ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Outrage is building around the case of a man who sexually attacked an 11-year-old Newfoundland girl on several occasions, with a women’s advocate and rapper Classified slamming the minimum sentence handed down this week.
Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, said Friday it reinforces what she calls a widespread “rape culture.”
“The message in cases like this is that it is no big deal that a woman or a young girl was raped and harmed in this way, that we accept that a crime as heinous as that, done on a young child, that the perpetrator of that crime can be out walking the streets in a year and a half. As a society, we’re okay with that.”
Christopher Butt was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison followed by three years’ probation after pleading guilty to sexual assault and uttering threats. The sentence — the minimum for the offence — was jointly recommended by the Crown and defence. Butt was also credited for time served, meaning he has one year and 38 weeks left in his sentence.
Classified — whose real name is Luke Boyd — took to Facebook to encourage his supporters to let the judge in the case know they were upset with the sentence. In an interview, Classified said he was outraged by the outcome of the case and wanted to draw it to the attention of his roughly 196,000 Facebook followers in hopes of starting a nation-wide discussion.
“The fact that I had to say it on a Facebook post, a rapper from Nova Scotia, and the rest of the country is not looking at it, like it’s not a big deal how brutal this thing was. That’s the mind blowing part because people are like, ‘Wow, I never even knew about this’,” said Classified in a phone interview from his home in Enfield, N.S., on Friday.
“The amount of messages I got from other young ladies who said they went through the same thing, with guys getting eight-month and nine-month sentences, it’s just crazy. It’s really eye-opening for me.”
Justice William Goodridge wrote in his decision that he accepted the joint submission for the minimum punishment in part because of other factors, including doubt about the young woman’s ability to testify at trial, which created uncertainty about a conviction.
“The quid pro quo of the plea bargain assured a conviction and saved (the complainant) and her family the added emotional stress of a trial,” he wrote.
Wright said the case sends a message to victims of sexual assault that reporting the crime doesn’t always mean justice will be served.
“What fuels this is deeply embedded, sexist values and a thriving rape culture which continues to suggest that women and girls somehow invite sexual assault upon us, that somehow men … are entitled to the bodies of women and girls,” she said.
Wright said people need to advocate for change by speaking to their justice ministers, to the prime minister and to police, and by working with women’s groups.
“One case after another drops like this and we’re, like, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’ ‘Oh, that shouldn’t have happened’…. But nobody is standing up and saying: ‘This isn’t going to happen anymore’,” said Wright. “Unless we speak out and make those changes, this will continue to happen.”
Goodridge’s decision said that the 41-year-old man lured the young girl, who was 11 years old at the time, to his home and repeatedly sexually assaulted her during the summer of 2014.
The decision said Butt was a neighbour and a family friend. It said the assaults occurred on several occasions over a four-week period.
The court documents said Butt lured the victim into his home, showed her pornographic videos, and performed anal and vaginal intercourse without full penetration because his “erect penis was too large for (the victim’s) 11-year-old body.”
“When Mr. Butt tried to force his penis (the victim) would tell him that it was hurting. He did not stop, but instead told her to ‘try’,” Goodridge said in the decision, adding that Butt used threats and physical force to ensure cooperation, including threatening to burn down her family’s house and pulling her hair.
“The force applied during attempted intercourse caused physical injury to (the victim’s) vaginal and anal areas. The symptoms from the physical injuries were such that (the victim) was not able to walk properly for a couple days, was unable to take a bath, and was unable to sit down and wash.”
The decision said mitigating sentencing factors were Butt’s lack of a criminal record, the fact that he pleaded guilty and apologized for the crimes, his participation in rehabilitation programs and his commitment to continued counselling.
It also notes Butt was himself a victim of sexual assault during his childhood and that he suffers from bipolar disorder.
“This does not justify or excuse his criminal acts, but it does help in understanding possible contributing forces that are at play,” it said.