by Jarrah Hodge
Trigger Warning for rape, cyberbullying, suicide.
On Sunday Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents made the decision to take their daughter off life support. Three days earlier, the 17-year-old had tried to hang herself in the bathroom after being raped and then relentlessly cyberbullied.
According to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:
Rehtaeh Parsons had a goofy sense of humour and loved playing with her little sisters. She wore glasses, had long, dark hair and was a straight-A student whose favourite subject was science.
But that didn’t seem to matter to the four boys who her mother, Leah Parsons, says raped Rehtaeh at a party when she was drunk to the point of being clearly unable to consent. According to the Facebook page Leah Parsons has set up in Rehtaeh’s memory:
The Person Rehtaeh once was all changed one dreaded night in November 2011. 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.
Police told the CBC they investigated the assault but didn’t have enough investigation to lay charges, but Leah Parsons says the police waited too long to interview the boys and refused to act on the distributed pictures because they “couldn’t prove who had pressed the photo button on the phone”.
Reading this story I was simultaneously heartbroken and overcome with rage. It makes me so sad that we have yet another case of misogynist cyberbullying that has led to yet another senseless, tragic death, another family in mourning. Another young woman, a complex human being who had so much to offer the world, is gone because of the rape culture we live in and the cyberbullying that perpetuates it faster and more furiously than ever.
Toula Foscolos writes in the Huffington Post: “We, as a society, recoil in horror at such tragedies, but fail to see the triggers that normalize violence against women. We shrug them off as unrelated. But they’re not.”
All we have to do is look back at the death of Amanda Todd last year to see another example of how kids carry out the messages society gives them about it being girls’ responsibility to maintain sexual purity and to protect themselves from getting raped (even while they’re receiving contradictory messages about their worth being determined by how sexually attractive they are to men).
On that case, my friend Krissy Darch wrote in the Vancouver Observer: “We need less focus on ‘the mistake’ and more on the sexism in our society that this man wielded—successfully—to rid the planet of another young woman.”
There is nothing someone does that excuses someone raping them. There is nothing someone can do to “ask for it”. Rape is a crime and the only people who are responsible are rapists. We have to say this loudly and accept no push-back. We have to make sure that every kid who shared pictures of Rehtaeh or Amanda or the girl who was gang-raped in Steubenville knows that by doing what they did, they became part of the problem. We have to reach kids who may one day be those bystanders making a choice whether to take a picture on their iPhone and text it around the school, or whether to speak up and say, “Hey, this is wrong and I’m calling the police.”
RIP, Rehtaeh. And let none of us watch someone else be treated the way that girls like her, Amanda Todd and Jessica Laney were treated while we remain silent.