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Editorial: A matter of consent


Something is flawed in our justice system when victims of crime continue to be victimized, while the guilty are given every protection under the law.

The case in point involves six young men from Nova Scotia who have admitted they shared intimate photos of girls as young as 13 without their consent. The boys formed a Facebook group where they exchanged photos of at least 20 girls ranging in age from 13 to 17.

The six young men were under the age of 18 when the offences were committed, which means their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They will face limited repercussions for their actions.

No such protection is afforded the 20 girls whose photos were posted to social media. Those images will likely never be expunged and will continue as a source of pain and embarrassment for them and their families for years to come. They will be bullied, taunted and placed at risk.

Based on recent tragic examples in Sydney, Halifax and elsewhere, the authorities and families must ensure the safety of these 20 young girls.

They must be protected and given whatever assistance necessary to get past this traumatic experience.

Before they committed their crimes, it’s doubtful the six young men considered the case of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons. She committed suicide after a photo of her being sexually assaulted was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour. The photo and subsequent online bullying were blamed as factors in her death.

As a result, a law was passed in 2015 to deter the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. The Bridgewater case will be an important test of that law. The judge must set an example that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The young men will be sentenced Sept. 6.

Still, some experts warn it’s unclear if the law will be a deterrent. Circulating intimate images has become the norm as a new mode of sexual expression for some young people.

But the key word is consent. And consent was not given in the Bridgewater case, nor in the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

Parents, warn your children about such activity. Make it clear that exploiting anyone in such a fashion carries severe consequences — at least for the victims.

The Crown recommends the young men be prohibited from using social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. It recommends against jail time, though, saying instead the six young men should be on probation for two years or less.

It all seems like a slap on the wrist.

Those girls cannot be allowed to be reduced to bartering chips or collectible cards. Criminal acts were committed here; real trauma is being felt.

The court must hammer home that message loud and clear.

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