Columnist Stephanie Stella writes about R v Dewey and its rare outcome.
CW rape, sexual assault
On May 23, 2017, Jeffrey Dewey went on trial for one count of sexual assault, and one count of impersonation of a police officer. His victim was a complete stranger – my friend, who I will refer to as CMD. On September 11, 2016, CMD was sitting by herself on the Toronto corner of College and Spadina. She was waiting to meet a friend, crying due to a difficult day. Dewey, who she described as well dressed, saw and approached her. He flashed a police badge and asked if she was alright, if she had a place to go, and if she needed money. When she replied that she was fine, just upset, he invited her on a walk so she could calm down. She assumed the police officer was gently letting her know she was causing a scene on that street corner, and accepted the invitation.
They walked a short distance, to a quieter area. He started a conversation and showed her his bicep tattoos. He kept asking if she needed money, if she had a home. He said he had lots of money he could give her, and invited her to his house. She refused. He asked her to sit down, then stand up, while he eyed the way her baggy clothes hung on her body. He told her to close her eyes. She refused. He attempted to surreptitiously check her teeth. He began asking her about her vices and her sexual experiences. She did not want to answer at first. She eventually relented, thinking that if he knew she had survived rape before, he would not hurt her. She declared that she could handle physical touch due to her past trauma. Ignoring this, he put his arm around her to direct her movement and manoeuvre her into sitting, then standing. Then sitting, again and again, disorienting her. She said she had to go meet her friend. He wouldn’t let her go. She smelled alcohol on him. She knew he was too strong, too unpredictable, and too dangerous to fight off or outrun. She repeated, more firmly, that she had to meet her friend until he finally relented and let her go.
She returned to the corner of Spadina and College, back in full public view, and sat down. He followed her and sat next to her. She angled her body away from him. She had made it clear she wasn’t going to give him what he wanted from her. So he took it. Her knees were facing away from him. Still sitting, he reached his hand under her and upwards, forcing his fingers into her vagina through her clothes. She yelped and repeated that she could not be touched. He laughed, “you have a cunt, I have a cock.” Satisfied that he had gotten what he felt he was entitled to, he got up and walked away. Stunned, CMD looked around, shocked. This occurred in broad daylight on a busy street corner. She stumbled after him for a moment, checking to see which direction he had gone. She then ran into the nearby hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to report what happened to security.
In many ways, this is the scenario everyone thinks of when they’re asked to describe rape: a complete stranger off the street, a tattooed, hulking old man, targeting a beautiful woman who looks barely over 18. She cries out and goes for help immediately afterward. It was just one dark alley or bush away from being, in CMD’s own words, the quintessential spooky story you’d tell around a campfire.
Dewey fits the stereotype of what society believes a rapist is – an old man, a stranger, an alcoholic, a criminal with a shady past. Not all rapists fit this description.
The trial was short. In two hours, CMD had clearly and thoroughly described what had happened, and because she had detailed her thought process behind every decision she made, the defence lawyer could not rewrite the narrative at all. She spent only forty-five minutes in cross-examination. Despite her relatively brief time on the stand, it was not without it’s horror. During her chief examination, with nearly every question, her Crown threw in scoffs and eye rolls, as though he were exasperated by the testimony he was hearing. From a defence attorney, that would be expected, but it was incredibly unnerving for CMD to witness this behaviour from the Crown. He jumped around chronologically as well – another technique used by defence attorneys to trip the victim up and render their testimony unreliable. Worse still, throughout the trial, he kept referring to CMD as “the accused” instead of “the complainant.”
That wasn’t even the most horrific aspect to the trial. Unbeknownst to her, CMD’s assault had been captured on surveillance video, from a nearby convenience store. The Crown did not inform her of this fact. CMD was forced to watch her own assault, for the first time, right there on the stand. The footage was replayed many times over the course of the trial. With every replay, the subject’s reaction was the same – a spasm, a sharp gasp, a near breakdown. It was awful to watch. In having surveillance footage of the assault itself, though, CMD found herself in an unusual position as a sexual assault survivor: she never needed to prove her innocence. She was believed without question by the judge.
The reality is that most sexual assaults are not electronically recorded. This is because most sexual assaults happen away from prying eyes, once the perpetrator has gotten their victim in a secluded or otherwise ‘safe’ area. CMD’s assault occurred in the middle of the day on one of the busiest corners of one of the country’s busiest cities. Given that sexual assault survivors don’t plan their rapes, they can’t plan on having their assault be in plain view of a security camera, and the court can’t count on being so lucky as to have it electronically recorded in order to successfully prosecute a sexual assault.
In R v Dewey, the stars aligned. Dewey was convicted the very next day on all charges. The process was astonishingly quick – the final submissions were read out first thing in the morning, and the verdict was delivered immediately afterward without even a call for recess. After a brief break, CMD gave her victim impact statement and then the sentencing commenced. That was when the full scope of the horror came to light.
Dewey, 55, was a career criminal. Since 1977, he has been convicted 108 times of various crimes. Five of them were for sexual assault. Two of those were on a child under 14. After he assaulted CMD, he was at large for two weeks, until police caught him robbing a liquor store. His last convicted sexual assault was ten years ago, nearly to the day. In fact, his last convicted sexual assault was September 6, 2006. For that, he was put on the Ontario Sex Offenders Registry for ten years. Had he committed this latest sexual assault even six days earlier, he would have faced stricter punishment. He was waiting.
His lawyer argued for leniency, saying that he has battled alcoholism since age 12, and is trying to turn his life around. Justice Kathy Mocha called bullshit, noting that the date of his offence nearly coinciding with the date his ten-year sanction ended was too much of a coincidence. He went back on the registry for another ten years, and, after time served, was sentenced to thirteen months out of a maximum of eighteen in jail. He will likely be out in nine months.
Thirteen months feels like a light sentence. But it’s more than what most rapists will ever see. Dewey fits the stereotype of what society believes a rapist is – an old man, a stranger, an alcoholic, a criminal with a shady past. Not all rapists fit this description. They can be the boy next door or a charming businessman. People who do bad things live among us as ‘regular’ people. They can be our family, our friends, and our selves. Such a view can be seen as paranoid, but for many sexual assault survivors this is already reality. It’s time for everyone else’s reality to catch up.
Would you like to share your story? Please feel free to contact us.