Teen uses video camera to prove abuse by stepfather

Rosie
Rosie Gillingham
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WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.
In the nearly five years he sexually abused his stepdaughter, one of his favourite things to do was to write sexual orders on eight numbered pieces of cardboard and make her choose her torture.

Whichever number she picked - the options on the cards included vaginal sex and oral sex - she was forced to do it.

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.

In the nearly five years he sexually abused his stepdaughter, one of his favourite things to do was to write sexual orders on eight numbered pieces of cardboard and make her choose her torture.

Whichever number she picked - the options on the cards included vaginal sex and oral sex - she was forced to do it.

She had no say in the matter.

It was just one of many chilling and shocking details heard Monday in a case involving a Northeast Avalon man at provincial court in St. John's.

The 34-year-old - whose name cannot be published in order to protect the identity of the victim - pleaded guilty to sexual assault and possessing child pornography. Among his collection were more than 70 images of his stepdaughter in sexual poses.

The man had been the girl's stepfather from the time she was three years old.

"Because of what happened to me, I view the world as a very evil and horrible place," she said, weeping as she read her heart-wrenching victim impact statement in court.

"I was never really a religious person, but I did believe in God. Since this has happened, I've turned my back on faith and religion and I think that if there is really a God, He hates me."

The abuse began when she was 12 and stopped in April this year after she discovered a way to get evidence.

She set up a video camera in her bedroom, placing it on a shelf inside a transparent makeup bag.

According to the agreed statement of facts, the 28-minute-long video shows the girl lying on the couch in her room reading a book.

Her stepfather enters the room and demands she remove her pants. She shakes her head no, but he pulls her black track pants off and lowers her underwear.

He has intercourse with her, withdraws and ejaculates on the carpet. He then leaves the room, returning briefly to throw a blanket over her.

Her entire family, including her mother, was home at the time.

The teen and several of the dozen family members, who came to support her, wept as Crown prosecutor Mike Murray read the facts of the case aloud.

Over the years, the man took every opportunity to sexually assault the girl.

Since he and the girl's mother often argued, he frequently slept on the couch, allowing him unfettered access to her in her downstairs bedroom. He would also, at times, claim to be taking her to the hospital for a minor ailment, but instead take her in the car or in the shed and abuse her. When they'd return, he'd lie that they came back because it was too crowded.

He would often not wear a condom and ejaculate on her body, on the bed, the blankets or on the floor. If any got on the floor, "sometimes he just wipes it with his sneaker," she said.

She said she eventually stopped resisting because she thought it was "a lost cause" and she was scared.

The abuse resulted in her getting pregnant when she was 16. To hide the abuse, she told her family she was unsure of who the father might have been. She terminated the pregnancy in January.

"I'm not against abortion, but I can't help but look back and feel that I killed something remotely living," she said during her victim impact statement, "that someone else could have cared about."

Reading from her five-page, typed statement, she broke down several times, describing how the abuse has crippled her life.

"I sometimes wonder what's the point in life if all I get is pain," she said, as her aunt stood next to her on the stand, comforting her.

"Now at 17 years old, I'm questioning whether or not I should give up on life."

She said she has trouble trusting people and controlling her temper, is nervous in crowds, can't focus on school work and turns to food because of her depression.

She said the abuse has affected her relationship with family and friends and even with herself - she sometimes cuts herself to try and forget the pain she is suffering inside.

She spends most of her time alone in her bedroom on the computer and said she has fallen in love with a man who lives in another time zone.

"When I don't talk to him, I get very depressed, anxious," she said. "There are even times when I have felt suicidal because of not talking to him."

He was the first person she told about the abuse. She eventually told two other friends, one of whom helped her come up with the idea of catching her stepfather on camera.

A week after setting up the camera, she showed it to her school's guidance counsellor, who contacted Child Youth and Family Services and the police.

The man continued to sexually assault the girl, right up to two nights before her disclosure.

"I wish that I could have been braver and told sooner. ... I hate myself for not telling sooner," she said. "I feel like it was my fault that so much time in my life was wasted because I never told sooner."

When she finished reading her statement and stepped off the witness stand, Judge Robert Hyslop called to her and said, "If I might just say something. You're still young and none of your life has been wasted. Thank you for your bravery."

The Crown recommended the judge sentence the man to eight years in jail, pointing out the many aggravating factors, including the duration of the abuse, the breach of trust and the psychological cruelty he put the victim through.

The man's lawyer, Jane Fitzpatrick, said three to four years in jail was more appropriate. Her client was remorseful, she said, and was a victim of abuse himself as a child and is seeking psychiatric help.

She also asked for double credit for the almost seven months he's already spent in jail.

The man - who kept his head in his hands throughout the proceedings - was given the opportunity to speak last.

"No words I can say that will take away the pain I have caused to (her)," he said, trembling and crying as he spoke. "I'm trying to sort everything out in my mind. ... I know what I did was wrong and I'm so sorry. I was the adult. I should've known better ...

"I know (she) is a strong person. She always was. I want her to have a good life, better than the one I had. I look in the mirror and I've really learned to hate myself."

Before he finished, the girl ran out of court.

Outside court, she told reporters she had to leave.

"I saw him like that before," she said, "so I didn't believe a word of it."

But she's glad she spoke up in court and encourages anyone who has been through anything similar to speak out.

"It's really hard to come forward. It's scary," she said, "but I'm glad I did."

The judge will render his decision on sentencing Dec. 7.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Child Youth and Family Services

Geographic location: Northeast Avalon, St. John's

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