard is unknown, the province will pay for the damages rewarded. Duncan also rejected the idea that the province was negligent in the rape.
Duncan wrote that “the sexual assault of B.E.S. was a single event, but it was brutal and I accept that it continues to have an impact on his day-to-day functioning well into adulthood.” She awarded the man $150,000 in damages and $25,000 for future care.
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