MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. — A 16-year-old girl who police say was drugged and gang raped in a field while other teens took pictures that were later posted on Facebook is back at school and struggling for normalcy.
The girl’s family issued a statement on Thursday as the RCMP pleaded for more witnesses to come forward, saying only two people with first-hand knowledge of the assault have contacted investigators.
“Our daughter is a very beautiful and brave individual,” the girl’s family said in a statement that was distributed by the RCMP.
“She is strong. She has returned to school and is trying to get some normalcy back in her life. There are a lot of kids out there supporting her, and that’s also making a big difference.”
The family, none of whom can be identified to protect the identity of the girl, said they appreciated the support from the community and her school while asking for privacy as they heal.
The RCMP have said the girl was assaulted on Sept. 10 at a party on a rural property in Pitt Meadows, east of Vancouver.
Police have described the attack as a gang rape and said there were multiple suspects, but on Thursday refuted earlier media reports that between five and seven people took part in the assault.
Sgt. Peter Thiessen said that number referred only to the total number of people police initially believed were present, including witnesses. Investigators are only prepared to say “several” people were involved in the actual assault, he said.
Thiessen said the RCMP now believe there were as many as a dozen witnesses, but only two have spoken with police.
“With respect, the courage that it took for these two young adults to come forward under extreme peer pressure. . .I want to commend the leadership they showed as young adults,” Thiessen told a news conference in nearby Maple Ridge.
“What’s really important now is that others need to follow their example. … They can do this anonymously, they can do this through Twitter, through Facebook, through texting or phoning Crimestoppers, all of which are anonymous, and we encourage them to take those courageous steps.”
There have so far only been two arrests: a 16-year-old was arrested and could face child pornography charges, and an 18-year-old was arrested and police are recommending charges of sexual assault. Both have been released as police and prosecutors consider charges.
In the days that followed the attack, the RCMP said the photos of the attack were spreading quickly on the Internet, despite efforts to encourage users to take them down.
Thiessen said police have had more success in the past week, but he said the Internet postings haven’t abated completely.
“The spread of these photos were and are — make no mistake about it — criminal acts of disturbing child pornography,” said Thiessen.
“We are still seeking the co-operating of the young adults and the youth that are posting and distributing those photos to cease, but it has diminished considerably. But I must tell you, it’s a challenge (and) to some degree it does continue.”