Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/8/2021 (364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After being raped by a stranger in a feces-strewn back alley, an Indigenous teen’s pleas for help were ignored after she sought refuge in a downtown mall washroom, a Winnipeg court heard this week.
"She was hysterical and she was asking women in the washroom for help," Crown attorney Shannon Benevides told court at a sentencing hearing Wednesday. "They just looked at her and walked away."
A woman who works for the Bear Clan was in one of the washroom stalls when she heard the girl cry for help and came to her aid, Benevides said.
The woman "was in her stall (and) she could hear the girl frantically asking other women for help and no one would help her," she said.
The woman called 911 and stayed with the girl until police arrived.
"She said it was particularly upsetting to her because of the way this victim was treated in the bathroom," Benevides said. "People treating her like garbage because of what she looked like. And why? (She) felt and her impression was that this was because she was Indigenous."
Andrew Okemow, 49, has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault for the July 2019 attack.
"This (offence) is about as morally degrading as you can get." – Crown attorney Shannon Benevides
"This (offence) is about as morally degrading as you can get," Benevides told provincial court Judge Heather Pullan.
"When you are talking about the offence of sexual assault, it’s hard to fathom something worse than this," said Benevides, who urged Pullan to sentence Okemow to as long as 10 years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed by law.
Court heard the then 17-year-old victim had left home early that morning after an argument with her mother when she crossed paths with Okemow and three other men on Ellice Avenue near Portage Place mall and asked them for a smoke.
After some conversation, the men "told her they were elders and that they would help her," Benevides said. The girl followed the men to a nearby parkade where they drank mouthwash and everyone but Okemow passed out.
Okemow roused the girl and had her follow him to a back alley on the north side of Portage Avenue, across from Canada Life Centre (formerly Bell MTS Place). There Okemow pushed the girl to the ground behind a dumpster in an area strewn with human waste and raped her.
"She described how all during the incident all she could smell and taste was s---," Benevides said.
While raping her, Okemow told the girl "you should respect your elders and what we give to you."
"Thinking about what happened broke me. The elder comments made me trust them, and then (they) violated it." – Victim
A woman saw the attack and told Okemow to stop, which he did briefly, but she walked away without helping the girl, Benevides said.
Okemow resumed the assault, after which the girl ran to City Place mall, with Okemow in pursuit. The girl ran to a washroom and pleaded for help while Okemow remained outside.
Okemow fled before police arrived and was arrested days later.
"Thinking about what happened broke me," the girl later told justice officials. "The elder comments made me trust them, and then (they) violated it."
Court heard Okemow has eight prior convictions for violence, including a sexual assault in 1998, and has spent 12½ years on probation. A pre-sentence report prepared for court outlined a personal history marked by parental neglect and physical abuse, sexual abuse by a family friend, and decades of substance abuse.
Okemow told court it was only after he was arrested for assaulting the girl that he started addressing his own past sexual abuse.
"The lowest part of my life was when I hurt someone the same way I was hurt as a child," he said. "The cycle has to end somewhere… I understand I need help, serious help."
Okemow will be sentenced at a later date.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.