A survivor of childhood sexual abuse has received justice after over four decades.
Leslie Cawley, 53, said she is on a healing journey after speaking out about being assaulted by her uncle between 1971 and 1980. She waived a publication ban on her identity so her story could be shared.
David Couch, 66, was convicted of one count of indecent assault for sexually assaulting his young niece when he was in his 20s.
On Monday, he was sentenced to serve 18-months jail time in the Yukon.
In an emotional statement to the court, Cawley said she was first a victim that became a survivor and is now becoming a thriver.
She detailed the long-term mental, emotional and physical impacts that the abuse has had on her life. This included struggling with depression, PTSD and an eating disorder, suicide attempts, experiencing a cycle of abuse, and developing physical symptoms including migraines and fibromyalgia. Cawley said the trauma she experienced has also impacted her own children.
“There is no doubt that if you had not introduced me to sex at such a young age, maybe I would’ve had a more fulfilled life, maybe I would’ve laughed more, maybe I would’ve been able to trust and respect men,” she told Couch. “Instead I looked through the filter you placed over my heart, mind and emotions.”
Cawley said she kept silent about the assaults for years out of fear that she wouldn’t be believed and that it would hurt her family.
“I should’ve never had to deal with your crimes as if I was your accomplice,” she said. “You made me an accomplice to my own abuse.”
But through her healing journey, Cawley said she now has the strength to look Couch in the eye and confront him.
“I am stripping you naked to the world. I am exposing your evil deeds,” she told him. Since Couch was convicted, she said she feels better and wants to find peace. She also hopes that Couch will begin to heal.
“I am finally speaking my truth and people are listening and willing to help me heal,” she said.
Given the opportunity to make a statement to the court, Couch said he has been a good father, grandfather, and a hardworking and honest employee.
“I’ve always been a respectable and law abiding member of the community,” he said. “I am a good person, I have not and will not cause harm to anyone.”
When asked by Supreme Court Justice Brenda Keyser if he had anything to say to Cawley, Couch said, “I’m sorry Leslie for what you’ve gone through.”
“I wish you had talked to me about this, nobody deserves what you went through.”
During trial, Cawley testified about two specific incidents where she said her uncle assaulted her. One was at her family home while he was babysitting, and another at her grandparent’s farm where he took her to a cabin where he was staying.
In a taped statement to RCMP, Couch admitted to a maximum of three instances of sexual contact with Cawley. But on the stand, he said he had lied to police to get out of the interview room because he was feeling pressured.
Justice Keyser found that Couch’s claims about lying were not credible. She noted that on several occasions he was advised by police that he could leave at any time but he continued to stay and discuss the matter even after he was charged, cautioned and told he could get a lawyer. She added that the admission came after only one hour of questioning and that the officer had not been aggressive.
Couch’s defence lawyer fought for a conditional sentence with house arrest for the conviction. He noted that Couch is at low risk for re-offending and the sentence will have a great impact on Couch’s life and that of his family, friends and community.
Crown prosecutor Noel Sinclair, however, argued that house arrest would not be any different from the life Couch is already living as a retired grandfather. He said that a jail term of three to four years was needed to send a message to others that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated and will incur a significant sentence.
The maximum sentence for indecent assault as it existed under the Criminal Code in 1971 is five years.
Justice Keyser noted the difficulty in sentencing historical sexual assault cases. She agreed that a conditional sentence would not adequately address the harm done but found that a sentence of three to four years would be excessive.