Sexual assault victim tells Halifax judge about suicide attempts, PTSD
A Dalhousie University sign is seen in Halifax on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Michael MacDonald, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, May 14, 2018 2:55PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, May 14, 2018 7:26PM ADT
HALIFAX -- She was 17 and in her first year of studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax when she met him, an 18-year-old classmate originally from Calgary.
Over the course of 72 hours in September 2015, their budding relationship suddenly ended in acrimony when she accused him of sexually assaulting her after a night of heavy drinking that he says left him with no memory of what happened.
In February, 20-year-old Chris Davidson was found guilty by a jury of sexual assault and unlawful confinement.
On Monday, the victim sobbed as she read from a victim impact statement during his sentencing hearing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, saying she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has attempted suicide twice in the past year.
"When I experience a panic attack, my hands shake and my chest tightens and it feels like I can't breathe," said the woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban. "My muscles tense and my heart pounds fast. I become emotional and very afraid."
She said she has nightmares about the assault and also suffers from depression, anorexia, insomnia, self-mutilation and emotional flashbacks.
During Davidson's trial, court heard the pair had attended a frat party and later returned to her room, where they drank several vodka shots. They undressed each other and were about to have sex, when Davidson -- then 18 -- said something about waiting to get married before having intercourse with his girlfriend.
The woman testified that she asked Davidson to stop but he persisted, later claiming that he blacked out.
Crown attorney Glenn Hubbard is seeking a three-year prison sentence. Defence lawyer William Leahey said his client should spend two years in a federal penitentiary. Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Glen McDougall reserved his decision until Tuesday.
In court, the victim said she tried to kill herself in March, a month after the trial ended.
"I felt that I couldn't carry on after the re-traumatization that happened during my testimony," she told the court, as members of her family looked on from the public gallery. "My testimony required me to ... recount every detail of the worst night of my life."
The psychological fallout from the assault and the trial has left her feeling emotionally distant, which has cost her several friendships, she said.
"After such a trauma, survivors like myself experience symptoms such as shame, a lack of self esteem and are unable to trust people," she said.
Though she has been unable to attend classes, she insisted she will go back to school at some point.
"Mr. Davidson has had a devastating impact on my life ... but I have persevered and I stand here, strong, after months of emotional struggles and worsened mental illnesses. I refuse to let this crime stop me from accomplishing all the things I have planned for my life."
The judge said it was difficult for him to maintain his composure while the woman read from her statement.
"It's impossible not to be affected by your words and the courage you have shown," McDougall said. "Don't let it defeat you. Do your best."
The Crown cited case law from Alberta, where the "starting point" for a "major sexual assault" sentence is three years, even if the perpetrator has no previous record and demonstrates otherwise good character.
And while it's true Davidson was severely intoxicated on the night in question, having consumed six or seven shots, his level of drunkenness could not be considered a mitigating factor, he said.
The Crown lawyer said the courts consider rape as act of violence that causes long-lasting damage to the victim and the community.
"There is serious emotional and psychological trauma in this case," he said.
In his submission, Leahey described the good character of his client, citing 16 letters of support that describe Davidson as a respectful, gracious and good-hearted young man who regularly attended church and displayed "good Christian values."
Leahey described the case as a tragedy, saying two young lives have been "blighted by these events."
He said it was clear the couple had quickly developed a fondness for each other early in the academic year.
"All of this changed ... after both of them became highly intoxicated," he said.
Leahey said the university should tell other students about the case as a cautionary tale about alcohol abuse.
"Mr. Davidson's behaviour ... would have never passed the boundaries that it did were it not for the over-consumption of alcohol," he said.
Leahey said Davidson has taken responsibility for his actions, adding that his client couldn't plead guilty to the offences because he has no recollection of what happened.
"Mr. Davidson also has a very difficult pathway before him," Leahey said. "He has much more to endure ... and it comes at a point in his life where he is just starting out."
Davidson declined to address the court.