WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
In November 2011, Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons went to a party.
There, the 15 year old school girl was allegedly gang raped by a group of four boys. The boys took pictures of the assault on their phones and distributed them around their school.
Rehtaeh was bullied by her classmates. Taunted in the halls. Teased in the playground. She was called a ‘slut.’
And after 18 months…. it all became too much.
Last Sunday, Rehtaeh’s family made the agonising decision to turn off her life support after Rehtaeh locked herself in a bathroom and hung herself three days earlier.
How could the former straight-A student with long dark hair and glasses have been made to fee like she had no other option – and why didn’t anyone step in to help?
Rehtaeh’s mother Leah created a tribute page for her daughter on Facebook. On it she wrote about how the person Rehtaeh was changed on that “one dreaded night”.
She went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral.
Because the boys already had a “slut” story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT. This day changed the lives of our family forever. I stopped working that very day and we have all been on this journey of emotional turmoil ever since.
Leah said the harassment (that began when the crime was reported to police) became so bad that Rehtaeh left Cole Harbour – the town she’d grown up in – to try and start afresh.
“She struggled emotionally with depression and anger. Her thoughts of suicide began and fearing for her life, she placed herself in a hospital in an attempt to get help. She stayed there for almost 6 weeks,” Leah wrote on the Facebook page.
Rehtaeh tried a new school, she saw a new therapist. She made new friends. But it still wasn’t enough to escape the depression and the bullying.
“By the time I broke into the bathroom it was too late,” her mother wrote.
The police investigation into Rehtaeh’s assault came back it was inconclusive. Leah suggested the police “believed the boys raped her but the proof in a court of law was difficult to gather.”
She told America’s CBS News: “[The police] said that they would go talk to them and that [the boys] realized what they did was wrong, but [there was] nothing they could do, criminally… It was a slap in the face”.
“We didn’t have a rape kit done because we didn’t even know (anything had happened) until several days later when she had a breakdown in my kitchen,” Leah said in an interview.
“She was trying to keep it to herself.”
Rehtaeh is gone today because of The four boys that thought that raping a 15yr old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun. Secondly, All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame.
Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl. Rehtaeh stood up for others, showed compassion to animals and people. She was an amazing artist .She made my life complete.
When Rehtaeh was born I dedicated everything to her and promised her the world. Others in this world took that away from her.
But the story doesn’t stop there.
The hacking group Anonymous say they know the identities of two of Rehtaer’s alleged rapists and are conforming the identity of a third. And they say they’ll release those names to the public if Canadian police don’t prosecute the men involved. (The group made a similar demand in the case of the Steubenville rape.)
In a press release, the group wrote:
Our demands are simple: We want the N.S. RCMP to take immediate legal action against the individuals in question. We encourage you to act fast. If we were able to locate these boys within 2 hours, it will not be long before someone else finds them.
We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And That’s your job. So do it.
The names of the rapists will be kept until it is apparent you have no intention of providing justice to Retaeh’s family. Please be aware that there are other groups of Anons also attempting to uncover this information and they may not to wish to wait at all. Better act fast.
In a separate development, a change.org petition asking for Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister Ross Landry to call an independent inquiry into the police investigation has already amassed around 70,000 signatures.
It asks: How can police say they didn’t have the evidence they needed to pursue charges? Do we not have laws that cover this kind of abuse, from photo-sharing to cyberbullying?
Bullying has been around forever. There’s no question. But with the evolution of new technologies, where every phone is a video camera and teenagers can no longer take haven from the taunts at home after school anymore…. it’s effects can be far more devastating.
And this week, yet another teenager joined the ever growing list of suicides following relentless sexualised bullying.
Rest in peace, Rehteah.