'You are strong and you are brave': Halifax judge applauds rape victim for perseverance
A Dalhousie University sign is seen in Halifax on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, May 15, 2018 6:57AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 15, 2018 3:57PM EDT
HALIFAX -- A Nova Scotia judge praised a young university student for coming forward after a sexual assault she endured when she was 17, saying she showed courage and strength during a two-year legal ordeal that ended Tuesday with the sentencing of a male classmate.
"Despite how difficult it must have been for her to share her thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of the assault ... she somehow mustered the courage to read it into the record," Justice Glen McDougall said before sentencing 21-year-old Chris Davidson of Calgary to 29 months in prison for sexual assault and unlawful confinement.
"I hope she can continue to somehow find the strength and courage to go on," the judge told the victim. "Often times, victims of sexual violence never get over the trauma of having been abused ... You have already shown that if anyone can persevere and move forward, you can. You are young, strong and you are brave."
During Davidson's trial in February, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury heard that the pair became fast friends as they both started their studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax in September 2015. Both were away from home and on their own for the first time -- and both had little experience with alcohol.
Davidson was 18 at the time.
On the night in question, the couple planned to attend a fraternity party. Before they left, they both drank several shots of vodka.
"Although Mr. Davidson didn't have a lot of drinking experience, he matched (her) drink for drink," McDougall said. "Nor did she have a great deal of drinking experience, based on the evidence."
McDougall said the woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, drank about six shots. Davidson had more, though the number remains unclear.
When they returned to the woman's dorm room, they undressed each other and prepared to engage in consensual sex, and the woman suggested he should wear a condom. But at one point, Davidson told the woman he had not had sex before, and was planning to share his first experience with his girlfriend.
"Upon hearing for the first time that Mr. Davidson had a girlfriend, (she) decided that she did not want to go any further down this path and told Mr. Davidson to stop," the judge said, adding that she placed her arm on his chest to make him stop. "Unfortunately, her efforts to end things were to no avail."
The woman placed a condom on Davidson's penis when it became clear she could not restrain him or escape, the judge said.
McDougall said the over-consumption of alcohol might help explain what happened, but he stressed that it couldn't excuse Davidson's actions, nor could it be considered a mitigating factor.
The Alberta man told police he had no memory of what happened that night, saying he blacked out.
Davidson did not testify in his own defence.
In February, the jury found him guilty of sexual assault and unlawful confinement.
On Monday, the woman read from a victim impact statement, telling the court she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has attempted suicide twice in the past year. She said she has nightmares about the assault and suffers from panic attacks, depression, anorexia, insomnia, self-mutilation and emotional flashbacks.
Though she has been unable to attend classes, she insisted she will go back to school at some point.
"I refuse to let this crime stop me from accomplishing all the things I have planned for my life," she told the court.
On Tuesday, McDougall told Davidson that it was clear from the evidence that he is an intelligent, respectful, church-going young man from a good family. The judge also cited a pre-sentence report that said he had no previous record and had taken responsibility for his actions.
McDougall quoted from the report, saying Davidson had told an officer: "We both were drunk. I blacked out ... The judge found me guilty, so I'm going to take responsibility. I chose to drink that much ... I feel awful about what she said I had done ... She is obviously traumatized."
The judge said even though Davidson showed regret and remorse, the impact of his actions were "devastating" for the victim.
"Your conduct has caused perhaps irreparable harm," he said.
Dressed in a blue, collared shirt and tan pants, Davidson -- a trim, clean-cut man with short brown hair -- stared straight ahead when he stood to be formally sentenced. A few members of his family sobbed quietly as he was led away by two sheriff's deputies.
Outside court, defence lawyer William Leahey said the case is an example of what can happen when young people are away from home for the first time and are inexperienced with alcohol.
"This set of facts ... should be driven home to every student," Leahey said. "They need to know the impact of booze when they're young and have little or no experience."
The lawyer said parents typically do a good job of teaching their children good moral values while encouraging them to avoid drugs and alcohol.
"But there's a vulnerability that develops," he said. "That vulnerability is a lack of experience with alcohol ... You can look at this case and you could see how this could happen to anyone's child."