2017-08-09

Crown: Sexual integrity of girls in Dropbox Six case treated as ‘bartering chips or baseball cards’

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>The boys have all since admitted to a charge of distributing an intimate image without consent, a relatively new criminal code offence established to combat online harassment.</p>

Peter Dostal of the province's special prosecutions unit unleashed a scathing rebuke of the Dropbox Six - young men from the Bridgewater area who shared nude and partially nude images of more than 20 girls without consent - when he suggested the girls' sexual integrity was treated as "bartering chips or baseball cards that could then be traded and circulated amongst friends."

The Crown attorney pointed description is contained in a 21-page brief filed with the court and addressed to the presiding judge. In the document, Dostal said female victims were objectified and their autonomy undermined in the circumstances.

The brief details what the Crown is seeking in terms of sentence. Dostal recommends the six be on probation for up to two years, should be subject to some internet access restrictions, and each submit a DNA sample to the national databank. Jail time is not proposed.

"Given the strong potential for rehabilitation, it simply does not seem to be appropriate in our circumstances to consider custody," Dostal explains in the brief. A custodial term is deemed "too heavy handed," while a discharge would be "too light" of a sentence.

"In our view, the gravity of the offence balanced against impact that a youth record for an adult weighs in favour of a probation order rather than a discharge."

Four of the Lunenburg County boys are now 16 years old. The other two are each 19 years old. None of them can be named because they were all under 18 at the time of the criminal allegations.

They've all since admitted to a charge of distributing an intimate image without consent, a relatively new criminal code offence established to combat online harassment. Charges of possessing and distributing child pornography are expected to be dropped at sentencing.

Resolution of the case was supposed to be July 31, but sentencing was set over to September 6 as defence lawyers wanted time to consider their positions in light of the Crown's brief. Also, one of the young men also hadn't yet participated in a presentence report requirement.

Local girls, some as young as 13, were pressured to - and later regretted transmitting - intimate pictures to the teenage boys online.

"In the Crown's view the degree of involvement of the victims themselves should have limited bearing upon the assessment of the gravity of the offence," Dostal points out.

"The suggestion lingers that police may have been 'selective' in their charging when they targeted the accused rather than females," the lawyer goes on to write. "The Crown strongly disagrees with this view.

"We instead see the act of volunteering intimate photos to the females as component to a grooming process, an attempt to 'comfort' the females by normalizing their decision to disclose images and avoid the onset of regret after sending photos."

"There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the females possessed any interest in collecting intimate photos of male student(s) on their own accord."

A pair of password-protected accounts via the file-sharing service Dropbox were created with one containing up to 60 nude or suggestive images and the other having up to 15 pictures, most of which were identical to the other account.

The police investigation started in May 2015 as a result of a complaint from school administration at Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School.

Girls used the mobile picture-and-video app Snapchat as the main method of distribution and screenshots were taken of the transmitted images.

"The victims were eased into a false sense of security that Snapchat would eliminate the risks associated with the potential loss of control over the intimate images," Dostal wrote.

Some images displayed full or partial faces. File names included the girl's name and/or specific body part shown. Pictures contained images of breasts, vaginal and anal areas.

"It is hard to imagine a greater intrusion upon a person's privacy that a loss of control over one's intimate images," Dostal goes on. "In our cases the images ran a spectrum of depictions ranging from images of females in their bedroom or washroom wearing only underwear to full nudity ..."

The six young men were part of a private Facebook chat group and the intimate photographs of female students became a topic of discussion. "Many members of the group acknowledged possessing such photos and members were interested in exchanging them," reads a court-filed joint statement of fact.

One Dropbox account was created by two of the boys and was associated with an email address belonging to one of them. All the images - plus the account - were deleted in April 2015 "once it became clear to them that others knew about the Dropbox account including ... school officials and female students."

A second Dropbox account was created by two of the boys associated to the email address theboys@aredope.com. The photos and account were also deleted in April 2015.

Sixteen electronic devices were seized during the course of the investigation, including Apple iPads and iPhones.

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