Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Northwest Territories sex assault case criticized as being too lenient - CBC

A Northwest Territories court ruling, in which a man was spared jail time for sexual assault, has been criticized by a women's rights advocate who says victims should be protected first. Late last week, a Fort Smith, N.W.T., man was sentenced to one year of probation after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman in the summer of 2008. The man was 17 years old at the time of the incident, and cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

His lawyer, Abdul Khan, told CBC News that territorial court Judge Garth Malakoe had no choice but to keep his client out of jail, since there was no evidence of a violent assault or lasting physical or mental harm.

The court heard Thursday that the man, who was intoxicated, groped a young woman who was unconscious. The incident involved no intercourse and she was not injured, the court was told. The woman later woke up in hospital, recovering from alcohol poisoning, and had no memory of the assault, the court was told.

Crown prosecutors had called for a jail term of up to nine months, arguing that the victim had suffered psychological harm. However, Malakoe pointed out that the woman only learned of the sexual assault after she had woken up in hospital. Conditions of the man's sentence order him to undergo counselling and to have no contact with the woman.

Khan said the Youth Criminal Justice Act puts emphasis on rehabilitating young offenders, with imprisonment used as a last resort. But Arlene Haché of the Centre for Northern Families in Yellowknife said Malakoe's sentence sends the wrong message to men.

"What message does the guy get if he can just essentially just not face any punitive avenue, because he took advantage of a woman that was so totally blacked out she didn't know what was going on?" Haché told CBC News.

While Haché agreed that jail is not the best answer for some offenders, she added that a lenient legal system encourages men to re-offend and leaves women vulnerable as a result. "Still, there's nothing to replace it [jail] yet. So I'm more concerned about girls and women not being protected at this point, than I am right now about the recovery of boys and men," she said.

She pointed to another case, in which a woman in Dettah, N.W.T., is thinking of leaving town because her accused attacker is now out on bail. Haché said she is helping to design a treatment program for men who have used violence in their relationships.

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