Canada

Teenage horror

Four girls are enslaved, sexually assaulted

BRENDA BRANSWELL November 24 1997
Canada

Teenage horror

Four girls are enslaved, sexually assaulted

BRENDA BRANSWELL November 24 1997

Teenage horror

Four girls are enslaved, sexually assaulted

BRENDA BRANSWELL

By the time they were handed down last week, the guilty verdicts for the solidly built man in the black track suit and the pale, teary-eyed woman beside him seemed like a foregone conclusion. Throughout a 12-day trial, spectators in the small Montreal courtroom heard disturbingly graphic testimony from four teenage girls about a sex-torture ring that James Medley, 39, operated with help from Tracy Gonzales,

19, and another female accomplice now serving a five-year sentence. The victims, all troubled runaways, fell into Medley’s sadistic clutches over a sixyear period. Lured to his apartment in a run-down section of west-end Montreal, sometimes by Gonzales, they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse and, in two cases, forced into prostitution.

Gonzales will be sentenced next month. As for Medley, prosecutor Lyne Décarie served notice that she wants him declared a dangerous offender to keep him in jail indefinitely—possibly permanently.

“I see that as a fit sentence,” she said. Describing the case as one of the “most atrocious” she has seen in Montreal, the prosecutor called Medley a consummate manipulator who knew how to target vulnerable teenagers.

And he did so without police detection for several years—despite rumors in the anglophone youth protection system that runaways were spending time at Medley’s apartment, and that prostitution was taking place there. Medley’s fourth victim, a ponytailed girl, now 17, fainted in court as she recounted how she became Medley’s sex slave last year, freed after 16 days when police found her in his apartment. She was duped into going there twice, she said— once by Gonzales and another time by Christina Sherry, 19, who pleaded guilty last year to forcible confinement and sexual assault charges.

The victim said she met Medley in July, 1996, when Gonzales, an acquaintance, invited her to a party and they wound up at his apartment. After drinking vodka, the girl passed out and woke up to find herself naked wearing handcuffs and shackles. Medley forced her to perform oral sex, beat her, then let her go the next day. Several weeks later, the witness said, Sherry invited her to her home but instead took her to Medley, who held her in his apartment, at times hog-tied in a closet. Medley sexually assaulted her with candlesticks and a baseball bat, she testified, and forced

her to prostitute herself. She said her female tormenters took part in the beatings and sexual assaults and made her drink their urine.

Three other runaways had previously endured Medley’s abuse, but none had reported him. Youth protection workers had heard for several years about young runaways visiting Medley’s apartment, says Michael Udy, executive director of Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, which is responsible for Montreal’s network of youth protection services for anglophones. That raised suspicions that the teens were involved with drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. Udy says they passed the information on to police. But police say that no victim came forward with a complaint. They laid charges after finding the fourth victim, then 16, handcuffed in a closet in Medley’s apartment.

The girls’ reluctance to tell police about their treatment by Medley is understandable, according to Sgt. Det. Gilles Laurin, who investigated the case. They were frequent runaways from youth protection centres, and they did not want to be taken back. They also did not trust police, adds Laurin, and Medley told them he was a police informer and “they won’t believe you.” In fact, Medley did provide police with information about small-time crime in the area near where he lived. But authorities were well-acquainted with his dark side, as well. Abandoned as a baby, Medley grew up in the youth protection system and later spent time in jail for armed robberies, assault and other offences. Barely literate, Medley showed his manipulative streak as a teenager when he duped a Montreal Gazette reporter into writing a story portraying him as an overachiever languishing in a school for slow learners.

Before Judge Gérard Girouard can consider declaring him a dangerous offender, Medley would have to undergo a 60-day psychiatric evaluation. As for Gonzales, Girouard rejected defence suggestions that she was also Medley’s victim, noting that she had several chances to escape his dominance. He also observed that, in her testimony, Sherry had compared Gonzales’s cruelty to Medley’s, saying: “She was ex$ actly like him.”

£ Since the case came to 5 light, the Batshaw centres § have adopted several new I measures aimed at preli venting recurrences, o They include putting one person in charge of assessing all rumors about adults who may be exploiting kids. “We observed that many people had little bits and pieces of information about this,” says Udy, “but they often didn’t know what other people knew.”

The ordeal is far from over for the victims. The mother of one of the girls told a local radio station that when the trial started her daughter began having nightmares and taking drugs to, in her daughter’s words, “push down the feelings.” For the victims’ peers in the youth protection system, Medley’s trial serves as a sobering lesson, according to Dave Brown, a senior child care worker at the Shawbridge Youth Centres, just north of Montreal. ‘They’ve got past the stage of saying, ‘I’m tough, I could get away from him,’ ” says Brown. But it is a lesson, concedes Brown, that staff will have to teach all over again when they receive a new batch of teenagers.