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Convicted of rape in the court of Facebook

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/2/2009 (3092 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was a familiar opening.

"I hope you can help me with this as no one else seems concerned," the 40-year-old Winnipeg woman's email began.

Sadly, her story was somewhat familiar, too.

But with a twist.

She wrote of an attempted rape at a Caribbean resort last fall.

What it had done to her.

And -- this is where the twist comes in -- what she chose to do about it when her complaint went nowhere.

"ö "ö "ö

It happened early on the September morning her vacation was ending.

Janie -- the pseudonym she uses online -- was making her way home through the resort alone in the dark when she was grabbed from behind.

She screamed. Then she lost consciousness.

"When I came to, I was lying on my back with some... man sitting on my legs pinning me down. He just finished removing my camera from my purse. I tried to free myself but I was no match for him. He was strong and I'm a rather small person. I started screaming again, so he leaned forward and put his hand over my mouth."

She doesn't remember any pain when, later, he bit her hand as she clawed his face. What she remembers, Janie said, even in the dark, is the man's face.

"I looked him right in the eyes at that point, expecting an ugly monster of a man, but he wasn't.

"He tore angrily at my shorts and I yelled and screamed at him as he broke the zipper."

Just then, a resort worker happened by and her attacker fled.

Later that morning, as she was checking out, she reported the attack to someone at the reception desk. The bus to the airport was leaving at 9 a.m, less than six hours after the attack. Janie didn't bother filing a police report.

When she arrived home in Winnipeg, her parents drove her straight to Grace Hospital where Janie told staff what had happened.

She would go on to report the incident to the travel agency that booked her flight, which forwarded it to Air Canada Vacations. The company sent it to their representative in the Dominican Republic. That led to the resort responding with an investigation that went nowhere.

So she decided to do her own online investigation.

"On a travel website where tourists give their opinions of hotels and post pictures, I went through close to 1,000 pictures but it was worth my while. I found my rapist..."

The man she identified is a resort worker. Janie wondered how many times the man who attacked her in the dark had done it before.

"I wanted to do whatever it takes to protect other women from this man."

This is where the plot twist comes in. She began circulating the man's photo to friends all over North America on Facebook. But it wasn't just because she wanted to warn other women. Clearly, she wanted revenge.

"I'm just going to spread this," she decided. She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was having nightmares. "This man has taken away my passion for travelling and tainted my favourite travel destination. Now, I don't want to go anywhere."

Then she wrote this:

"Mr. Sinclair, I don't know whether or not you can post his picture ..."

"ö "ö "ö

I called Janie this week.

Naturally, I was sympathetic.

But I was also disturbed about her putting someone's photo online, with the words RAPIST under it. I asked Janie what if she was wrong?

What if this wasn't the man who attacked her?

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously untrustworthy.

"I'm 100 per cent sure it was him," she said. "I would bet my life on it."

Then Janie asked me a question.

Was I going to use her real name?

"I don't want this coming from me," she said.

Janie wants anonymity, which is understandable for a sexual-assault victim. But there's no anonymity for the man she's accused. A man who hasn't even been charged with a crime, never mind convicted.

Except in the court of Facebook.

That isn't just a twist.

That's grossly twisted.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Read more by Gordon Sinclair Jr..

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