This story is over 5 years old

The Canadian Teenager Who Took a Photo of [Name Redacted] Being Sexually Assaulted Is Now a Free Man

A man who infamously took a sexually explicit photo of a 15-year-old girl who later committed suicide won't do jail time thanks to a judge's ruling yesterday.

by Hilary Beaumont
Nov 14 2014, 5:53pm

Protesters outside the court

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

A Nova Scotian man who infamously took a sexually explicit photo of a 15-year-old girl who later committed suicide won't do jail time thanks to a judge's ruling yesterday. Instead he was handed the man a one-year conditional discharge to wrap up a highly contested case.

In other words, he walked out of the court a free man, with a few caveats: He has to give his DNA to a national offender database, take a sexual harassment course, and apologize to the girl's parents.

It's a case that has been widely covered in the press, including in VICE Canada, but the victim's name cannot be published due to a controversial publication ban. We're bound by Canada's criminal code to not publish her name. Even though other media outlets have got around this by publishing their Canadian stories on the American version of their sites, we wanted to ensure we reached our Canadian audience directly. So we're stuck with abiding by the same publication ban that all other Canadian media has to respect.

Outside of the media, however, the ban has been widely violated (just check Twitter).

The girl's parents told the court Thursday that the explicit photo was the cause of their daughter's death. The photo shows a separate man flashing a thumbs-up as he penetrates the girl from behind. She is vomiting out the window. When the photo was taken, she was 15.

The man who snapped the photo, the same man who was allowed to walk free yesterday, was 17 at the time. He sent it to his friend, and it quickly spread throughout the girl's high school. Her peers relentlessly harassed and slut-shamed her; and even though she told police the photo was visual proof of her being raped, they wouldn't press charges.

Struggling with depression, she locked herself in a bathroom and attempted suicide. Her parents took her off life support three days later, on April 7, 2013. She was 17 when she died.

It wasn't until August 2013, after massive public backlash, that police charged the man who took the photo that ruined her life. Outside the courthouse after his sentencing, the girl's father told reporters that justice won't be served until the rape allegations are fully investigated.

The victim's father

When he heard the attorneys and judge describing his daughter vomiting in the photo while a man penetrated her, he wondered why no one was ever charged with her rape.

"We always thought, and we always believed, that [our daughter] was sexually assaulted that night, and they're sitting there saying she was vomiting, throwing up from intoxication, and they were having sexual intercourse with her. What are we supposed to think sitting there listening to that?"

He questioned why the Crown laid the "easy" child pornography charges rather than charges of sexual assault.  While the man who took the infamous photo of the victim has now gone through the legal system, the man who actually assaulted her that night has not.

"We thought there was powerful evidence to suggest she was sexually assaulted that night...  There's no sentence that would be good enough or strong enough to ever reflect what this did to my daughter. There just won't be."

As he spoke, a small group of protesters—that identified themselves as part of the Anonymous collective, by wearing Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas—yelled his daughter's name, along with "Justice!" and "Fuck the ban!"

They held neon signs with her name and the words, "What if she was your daughter?"

When judge Gregory Lenehan read his decision, he asked the 20-year-old defendant: "How would you have acted if that were your sister?"

If she were his sister, he would have physically intervened instead of taking the photo, the judge said.

As he read his decision, Lenehan weighed the "severe" and "vile" nature of the photo, and its contribution to the girl's death, against the idea in Canadian law that young offenders should be rehabilitated into society.

"He is not as blameworthy as an adult," the judge said.

He believed the man, now 20, was remorseful, and had taken responsibility for his actions by entering a guilty plea.

In her statement to the court, the girl's mother said she didn't want the man to go to prison:

"Some may think I want the people involved, and the guilty party, to go to jail and be punished severely. The truth is, I don't want that for him at all. I don't feel jail time would serve anyone in this situation. My wish is that the accused actually felt remorse, that the accused does see the wrongdoing in this situation, not because he was caught and held accountable but because he actually felt accountable."

When the judge finished reading his decision, the packed courtroom was completely silent. Meanwhile on Twitter, the girl's name and the hashtag #youknowhername blew up and trended nationally as Canadians expressed their outrage at the decision, and the publication ban, which makes discussing and reporting this story even more difficult.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on ​Twitter.

high school
sexual assault
Nova Scotia
Vice Blog
publication ban