Court Forced Sexual Assault Victim to Spend Five Days in Jail with Attacker

After an unnamed Canadian woman was brutally assaulted, she was held in a correctional facility with her assailant because the judge didn't think she would show up to testify against him.

by Gabby Bess
Jun 5 2017, 7:23pm

Convicted sexual predator, Lance Blanchard. Edmonton Police Service

On June 16, 2014, a 27-year-old Canadian woman was looking for a place to rest for the night. She was homeless, and had been napping in various places all day after she left a friend's house. According to court documents, she eventually sang herself asleep in a stairwell of an apartment building in Edmonton after being let in by a resident—but she was awoken by a six-foot-eight man holding a knife to her head as he dragged her into his room.

Once inside, "all hell broke loose," she later testified. She broke free from her attacker's grasp and tried get a knife from the kitchen to defend herself. According to court documents, she was unsuccessful, but she was able to grab a portable phone and hide it in her sleeve before the attacker caught her again. He bent her over his couch and attempted to remove her clothes but she fought back. He then began banging her head on the floor and trying to tie her up with electrical cords before throwing her to the ground and stabbing her.

Read more: When Does Drunk Sex Become Rape?

He sat on top of her and put his penis in her face. After some time, she was able to secretly dial 911, put the phone on speaker, and scream for help.

But her nightmare didn't end when the police arrived, a CBC investigation has revealed. During the preliminary hearing for the trial against the man who assaulted her, Lance Blanchard, the victim was brought in in handcuffs and leg shackles. She had been held in a correctional facility at the request of a Crown prosecutor to ensure that she would show up to court. The publication reports that the judge, Raymond Bodnarek, and the prosecutor were concerned for her mental health after she had trouble answering questions and fell asleep during the first day of the hearing.

The victim spent a total of five days behind bars, in the same jail as her attacker. At least twice, she had to ride to court in the same prisoner transport van as Blanchard.

"It's not a pleasant scene I'm living," she told the judge at a hearing, asking to be released into her mother's custody. "Like, I'm the fricking victim here, and I mean, like, come on. You sit in the back of those cells. It feels like an hour went by but really it's only 20 minutes."

In Canada, the law states that witnesses who refuse to testify can be detained. However, it's common for sexual assault victims to display unusual behavior after a brutal attack and the law shouldn't be used to punish them, Alberta Minister of Justice Kathleen Ganley said in a statement.

The way she was treated in the system is absolutely unacceptable.

"It is clear our justice system failed this Albertan. She was a young woman and the victim of a horrific crime. The way she was treated in the system is absolutely unacceptable," Ganley said. "When I was made aware of this situation, I was shocked, angry and heartbroken. It is obvious we failed her at every level, and her story is a crucial reminder that we must do better. In my opinion, there were obvious mistakes and poor decisions made in this case."

The unnamed victim died seven months after she testified at the preliminary hearing in an unrelated, accidental shooting. In December 2016, Blanchard was found guilty of aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, aggravated sexual assault, possession of a weapon, and threatening to cause death or bodily harm.

Read more: When a Woman Is Raped in Rural Alaska, Does Anyone Care?

Ganley is opening up an independent investigation into how the sexual assault case was handled by the courts to "ensure no one is ever treated like this again."

"Detaining victims to ensure their testimony will have the effect of discouraging them from reporting in the first place, and the end result will be that even more rapists will go unpunished," Sara Mcgovern, a representative from RAINN, told Broadly. "Rape victims have suffered enough—they shouldn't have to worry about being thrown in jail or forced to spend time with the perpetrator."