by Paul Henderson, Black Press
That’s how an Abbotsford teenage rape victim described her feeling after dozens of court appearances over more than four years leading up to her assailant’s sentencing.
“It’s just been exhausting,” K.W. said outside BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack last Friday after the sentencing of 47-year-old Gilles Leger, formerly of Abbotsford.
But despite the torment that nearly tore her family apart and caused suicidal thoughts, lack of sleep, estrangement from her friends and even bullying at school, the victim of the Oct. 1, 2011 rape that took place on the back of an ATV at Gill Bar on the Fraser River in Chilliwack wants to tell her story.
“I want my voice heard,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to understand that it can happen to anyone.”
K.W. has struggled with suicidal thoughts, depression and night terrors. She has been on anti-psychotic medication and still needs sleeping pills. And the court process added only further trauma as she was cross-examined by Leger’s lawyer in a way that made her feel blamed.
Still, she bravely agreed to testify in open court during the trial, and read her own victim impact statement at sentencing.
“I read it, and as hard as it was, it was very empowering,” she said.
K.W. wants other victims of sexual assault and rape to come forward and be brave in the face of a system that seems stacked against them. She said she plans to pursue a career in counselling or victim services.
“My door is open and I can’t turn a blind eye because I know what it’s like. I don’t think that it gets better but you can get better.”
(K.W. wanted not only to have her story told, but to have her real name used. However, a publication ban that was not requested by her prevents Black Press from doing so.)
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Before October 2014, K.W. was popular in school, fun-loving, got good grades and played soccer five times a week.
“I was so happy,” she said.
The then 15-year-old was what any parent would hope their teenage child would be. Then came a camping trip at Gill Bar on the Fraser River, shattering everything when the stepfather of her best friend turned on her.
“The [K] I once was, died that night,” she told the court in a victim impact statement on Jan. 29.
What exactly happened that night was the subject of some uncertainty in court, because both Leger and K.W. were intoxicated. K.W., Leger and his stepdaughter went to Gill Bar to ride ATVs and camp with a number of other people. Leger’s wife was scheduled to meet them the next day.
Leger drank beer, and the two girls drank Palm Bay coolers he had purchased for them. They sat around a large campfire, and at one point K.W. went with Leger for an ATV ride. It was then that Leger got her onto the back of the ATV, and violently raped the 15-year-old – something he claims not to remember.
Back at the campsite, K.W. said her best friend immediately knew something was wrong.
“My eyes were huge. I was in a panic and started bawling my eyes out. I told her and she started saying, ‘No, no, no, no.’
“My life just changed all of a sudden.”
Police were called and Leger was arrested before his wife arrived at the campsite.
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During the entire trial, the diminutive Leger sat in the prisoner’s box, eliciting no emotion, even when the terrible details about what he did to a young girl were read to the court.
Through his lawyer, he said he accepts the court’s verdict but he has not apologized, he did not plead guilty and he claims he does not recall the violent rape that may have left the young woman unable to have children.
“He cannot speak to the truth of it himself,” Leger’s lawyer Vincent Michaels told the court.
His lawyer even suggested Leger was a victim as he has suffered financially, socially and emotionally since the rape, particularly because his second wife left him within three months of the incident.
“This is now the second family he has lost,” Michaels told the court, referring to his first common-law relationship that ended acrimoniously.
Michaels also suggested to the court that since Leger blacked out that night, something that had never happened before, it is a “reasonable possibility” that someone spiked his drink.
For K.W., that’s a ridiculous suggestion.
Michaels went further and attempted to claim that Leger’s drunkenness could be a form of mitigating circumstance because the state makes people do things they wouldn’t otherwise.
“That he chooses to get himself drunk is aggravating,” Crown counsel Grant Lindsey argued.
Justice Brian Joyce rejected Leger’s defence.
“It’s simply no excuse,” Joyce said.
At the sentencing hearing, both K.W. and her mother read victim impact statements to the court.
K.W.’s mother’s voice quavered as she said there were no words to describe when a parent learns their child has been harmed.
“I was horrified that someone could do those things to a child,” she said. “He betrayed us all, and I will never forgive him for the harm he has done.”
In her statement, K.W. explained how her friends turned against her, spread lies about her and bullied her.
“School became an absolute nightmare for me.”
She developed a hatred for men, so deep-seated that she couldn’t be touched by family members.
“I had to explain to grandpa why he couldn’t give her a hug,” K.W.’s mother told the court.
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After the sentencing hearing on Jan. 29, Joyce told the court he wanted to think about the case, and called the parties back for Feb. 5.
It was then that he briefly outlined the submissions at trial and the sentencing hearing, calling it a “very troubling case.”
He sentenced Leger to three years in jail and ordered he be placed on the sex offender registry for 20 years.
Immediately after the sentencing, K.W. and her parents met with the Crown, who explained that a prison sentence is never what it appears, because of what is known as “statutory release.” Unlike parole, which is a discretionary type of release, statutory release is built into the system and means that except in extreme cases, offenders are released after serving two-thirds of the time handed to them by the courts.
“It’s just very disappointing,” K.W. said.
She is not OK with the length of the sentence, and the statutory release bothers her.
“I think it sends a message to victims that no matter how hard we try in getting a sentence, in wanting ‘justice,’ it won’t even be served.”
As for getting back to normal, K.W. doesn’t think that’s possible but she is moving forward with an urge to help other victims.
She said she wanted her real name used because she is not ashamed of what happened to her.
“I want people to know I have gone through this, but have survived this nightmare.
“I want other victims to not be ashamed either, so I hope this could pose as an example. Shame and stigma is a large piece in sexual assault, maybe even a reason why people don’t report it.
“And if people work together and not express shame, then I think it will help.”