Justice will only be served in forgiveness and healing

  • November 20, 2014

The problem with earthly justice is that sometimes it seems to take its good old time and other times it just doesn’t seem to exist at all. 

In a Halifax youth court in mid-November, a 20-year-old man was given a one-year conditional discharge in a high-profile pornography case. The offender’s identity is banned from publication because he was just 17 when he took a photo of a friend having sex with the girl while she vomited out a window three years ago this month. The boy sent the picture to a friend and it was circulated on social media. 

The Crown argued that the girl, 15 at the time, didn’t know the picture was taken and didn’t consent to it. 

Her young life, so full of promise and potential, should have been just beginning in her later teen years. Instead, she died in April 2013 after she was taken off life support following a suicide attempt that was prompted by months of bullying, according to her distraught parents. She was 17. 

The girl’s story made headlines worldwide and her name became synonymous with the fight against an abhorrent wave of cyberbullying until a statutory publication ban earlier this year shielded her identity. 

The offender in the case was berated by the judge. The judge told the man, who had pleaded guilty in September to making child pornography involving a teenage girl, he should have intervened to protect the girl rather than taking a photo for his friend. 

“The act depicted in that photo that you took is vile,” the judge said. “It is degrading. It is dehumanizing. In a few seconds, (you) set in motion a series of events that led to a great deal of shame, humiliation, anger, despair, anguish, loss, hurt and destruction for (the girl), for her family, for you, for your family, for the entire community.” 

And for that dehumanizing act, the judge, fettered by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, meted out a conditional discharge. 

The 20-year-old man did not address the Halifax court or the girls’ parents. He was ordered instead to have a letter of apology delivered to the parents. 

The girl’s mother said in an impact statement that she lost her child that night. 

“That photo ruined her life,” her mother said. “She was never the same again. We saw glimpses of (her) from time to time, but the impact and trauma that followed for her was enormous. The following 17 months were a struggle. (She) struggled to live.” 

She lost that struggle 19 months ago.

Where is the justice? Is it likely to prevail later this month when a 19-year-old man stands trial on two charges of distributing pornography in the same case? 

The girl’s story, reported on CNN and Dr. Phil, stood as an important case in the contemporary scourge of sexual exploitation in our new online, digital world. One reporter during the November sentencing used “youknowhername” as a twitter hashtag to respect the court-imposed ban on using the young victim’s name. But doing so stripped away her voice for a second time, her mother has argued. 

Again, where is the justice? 

So, we turn to God’s justice. Again, the wheels of divine justice seem to turn slowly, if at all. The justice of Jesus did not focus on punishing wrongdoers. Instead His “love one another” creed is all about battling sin and evil in the world to create healing for the oppressed and the oppressor alike, a mending of our broken relationships. 

In her impact statement, the teenage girl’s mother put it this way: “Some may think I want the people involved and the guilty party to go to jail and be punished severely. Truth is, I don’t want that for him at all. I don’t feel jail time would serve anyone in this situation.” 

The victim’s mother said her wish is that the guilty man feel remorse and recognize and feel accountable for what he did. 

“I wish that he make a life for himself where other females he encountered are treated with respect and dignity. That he somehow learns to value females and that he does so in memory of my daughter. To me, that is the only way to move forward in a healing manner. 

“What I do know is that I have to forgive him. I know this to be true.” 

Only forgiving and healing can stand as a measure of justice in this case. 

(Campbell is an editor at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax, N.S.) 

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