HALIFAX – Shannon Graham garnered national attention when she voiced regrets about reporting her sexual assault.
And while the 22-year-old Nova Scotia woman says ultimately “justice was served” by the courts, she maintains it came at such a personal cost she would have been better off had she never gone to the authorities.
Graham made headlines last year after successfully challenging a publication ban on her identity so she could speak freely about her gruelling journey through the justice system while the man convicted of sexually assaulting her was released from prison pending appeal.
In a decision released last week, Nova Scotia’s highest court dismissed Jared Peter Beck-Wentzell’s appeal, rejecting his claims that the trial judge misunderstood evidence and failed to consider the defence of honest but mistaken belief in consent.
Graham said she is relieved to know her former common-law spouse will “face the consequences,” and presumably serve out the rest of his two-and-a-half year prison sentence.
The ruling still came as something of a pyrrhic victory to the single mother, who said for roughly two and a half years she has been trapped in an unrelenting legal grind that consumed her life “nonstop.”
“I was more or less happy that it was all finally over,” she said. “I’m happy that justice is served, but there’s a lot of people who are affected by it, so one way or another, it’s messed up people’s lives.”
Graham told the court at last January’s trial that Beck-Wentzell sexually assaulted her in their bedroom in Bridgewater, N.S., on July 12, 2014, while she tried to shove him away and repeatedly said “no,” from “the beginning right ’till the end.”
Beck-Wentzell testified that he and Graham were “making out,” and he told the court he didn’t “force her into anything.”
Beck-Wentzell was convicted of sexual assault and jailed last April, but about six weeks into his sentence won release while waiting for the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to hear his case.
Last summer, Graham spoke to The Canadian Press about how she had no voice or advocate during the trial, which left her feeling like a “piece of evidence” and “less than actual human being.” She said she regretted reporting the rape to police.
Graham says now she stands by that sentiment, despite the ostensibly favourable outcome of her case.
“I spent two years of my life not knowing how to move forward,” she said. “I just could have gotten the help I needed and gotten over it a whole lot faster.”
Graham said no one has suffered more as a result of this prolonged legal process than her three-year-old son. She talks sadly about what the toddler has had “to put up with” during his formative years – a mother who was “stressed out all the time over court,” and “learning how to pick myself up” from trauma.
Graham said she uses her son as motivation to “restart” her life. Since last fall, she’s been studying at a community college to become an occupational and physiotherapy assistant.
“People should just know, do what’s best for them, and that’s not always going the way that we’re kind of taught to,” she said. “Some people do need the court process to get over it … In my case, it would have been beneficial not to.”
Graham said a vital part of her recovery has been letting herself “be heard versus be silenced” by the stigma of being a sexual assault victim.
“It kept me from being the quiet one sitting in my bedroom,” she said. “Letting myself have a voice, it had a lot to do with me wanting to move on with my life.”