A Canadian man who was kidnapped with his wife in Afghanistan was controlling and violent towards her before, during and after their five-year hostage ordeal, she told a Canadian court on Friday.
Caitlan Coleman, 33, gave testimony for a second day at the trial of Joshua Boyle, 35 who faces 19 criminal charges, including sexual assault, unlawful confinement and uttering death threats.
Coleman was pregnant when she and Boyle were kidnapped by a Taliban-linked group while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2011. They spent five years as hostages, and had three children together before they were rescued by the Pakistani military.
Coleman testified that during their captivity in the hands of the militant Haqqani network, Boyle dictated all aspects of her life. His behaviour “was just like my captors’”, she told the court.
“I was never to disagree with him, even on small things,” she told the court. “In the past, he made it clear he didn’t feel any guilt hurting me.”
Coleman, dressed in a white blazer, black dress and black headscarf, spoke through video link in an adjoining room in order to avoid being in the same room as Boyle.
She had travelled from Pennsylvania, where she currently lives with her family, to testify.
Boyle, wearing a navy blazer and maroon pants, sat at the front row of the courtroom, frequently taking notes on a yellow legal pad. He was briefly joined by his parents.
Coleman described a pattern of abusive behaviour that culminated in a vicious assault after the couple had returned to Canada, in which Boyle demanded sex then hit her when she refused. She told the court she felt “very, very frightened” during the 27 November incident.
“Josh told me to get on the bed. He took ropes he kept in a bag … and he started to tie my hands and legs.” Boyle sexually assaulted her, then refused to release her, Coleman told the court. “He said he couldn’t trust me, so he wasn’t going to untie me,” she said.
She was only able to free herself after Boyle fell asleep, she told the court. “Looking back, I should have tried to leave,” she said. “But I didn’t.”
In her previous testimony, Coleman had described a “rollercoaster” relationship with Boyle, whom she met at age 16 in a Star Wars-themed online chatroom. “He was my first kiss,” she told the court on Wednesday.
Coleman quickly fell in love with Boyle, but she told the court that he became an emotionally and physically abusive partner, critiquing her drinking and interactions she had with men.
Coleman told the court that the abuse continued in Afghanistan, where the final two years of captivity were the worst. He would choke, bite and spank her as punishment, she said. While in captivity, Boyle demanded she remain in a bathroom stall for extended periods of time – telling his wife he couldn’t stand the sight of her.
Coleman testified that Boyle also joked about killing her by lighting her on fire or spilling cooking oil on her.
“This was probably the darkest period of my life,” she told the court.
During their five years as prisoners in Afghanistan, the couple and their small children are believed to have been shuttled between more than 20 locations.
The court had previously heard that Boyle’s violence continued after the couple returned to Canada.
Coleman testified that he would often hit her and demand sex; on one occasion, he forced her to swallow powerful sleeping medication, she testified.
“He stood in the bathroom and watched me take them that time … I took them because I knew that if I didn’t he would hit me harder,” she told the court on Wednesday.
On Friday Coleman told the court that when the couple was back in Ottawa, Boyle gave her a detailed list of rules dictating her diet, weight, appearance and frequency of sex. “I would be punished if I did not follow this list,” she testified, adding that Boyle withheld meals from her, and threatened corporal punishment if she did not comply.
Coleman told the court that the rules required her to address her children as “Sir” and “Madam”, “so I could understand I was beneath everyone.”
During her testimony, Coleman also said her former husband was paranoid about reports of the family in the media. “He was so focused on the fact that world’s eyes were on us … he said we have to look like a happy family,” she said.
Coleman told the court that during interviews, Boyle – once an aspiring journalist – attempted to control the narrative of the couple’s time in Afghanistan.
“He would give verbal or physical instructions about what could be answered … what story we could tell or what part of captivity we could talk about,” said Coleman.
The 19 charges against Boyle are all related to alleged events after the family returned to Canada. Coleman was the alleged victim in 17 of the offences; a publication ban protects the identity of a second alleged victim.
The trial is expected to last eight weeks.