Police and lawyers are seeing a rise in the number of investigations involving the sharing of intimate images without consent, according to a Crown attorney handling one of the largest such cases Nova Scotia has faced following the introduction of legislation dealing with the disturbing phenomenon.
Peter Dostal said Wednesday that the case involving six Nova Scotia teens charged with sharing images of at least 20 high school girls is not the first to test the relatively new legislation, but it is one of the biggest and most complex.
“We certainly would be seeing more now and in recent years we’ve seen a fair number coming through,” he said outside provincial youth court in Bridgewater. “Be it matters that are investigated by police without charge or investigated and brought through diversionary programs…we are seeing a fair number of these enter into the system.”
Two 18-year-olds and four 15-year-olds are facing charges of distributing intimate images without consent, and possessing and distributing child pornography. Their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Several lawyers representing the young men were in provincial youth court in Bridgewater to request more time before entering pleas. They are due back in court on Nov. 28.
Dostal said a trial could be lengthy due to the number of people charged in the matter and the volume of evidence, much of it taken from electronic devices and cellphones. Dates in July, August and September have been set aside for a possible trial.
“Given the number of accused and different levels of evidence, including statements, searches and computer forensic evidence, it does provide for a fair amount of complexity,” he said.
Police in Bridgewater launched a year-long investigation in response to complaints from school officials, leading to the seizure of a number of electronic devices – mainly cellphones – which were handed over to the RCMP Technological Crime Unit for analysis.
The Mounties found more photos, and a search warrant was drafted to obtain information from Dropbox, a U.S.-based file-sharing service. Using an international treaty, Canadian officials obtained the files through the FBI.
The case is one of the first in Canada involving legislation introduced in late 2013 after the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, which captured national attention. The 17-year-old attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo of what her family says was a sexual assault was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.