The following includes discussions that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised.
I’ve been MIA for a few days, preparing to move this blog to a different site as part of a larger project (more on that later). I have a list of about ten posts I want to write, titles staring down from a crowded white board of tasks to be completed. But those will have to wait, because you need to read this story:
A 17-year-old Canadian girl died Sunday following a suicide attempt last week. The family of Rehtaeh Parsons said that their daughter never recovered from an alleged rape by four teenage boys in November 2011 that left her deeply depressed and rejected by her community.
Placed on life support last Thursday at a local hospital, Rehtaeh Parsons died on April 7 after her family made the decision to take her off the life support.
In a Facebook memorial page, the girl’s mother, Leah Parsons, wrote that Rehtaeh had been shunned and harassed after one of the boys allegedly involved in the rape took a picture of the incident and distributed it to their “school and community, where it quickly went viral.”
“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was okay, and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” Parsons wrote.
According to Canadian news outlet CBC, the alleged sexual assault happened at a small gathering at which teenagers consumed alcohol. One of the boys in attendance reportedly took a photo of another boy having sex with Rehtaeh Parsons and sent it to friends.
Gawker writes that the bullying got so bad after the photo circulated that the family was forced to relocate.
When you ask me why I keep talking about rape culture, it’s people like Rehtaeh. This story is getting publicity because of social media and recency, and that’s fine, but there are thousands more like her every year who are alienated by their friends and family members who just don’t get it. There are thousands of victims who may never tell a soul about their attack, but will watch other victims be treated this way and internalize a deep sense of shame they never should have felt to begin with. There are thousands of victims who will never get the help they need, and will suffer in silence for the rest of their lives.
You want to know why a stupid little rape joke matters? You want to know why it’s not ok for a community to call a victim a liar or a slut in the wake of an attack? You want to know why the ads encouraging sexual violence aren’t “just” advertising? You want to know why colleges sweeping attacks under the rug is a problem? You want to know why I keep writing on this subject? You want to know why I’m angry, and not about to back down?
Because Rehtaeh, and so many others, deserved a hell of a lot better than this.
If you are a Rehtaeh, please know that there are people who have your back. If you know a Rehtaeh, let them know you’re there for them, that it was never their fault, and that you believe them. This girl didn’t have to die. We can, and must, do better. We cannot eradicate sexual violence, but we can change the experiences victims face in the aftermath. The only way that happens is if we raise our voices and keep pushing. It’s not always easy, and the conversations can be exhausting, but the next time you feel like giving up, think of Rehtaeh. I know I will.