When someone does come forward to the authorities, it takes a tremendous amount of courage. In our adversarial legal system, the complainants’ character, behaviour, demeanour and attire are often as pointedly and publicly scrutinized in court as that of the accused, even though they aren’t supposed to be the people on trial.
It is not a process everyone is willing or able to go through. So when someone makes a complaint, as the young woman did recently in the sexual assault case of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Doug Snelgrove, it is natural for people to feel strongly supportive, particularly those who have been victims of sexual assault themselves or who know people who have.
Public outrage has been further fuelled by the fact that Snelgrove was on duty and in uniform at the time, so there was an imbalance of power between him and the young woman who had asked him for a ride home, even though he was not charged with breach of trust.
No wonder the case has angered so many people. Consider these statistics from the Canadian Women’s Foundation:
“• Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
“• Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.”
In other words, most people know women who have been hurt. Which is why the visceral reaction to Snelgrove’s acquittal — the social media posts, the protests, the placards — was to be expected and is understandable.
There’s real mistrust about the police in our community as a result of this case and others right now; a lot of fear, outrage and frustration.
For women in particular, and for men who care about women, this issue hits painfully close to home. If one in two Canadian women are victims of violence, I have to ask myself how many of the women I care about are represented by that one in two. It’s distressing, disturbing and disgusting.
But some of the reactions to the Snelgrove case have also been disturbing.
“Kill your local rapist” and “Rape.N.C.” and “St. John’s cops believe in rape” were all messages spray-painted downtown after Snelgrove was found not guilty.
Clearly some people believe that justice was not served, even though the jurors followed the instructions they were given and acted in accordance with the law. There is shock and indignation at what the young woman has gone through.
But to brand all RNC officers or all police as rapists does a disservice to the good men and women in uniform who help vulnerable people every day.
A woman I spoke to recently who was raped said the police were stalwartly supportive of her, from the time she made the report and gave her statement, through her court appearances during the trial, and afterward.
I know police officers who’ve dedicated years and sacrificed many sleepless nights trying to track down child predators and bring them to justice.
I think of the officers who help women and children leave abusive households and find safety.
So I don’t think it’s fair to paint them all as on-duty predators trolling the streets for vulnerable young targets.
Certainly officers should know that the public and the police have zero tolerance for such behaviour. Chief Bill Janes said shortly after the Snelgrove verdict was rendered: “I do not and will not tolerate any unprofessional or unethical behaviour by my officers.”
The Crown has 30 days to file an appeal in the Snelgrove case. If there is no appeal, his fate will rest with the Police Complaints Commission.
This case has stirred up animosity, sown distrust and reaffirmed people’s cynicism.
But it has also has moved people to talk openly about consent, women’s rights and rape myths.
And if any shred of good can come from this, perhaps it is that.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton