A suburban Toronto dentist has been arrested and faces multiple charges in an investigation into sexual assault involving teenage patients. Dr. Bilal Zakaria, 49, is accused of sexually assaulting seven girls ranging in age from 14 to 17 between June, 2016, and February, 2017.
Police charged him on Thursday with three counts of sexual assault, one count of sexual interference and two counts of invitation to sexual touching. The school where the girls reportedly attended was not identified. Zakaria’s practice in Mississauga, south of Toronto, is closed. A lawyer for Zakaria, Amir Kasem, released a statement on Friday saying that his client has “not been found guilty of any crime” and is “preparing for his day in court.”
Before his arrest, the women who testified before a District Court judge on Wednesday described sexually inappropriate conduct with Zakaria, whose victims included students at a private girls’ high school. Several of the women said they felt guilty for speaking out and felt as though their voices were unheard. Their accounts, taken together, presented a disturbing picture of harassment — and even some assault — by a male physician to underage teenage girls who had come to him for medical services.
One woman, who identified herself only as N.Z., told the court that Zakaria asked her to perform oral sex on him at his practice when she was in eighth grade. “I was scared and pretty disgusted,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.” Another victim, identified as N.A., said that she was invited to watch his sexual activity with a patient, one of whom also worked as his dental assistant. “He came into the bathroom, laid on his back with his feet facing the wall,” she said. “He then moved on top of her, turned up the air-conditioning and told her to come in.” Another woman, identified as T.L., said that after she confided in her mother that she was uncomfortable with Zakaria’s sexual advances, the dentist asked if she would sleep with him.
Some of the allegations went back to when the women were in high school, some since they were in their early teens. During each of their sessions, Zakaria reportedly made them feel comfortable and asked for their cellphone numbers, so he could ask them to call for dental care.
“I had no idea what he was doing with those numbers,” N.Z. said. “It was never anything that was talked about, ever. He never talked about it with me.”
Several of the women came forward following another hearing last year in the case of Jian Ghomeshi, a CBC radio personality and former radio and television host who was convicted of sexually assaulting three women in February 2017 and faces three charges of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. An investigation by The Globe and Mail last November identified more than 30 women who reported being sexually assaulted by Ghomeshi.
For many women, the success of the Ghomeshi case highlights the difficulty they have having their stories heard by authorities. The woman who testified against Ghomeshi, who said the radio host choked and hit her without warning, never reported her accusations to police. Instead, she went to her school’s internal office, where she was warned she would “ruin her life.”
She then took her story to the CBC in October 2014, saying Ghomeshi had pressured her to have sex with him. She told the network that she had no memory of what happened. The network concluded that she had lied and suspended Ghomeshi.
Women’s groups and advocates are recommending that any victims of sexual assault in Canada contact their local police if they feel they are at risk of assault. The Canadian Sexual Assault Crisis Centre also has information on how to start a support group or go to the police.
Read the full report at The Toronto Star.
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