Rehtaeh Parsons

9 Apr

The story is disturbingly familiar.

A teenage girl goes to some kind of get-together, maybe a party.

She is raped by multiple assailants.

The rape is photographed and distributed via social media.

The girl is subjected to horrifying acts of bullying and shaming. She is branded a slut. Her life becomes a living hell.

This girl is not Steubenville’s Jane Doe, although their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. This girl is Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who hanged herself on April 4th, a year and a half after being raped. Her family took her off life support this past Sunday.

Reading the account of what happened to Rehtaeh is like watching a deadly accident slowly, methodically unfolding in front of you. And there are bystanders, plenty of bystanders, who had any number of opportunities to step in and do something, but none of them do.

And, in many ways, you are one of these bystanders, too. I am, too. We all are.

Rehtaeh did not have a rape kit done because she was too ashamed to tell anyone about her rape until several days later, at which point it was thought to be too late to retrieve medical evidence.

The boys (there were four of them) accused of raping Retaeh were not interviewed until long after the family tried to press charges.

They were not separated for their interviews; they were interviewed together, meaning that they were easily able to corroborate each others’ stories.

The investigation took over a year. In the end, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence of sexual assault, no charges were laid, and the boys got off scot free.

No legal action was taken with regards to the photographs of the rape that were distributed through social media. Rehtaeh’s mother was told that this was because there was no way of proving who had taken the pictures.

Rehtaeh struggled to survive for seventeen months. She moved to Halifax, unable to cope with the fact that her rapists were also her high school classmates. She checked herself into the hospital when she felt suicidal and stayed there for six weeks. She made new friends. She saw a therapist. She fought to live. She fought hard.

And then one day, she couldn’t fight any longer.

And when I read her story, I can’t help but wonder:

Where the fuck were all the grownups?

Where were the grownups who were supposed to love her and protect her? Where were the grownups who should have kept her safe? Where were the grownups who were supposed to make sure that she received some kind of justice for what she suffered?

And I don’t mean her parents, because it’s clear that they, too, have been struggling for the past seventeen months, doing what they can to try to help and advocate for their daughter. I mean where the fuck were the school officials, the members of the law enforcement, the people who should have made sure that she had adequate follow-up mental health care after her hospitalization? Where were they, and why didn’t they do anything? Or if they did do something, why didn’t they do enough?

Rehtaeh’s rapists are still out there. They are still in high school, they are still going to parties and they are, quite likely, still raping. Why wouldn’t they? They got away with it once, didn’t they? Rehtaeh’s rapists are still living normal, untroubled lives, and she is dead.

She’s dead, but even in the wake of her suicide and the attention her case has gained, government officials are refusing to review why the RCMP declined  to lay charges against Rehtaeh’s rapist.

Instead, Nova Scotia’s justice minister, Ross Landry, released this fucking joke of a statement:

“As a community, we need to have more dialogue with our young people about respect and about support to educate our young boys and our young girls about what’s appropriate behaviour, what’s not appropriate behaviour,” Landry said.

“We have to make sure that we’re cognizant about what gets online and what doesn’t get online and what the impacts are, so it’s having that dialogue.

“That still doesn’t take away the fact that we’ve lost a beautiful young woman … and I’m very upset about the loss.”

Saying that we need to educate boys and girls about appropriate behaviour is victim-blaming. Saying that this wouldn’t have been a problem if the pictures hadn’t ended up online is like saying that rape is fine, but publicly broadcasting it isn’t. Calling Rehtaeh’s death a tragedy because we’ve lost a beautiful young woman is a joke – seriously, what bearing does her appearance have on how sad her death is? And since Landry is refusing to open an official review into how the RCMP handled this, isn’t he basically saying, “I think she was lying about the rape, but gosh, she sure was hot”?

All of this, every single word of this statement, all of the things that Rehtaeh endured, every single detail presented here is rape culture.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

I never thought in a million years that I’d be saying this, but I wish that Rehtaeh’s case had had the same outcome as Jane Doe’s. Because while Jane Doe had to endure some spectacularly vile, awful shit, at least she made it out alive. At least her rapists suffered consequences. At least her case actually made it to trial.

rehtaeh parsons

This is Rehtaeh Parsons. When she was fifteen, she was raped by four boys. When she was seventeen, she committed suicide.

She is dead because we, as a society, failed her.

There is a petition up demanding an inquiry into the police investigation of Rehtaeh’s rape. I’m not sure if it will do anything to help, but signing it sure as hell won’t hurt. Right now, this petition and bringing awareness to what happened to Rehtaeh seem like the only concrete ways of helping her. Right now, I need to do something, anything to stop myself from feeling like a bystander. I’m not going to just shake my head and sigh over this. I’m going to raise my voice until everyone knows what happened to Rehtaeh.

Edited to add:

Ross Landry now says that he will be moving forward with a review of Rehtaeh’s case. Thank God. An excerpt from the article I linked to:

Justice Minister Ross Landry said today, April 9, he has asked senior government officials to present options, as soon as possible, to review the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened – as I think are all Nova Scotians – by the death of this young woman,” said Mr. Landry. “As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain this family is going through at this time. My thoughts are with them.”

Mr. Landry said he hopes to meet with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, to discuss her experience with the justice system.

“I know that law enforcement and the public prosecution service do their best, every day, to administer and enforce the law,” said Mr. Landry. “It’s important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities to ensure the system is always working to the best of its ability, in pursuit of justice.”

Mr. Landry said he has been reviewing details of the case and consulting with officials throughout the day, and expects options within the next few days.

129 Responses to “Rehtaeh Parsons”

  1. Jim Steeves April 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Canada is supposed to be a more civilized country than other countries, and in fact, we are no better than anyone else. The boys responsible for raping this young girl and making her commit suicide should hang. I guarantee that if it was my daughter, I would bury them.

  2. Shaktahary April 14, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    Reblogged this on Cloudless and commented:

  3. Jajomo April 16, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    On April 19, 1989, a 39-year-old woman named Trisha Meili went for a jog in New York’s Central Park. She was raped and violently assaulted.
    Partly because of the attack’s brutality, partly because of news reports the perpetrators were a gang of “wilding” black youths and partly because of who the victim was—white, a Yale MBA, a Wall Street investment banker—“the Central Park Jogger” case stirred global pre-Internet passions and angry demands police arrest someone—now.
    The police did charge five teenaged boys, four blacks and an Hispanic. Though some were juveniles, police and media publicly identified them anyway. Four confessed. They were all convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
    “Justice” had been served.
    Flash forward 13 years.
    The boys, now men, had served their sentences and been released.
    That’s when another man confessed to the crime. His DNA matched that found at the crime scene.
    The original convictions were—too late—vacated.
    What went wrong? In the rush for “justice,” certain inconvenient facts got overlooked. The confessions, which often contradicted one another about what had happened and were all later recanted, had been coerced by a police force under intense public pressure to nail the bastards. None of the crime scene DNA matched any of the suspects; the only DNA collected came from one, then-unknown-now-known person.
    Why am I telling you all this?
    Because, at a time of understandable, social-media-enflamed passion about the tragic suicide of Rehteah Parsons, we need to be cautious about what we think we know.
    The no-name hactivists at Anonymous who, ironically, threaten to name Parsons’ alleged rapists if their hang-’em-high version of justice isn’t done—and done quickly—claim to know who did it. They also claim names of alleged perpetrators being circulated by others are wrong. How do they really know either?
    And would what they imagine they know actually stand up in court, where the evidence bar rises above an email allegation, a Facebook post or a 140-character tweet?
    By all means, let’s have an independent public review of how police, prosecutors, the school and others handled this case.
    But let’s not assume its outcome.
    Or presume mob vengeance is justice for Rehteah or anyone else.

  4. heart disease in women May 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well

  5. Steve Lawrence (@sharialawfan) May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Only a sick, debased culture could accommodate such a vile crime. Under Sharia Law, the infidels would be beheaded and the reprobates disfigured. This is dissuasive threat to all potential rapists and comforting security to potential (female) victims, knowing that they live in a society that takes their safety seriously and promotes well-being.

    • milo rosenbloom July 1, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      ….that’s right, a society such as Pakistan where honor killings happen daily under shariah law…you Steve Lawrence are a troll, an idiot, or a moslem wannabe who lives in his mom’s basement…now I get it…you are an idiotic moslem troll….mohammed thinks you’re cute when you suck cock btw….

    • Jan May 23, 2013 at 12:38 am #

      Steve – question – in which culture does this Sharialaw exsist ?

    • Gerhard Gehrmann May 25, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

      You are an idiot. Sharia law is idiotic and female hating.

      • moustafac May 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

        Actual sharia law (which is a redundancy since sharia means law, but whatever) isn’t anti-woman.

        The problem lies with morons like the one above (sharialwfan, just so we’re clear) using faith to justify their own sick agendas.

    • Susan from Aus May 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

      Hmmmm Is this the same ‘culture’ that puts The woman in jail (and worse) when she has reported being raped because she had sex outside marriage?

  6. Concerned July 1, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I notice you wrote an article on Rehtaeh, several months back. Many did.

    I am just a concerned person (in Canada), but in checking on/off to see how it is progressing re possible charges, it starts to seem as if nothing will come of it.
    I wonder, if you (and others) were to write a “follow up” sort of piece, and as for folks to sign the petition, if it might spur on the authorities.

    It has been rather puzzling, so much evidence, pics, text messages, confessions, etc, yet they took months to even interview accused, and no one has been charged.

    One comes to wonder, WHY?

    It happened in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Quite recently this very small town was again in the news, for a first round Hockey Draft Pick. As they have been before.
    It seems to be a serious source for the Hockey / Sports great.

    Is there a lack of investigatory will to pursue charges, possibly to protect the town image as a Sports Powerhouse?

    I do not know Rehtaeh or family. But, the entire situation is most concerning.
    June 27, 2013Updated: June 27, 2013 | 4:11 pm
    ‘It’s about attitude:’ Cole Harbour sure knows how to produce hockey stars

  7. Donna Portin September 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    We must end cyber bullying now. to take action. Tell your friends

  8. sammykur May 19, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    This is horrible ,shouldnt happen and should be investigated(Idont know canada law but in the US i would guess that the videas would be admissable. I take a different meaning on the whole statement though,the educating boys and girls thing (from my interpretation) means that all chidren would be taught about what rape is and girls would be taugh precautions to take and both would be taught what to do in case they think a rape is taking place.It maybe just a poorly worded statement, it happens even with the best intentions at times.

  9. debrinconcita June 5, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Nobody should ever have to go thru this type of crime, but so many are today because they don’t punish rapist enough! I hope that you won’t let this ruin your life, because you can overcome this. It will be a longroad but with help & many blessings you can be a stronger person from it. I will say a prayer for your well being & quick recovery from this. MANY BLESSINGS Little SISTER. be strong & don’t let anyone steal your joy, now or ever!


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