An is­sue of con­sent

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Some­thing is flawed within our jus­tice sys­tem when vic­tims of crime con­tinue to be vic­tim­ized, while the guilty are given ev­ery pro­tec­tion un­der the law. We are talk­ing about the case in­volv­ing six young Nova Sco­tia men who shared in­ti­mate pho­tos of girls as young as 13 with­out their con­sent. The boys formed a Face­book group where they ex­changed pho­tos of at least 20 girls, rang­ing in age from 13 to 17.

The six young men were un­der 18 when the of­fences were com­mit­ted, which means their iden­ti­ties are pro­tected un­der the Youth Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Act. They will face lim­ited reper­cus­sions for their ac­tions.

No such pro­tec­tion is af­forded the 20 young girls whose pho­tos were posted to so­cial me­dia. Those images will likely never be ex­punged and will con­tinue as a source of pain and em­bar­rass­ment for them and their fam­i­lies for years to come. They will be bul­lied, taunted and placed at risk.

Based on re­cent tragic sui­cides in Syd­ney, Hal­i­fax and else­where, the au­thor­i­ties and fam­i­lies must en­sure the safety of th­ese 20 young girls. They must be pro­tected and given what­ever as­sis­tance nec­es­sary to get past this trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­fore launch­ing their ill-ad­vised scheme, it’s doubt­ful the six young men con­sid­ered the case of Nova Sco­tia teen Re­htaeh Par­sons. She com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter a photo of her be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted was cir­cu­lated among stu­dents at her school in Cole Har­bour. The photo and sub­se­quent on­line bul­ly­ing were blamed as fac­tors in her tragic death.

As a re­sult of the Par­sons tragedy, a law was passed in 2015 to de­ter the non-con­sen­sual shar­ing of in­ti­mate images. The Bridge­wa­ter case will be an im­por­tant test of the law. The judge must act ap­pro­pri­ately and set an ex­am­ple that such be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able and will not be tol­er­ated.

But some ex­perts warn it re­mains un­clear if the law will be a de­ter­rent. Cir­cu­la­tion of in­ti­mate images has be­come the norm and teens’ at­ti­tudes have shifted. There is a new mode of sex­ual ex­pres­sion for our youth; and are we willing to use the law against so many young peo­ple who are dong this?

The key word is con­sent. And con­sent was not given in the Bridge­wa­ter case.

Par­ents must take heed from Bridge­wa­ter and warn their chil­dren about such ac­tiv­ity. Girls must never share their in­ti­mate pho­tos with any­one. Boys must learn that vic­tim­iz­ing girls in such a fash­ion will have se­vere con­se­quences.

The Crown rec­om­mends that the young men should be pro­hib­ited from us­ing so­cial me­dia sites like Twitter, Face­book and Snapchat. It rec­om­mends against jail time, and says the six young men should be on pro­ba­tion for two years or less. It all seems like a slap on the wrist. The guilty must learn that girls can­not be viewed as bar­ter­ing chips or base­ball cards. A crim­i­nal act was com­mit­ted.

The girls are in­no­cent and the boys are guilty. The courts must act ap­pro­pri­ately to hammer home that mes­sage loud and clear.

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