The Citizen's ongoing coverage of the trial of a Prince George man accused of sexually assaulting two of his stepdaughters for as much as a decade has brought us some strong criticism in letters to the editor, phone calls and online comments.
We decided from the first day of the trial, when the Crown laid out its case before the judge, that we would include as much detail as possible, as straightforward and sensitively as possible. We have omitted some minor details but the majority of the testimony is there, as upsetting as it is.
As part of a court-ordered publication ban against identifying the victims, who are adults now but were as young as 12 when the abuse started, the Citizen cannot identify the accused.
The trial is being held before a judge alone with no jury but the courtroom is open to any member of the public who wishes to attend and is also open to the news media.
We are covering this trial not just because we believe reporting on the legal process is essential journalism. This trial itself is important because of the scale of the abuse being alleged, both in nature and in duration, and because it's not happening somewhere else, it's happening here and that's a local man standing accused of these crimes.
With each story, we have had long, excruciating discussions about which details should be included and how graphic the language and the descriptions of the abuse should be. Each story has been under a headline clearly identifying the story as reporting about a sex assault trial, so while we appreciate arguments about covering stories with so much detail, we're not sympathetic to readers complaining about reading a story they wish they hadn't read. Readers were given every opportunity to turn the page and read something less disturbing but chose not to, so they should accept responsibility for that choice.
We cover the good news, the bad news and the ugly news in this region. We leave it up to our readers to decide whether the horoscopes and the comics are worth more or less of their time than what's happening in Ottawa, what's happening in Syria or what's happening in the courthouse at Third Avenue and George Street.
The accused man in this trial is facing 14 charges. We could just leave it at that but it gives the reader no meaningful information and no context about the seriousness of the charges.
Ten of the charges deal with sexual assault and sexual interference against the man's two stepdaughters. Two other charges relate to making or publishing child pornography and possession of child pornography. The final two counts relate to bestiality.
Sexual assault and sexual interference can mean anything from touching to violent rape. We explained the assaults. Child pornography can mean anything from stories to pictures to video to posting it on Facebook. We explained the child pornography allegations. We have also explained the bestiality, not to titillate or to shock, but to show the depth of the crimes this man is accused of.
With that information, residents will be able to make an educated assessment of whether the punishment fits the crime, should the verdict be guilty, and they will be able to speak knowledgeably with their elected representatives about whether the law needs to be changed.
Some of our readers argue we are further victimizing the family and the young girls.
We say the exact opposite.
By not publishing their testimony, we would be saying we don't care what they have to say because we find their accusations so upsetting and disturbing that they shouldn't be discussed.
But if they didn't have the courage to speak up, justice would not be done.
By bringing this kind of abuse to light, our community can have a serious discussion about preventing it in the future and helping those who have lived through it.
We realize there may be a few sick individuals who will take enjoyment from reading about this trial but their sick pleasures are nothing next to the need for the community to know about this trial, about how serious the charges are and about the application of law and justice in a case as bad as this.
And if one abuse victim reads the testimony from this trial and finds the courage to step forward and bring their suffering to light, the criticism will have been more than worth it.