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Russell Wangersky: No child should endure such torture

Advocate for Children and Youth, Newfoundland and Labrador
Advocate for Children and Youth, Newfoundland and Labrador

•••WARNING: This column contains graphic language.••• On the face of it, the case is horrible enough. A 12-year-old, impregnated by her own stepfather, is brought by him to a clinic in this province for an abortion. The girl claimed she had had consensual sex with a teenaged boyfriend. When, for other reasons, child protection officers try to find them, they’ve left the province.

Russell Wangersky

Two years later, after another abortion in another province, officials here discovered the girl had been being sexually assaulted for more than two years — but only after her stepfather is arrested for a separate set of sex crimes.

Those details are part of a report into how child services and the health-care system dealt with the case, and what mistakes were made. The report does a clear job of setting out the steps that should have been taken.

But what you don’t get from the spare prose of the Child and Youth Advocate’s report is the absolute horror of the case.

Putting together information from court documents, sentencing hearings and Winnipeg newspaper accounts, the story is far darker and more tragic than the advocate’s account.

The story starts with a man known outside the courts only as T.O. — the stepfather.

He’s serving 16 years in prison for crimes involving young women.

Judge Chris Martin of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench described T.O.’s early years during T.O.’s sentencing: “As a result of his biological father’s alcohol abuse and domestic violence, his parents separated when he was just three. Since then he has had no meaningful contact with his father. His mother began a new relationship when he was seven years old. While that relationship brought some stability, ultimately it also brought conflict. His mother chose her new partner over her son. Mr. T.O. was placed in a series of foster homes until he was about 14 when his mother’s relationship with the new partner ended. By age 16 Mr. T.O. had moved out of the family home and was on his own.”

He started a relationship with a woman who had an infant daughter. In the next seven years, the couple had three children — all sons. Working since Grade 9, T.O. found work in the construction and oil business in four different provinces, including Newfoundland. But things flew apart.

“The marriage broke down in 2007, and by 2008 the mother was a full-blown crack/cocaine addict. She was incapable of raising the children. She succumbed to the misery of the drug world and turned away from her children,” the judge wrote.

T.O. was raising four children when he started raping his stepdaughter, who was then just 11 and a half: “It started just before the child was in Grade 6. The first occasion of sexual assault was anally raping her, causing bodily harm. After, as often as five to six times a week over the next years, he sexually assaulted her anally and vaginally. He told her he would marry her, that she would have his babies. The child grew used to this, as if such relations between a father and daughter were typical or expected.”

When, at 12 and a half, the girl got pregnant, the judge said of T.O, “He took her to Newfoundland for an abortion under the ruse of a boy getting her pregnant.”

Another pregnancy, and another abortion, took place in Winnipeg when she was 13.

And everything flew below the radar of child protection services — until an extremely violent Winnipeg home invasion.

“None of this came to light until well after September 24, 2012, when he was arrested for breaking into his stepdaughter’s friend’s home, intending to sexually assault her. The girl and her mother fought him off as he brutally beat them with a metal pry bar,” Judge Martin wrote.

The 13-year-old friend of T.O’s stepdaughter had been at T.O.’s house watching a movie; T.O. made inappropriate comments during the movie, and later that night, wearing a hoodie and gloves, broke into the girl’s house with a pry bar. He admitted to the court that he planned to rape his stepdaughter’s 13-year-old friend. A Crown attorney described the room as having “blood everywhere,” saying both victims were so seriously injured that bone fragments were found in their hair.

A search of T.O’s computer “revealed internet searches in June and July 2012 for father-daughter incest, teen sleepover sex, and more specifically, for example, ‘father rapes daughter on her birthday’” and other, more graphic searches, the judge’s decision said.

It took almost a year after the arrest for his stepdaughter to come forward to police with her account: “He warped her and traumatized her so badly that upon his arrest for assaulting her friend, she tried to shield her family, her brothers, and would not reveal what Mr. T.O. had done to her for nearly another year,” the judge wrote.

Much of the abuse happened after child services officials in this province tried to intervene, but were stymied.

There are devils amongst us, and we need to know how easily they and their children can fall through the cracks in our system. Because no one should experience such horror.

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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