Canadian Teen Rehtaeh Parsons Commits Suicide After Alleged Gang Rape And Subsequent Bullying


A 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl named Rehtaeh Parsons has been taken off life support after attempting suicide several days prior. Since her alleged gang rape a year and a half ago (I have to say “alleged” for legal reasons, but I believe her), she had been dealing with bullying, victim-blaming, and an incompetent police force that refused to charge the boys for their crimes, factors which her mother Leah Parsons believes contributed to her death, in addition to the initial trauma of the rape itself.

Even more disturbing than the facts of the case are the fact that they read like many similar cases, most recently America’s high profile Steubenville one. According to Leah Parsons, her daughter, who was 15 at the time, told her that she blacked out at a party from drinking too much vodka. Her memory was patchy, but she remembered vomiting out a window and being raped by multiple boys, one of whom yelled “take a picture!” while he was having sex with her. A few days later, the pictures began being passed around Rehtaeh’s school, and other kids started calling her a slut and propositioning her for sex. How horrendous.

After a year-long investigation, the police decided they had no basis to bring charges because it was a “he said, she said” situation, despite the fact that there was photographic evidence being passed around the school which doubled as child pornography. (The family didn’t get a rape kit done because, like many rape victims, Rehtaeh didn’t realize she’d been raped right away, and hence didn’t tell anyone until it was too late.) This may have made the bullying worse, as nobody seemed to believe her that the sex had not been consensual. Over the course of a year and a half, Rehtaeh moved away (along with her family), struggled with suicidal thoughts, and checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, from which she was eventually released. The family moved back to their hometown, with Rehtaeh attending a different school. Then, this past Thursday, she locked herself in the bathroom and hanged herself. She was taken off life support on Sunday, April 7.

What, if anything, can we do to keep things like this from happening over and over again? Unlike some people, I don’t think trying teen boys as adults and sending them to jail for long periods of time is in any way a solution to the problem. Prison does not rehabilitate people; if anything, it takes young, troubled men and places them far beyond any hope of learning empathy for others. However, I do think there are some ways we can reduce the incidence of violence and cruelty, which include:

-Work to create a culture in which young women are not valued for what they do or don’t do with their bodies, but what’s inside their minds. This means teaching kids a healthy outlook on sexuality that emphasizes enthusiastic consent and condemns slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

-That last one is extremely important; teach kids (via mandatory school programs) that rape is never the victim’s fault, even if said victim is dressed a certain way, has had a few drinks, or has had prior sexual contact with the rapist.

-Adults can model good behavior with regards to the aforementioned ideas. Don’t want to raise a rapist or a bully? Don’t call women “sluts” or teach your sons that a woman is ever “asking for it” or “less valuable” because of her dress or level of sexual experience.

-Not all teen rapists are high school athletes, but an alarming number of them are. Get the fuck over high school sports and stop making teenage boys feel like demigods who can do no wrong.

-Provide as many places as possible for young girls to turn if they feel they’ve been assaulted or if they are being bullied.

-Teach kids that their actions towards others have real consequences. Educate them about Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and other young people who committed suicide due to relentless bullying.

-Work on transformative justice solutions, i.e. non-violent ways of dealing with violence that go beyond the flawed criminal justice system. This broad concept includes support for victims as well as therapy and community accountability for perpetrators. (Here is one detailed report on such methods.)

Rape culture is a large, multifaceted, and insidious foe, so I don’t pretend to know exactly how we are going to defeat it. But I think these ideas are a start. Feel free to contribute some of your own.

(Via CBC)

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    • Tania

      The difference between how Reddit treated this case versus another case of a man in Toronto who was raped by four women was what made me decide (this morning, really) to quit Reddit entirely. In the comments about the man’s alleged rape, the top rated comments were about how horrible it was, how no one should be making jokes (all true). In the comments about this girl’s alleged rape, the top rated comments were about how the boys were drinking, too, so weren’t they raped as well, and how the girl probably got drunk and had sex with them and then regretted it after.

      It’s sickening. Both cases are similar. The victim was drunk, it was four rapists, neither are currently proven. But the man is automatically believed, and the girl automatically disbelieved, and no one seems to recognise the horrible hypocrisy even though they were on Reddit within a couple of days of each other (on the Canadian subreddit).

      • Eileen

        To be fair, that’s Reddit. I think the majority of internet sites would treat the (alleged) victims similarly – either they’re both making a mountain out of a molehill (she was drunk and slutty! it’s every man’s dream to get it on with four women at one time!), or they’re both victims of sexual violence. Unfortunately, I kind of think the former is still more likely than the latter, but that kind of double standard is a Reddit specialty.

      • Tania

        Oh, I know. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think because they happened in such quick succession that it really made it unavoidable. The only subreddits that managed to avoid this sort of controversy were CreepyPMs (great mods), and FancyFollicles (only being about hair).

    • MR

      Good article. I see Canada as more liberal than the US, so I’m surprised they don’t protect women better.

      • Tania

        I’m kind of confused, here. Bullying is a worldwide issue, especially with teenagers. There have been numerous comments saying the police force in this area is infamous for being lazy and corrupt, which is not a Canada-wide issue.

        Your comment seems as silly as if I had ever said “since Arkansas and North Dakota seem to have such restrictive laws on abortion, I’m surprised that not every state bans it, I thought they’d hate abortions more.”

      • MR

        I think it is fair to say Canada is much more socialist leaning than the US, and therefore less sexist. Yeah, I’m limiting my perspective to two democratic countries in the North America, Northern Hemisphere, and for that I stand corrected.

      • Tania

        I’m not denying we’re more socialist up here in general. But teenagers are still teenagers. Just because we have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t mean there aren’t still ignorant people, too.

      • Eileen

        It’s definitely more socialist leaning – taken as a whole, not looking at individual communities/provinces – but that doesn’t mean sexism isn’t a thing. Remember the SlutWalks from a few summers ago? Prompted by a Toronto police officer.

      • Tusconian

        Socialist leaning=/=progressive about -isms. How many heavily socialist European countries are also very backwards compared to the US and Canada in race relations, for example?

      • Sean

        Thank you Tania.

      • Tania

        Gotta defend my country, yo!

        Edit: I mean “eh?” Not yo. I am so embarrassed.

      • Sean

        Giv’r. :-)

    • AStewart

      While I don’t want anyone to think I’m suggesting that “being drunk gets you raped”, I think we need to discuss the fact that a lot of these cases involve excessive alcohol consumption on behalf of minors. I know you are never going to stop teenagers drinking (though for the record I have never been black-out drunk), and that rape is never the fault of the victim, but I think we need to address the fact that a common discussion seems to be “she was drunk and regrets sleeping with them” or “she doesn’t remember, so we have no evidence”. Personally if I had kids I’d rather they came home if they were that drunk without having to think I’d be mad, or take turns with a buddy to agree to drink less – I can’t believe none of her friends saw what was happening and thought it was okay!
      It may sound like my suggestions are the old-school “change your behaviour so a criminal doesn’t commit a crime against you”, but I think it’s more about challenging the status-quo.

      • Tusconian

        No one is saying “getting black out drunk is a good, normal thing for teenagers.” But our society, the same society that tells boys that it’s okay to rape girls if she behaves a certain way is also telling kids that they shouldn’t just experiment with alcohol, but they should get fall down drunk every time they touch a beer. it’s a result of our high drinking age, and before that, our inconsistent drinking laws. Kids are educated incorrectly about alcohol at younger ages, so it’s no wonder they get stupid with it once they get out of their parents’ sight. At ten, you’re taught that everyone who touches alcohol is going to become a raging alcoholic and/or die. Then at 15 a kid tries alcohol and they don’t die, so they throw out everything else they learned (not like it was all that noticeable under “OMG never drink”) like “if you drink, drink in moderation” and “don’t drive drunk.”

        As far as “these girls were victims while drunk,” that’s still a reflection on the boys, not her. Criminals target drunk people. But when someone is mugged walking home from a bar drunk, people don’t say “you shouldn’t have been drunk,” but “oh that’s terrible.” Hell, underage drunk drivers who kill other people seem to get more sympathy than underage girls who happened to be assaulted while drinking, even if they were drugged, which is a possibility I consider in any case where a teenager ends up blacked out the assaulted. At that age, they aren’t experienced enough to know their limits and say “I had 4 shots, so I was pretty drunk, but I shouldn’t have been throwing up or blacking out,” so even more than an older person, they might not ever know if it was just alcohol. And you’d be very, very surprised at how easy it is for even a teenage boy to buy or make a roofie.

      • Earl Handy

        The Bible States clearly”do not become drunken with wine” there is a good reason for that now isn’t there?

      • Korinna

        and? you DO know that not everyone in the world is Christian or reads the Bible, goes by what your holy book says, right?

      • Fred McKinney

        AMEN, Earl!

      • CountSchmidt

        The bible also reads… “Look, I have two daughters, virgins both of them. Let me bring them out to you and you could do what you like with them. But do nothing to these men because they have come under the shelter of my roof.” Genesis 19:8 Not to mention that horrible atrocities that have been at the hand of Christians, the rape/holocaust of the native Americans, the rape of African Americans, etc… Its safe to say Christians have done far more harm than hypocratically preach.

      • DFR

        You should be ashamed of yourself. You are the type of person that breeds boys who would do this to a women. Lets hope you never have kids. Im an adult and I can tell you that I hardly EVER go on a date where a man isnt trying to shove his hand up my top..or down my pants because he feels that because Im with him and Im female that he has the right to do whatever he wants to me..I cant tell you how many times my dates have been borderline date rape…and it didnt matter if I drank alot, a little or NOTHING…it didnt matter if I had a low cut top or I was dressed like a nun. Most men treat women like shit and there boys do the same..and it doesnt matter HOW much or how little anyone drinks. A terrible tragedy has some respect.

    • frustratedfather

      by continously referring to this as an “alleged rape” the media is bullying her too by making it sound like she made it up. the media has no problem being quick to judge on everything else, why in this case, ‘alleged rape’? was she a liar? you aren’t protecting the “alleged culprits” by calling it an alleged rape because their names aren’t released anyway. why not tell it like it is. “there are pictures of her having sex with 4 boys, which she says was rape, they claim was consensual.” …..then you aren’t judging her too. media makes me sick, we are back in the dark ages with the media calling women liars by their choice of words.

    • wingtips

      I wonder what your position is on the almost daily rapes of male, middle and high school boys by their teachers. I’m sure it is all just good ol’ clean fun and every boys fantasy, right?

      And to the posters saying “society teaches boys it is ok to rape women” : you are delusional.

    • Anonymous

      The whole scool plus the rapists should be burned downed