About Rehtaeh Parsons’ story

Trigger warning: This article will discuss suicide, harassment, bullying, and rape. This can also be expected of current news articles and most other blogs that mention Rehtaeh Parsons.

Rehtaeh Parsons of Cole Harbour isn’t able to share her story with us herself. We learned her name and story along with the rest of Halifax this week, because her parents have shared them online and with the media after her death.

When Rehtaeh was 15, she reported that a group of boys had raped her. One of the boys took a photograph during the alleged assault, and it was shared with others in her school. According to her parents, in the subsequent months she was shunned and harassed by some of her peers. Rehtaeh died of suicide this weekend, at the age of 17.

Rehtaeh’s parents have said that the last year and a half of their daughter’s life were very difficult. They are certain that many of Rehtaeh’s painful experiences could have been avoided if she and her family had received more consistent support.

Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, on CBC Maritime Noon:

I think the thing that meant the most to her, one day a group of guys that she grew up with [inaudible] she knew in elementary school, they came up to her and said “Rehtaeh, we believe you. We know that this happened to you.” They said, “We know that you would never do anything like that, and we believe that those boys raped you, and we just wanted you to know that.”

Glen Canning, Rehtaeh’s father, on his personal blog:

I had to write something about this. I don’t want her life to defined by a Google search about suicide or death or rape. I want it to be about the giving heart she had. Her smile. Her love of life and the beautiful way in which she lived it.

I found out this afternoon my daughter saved the life of a young woman with her heart. How fitting.

Photo of Rehtaeh Parsons from http://facebook.com/pages/Angel-Rehtaeh/352644484835299
Photo of Rehtaeh Parsons from the Angel Rehtaeh Facebook page

The blame for any assault should always lie with the perpetrator. Despite this, public discussion often turns to blaming the victim or her parents, or follows red herrings like sexting, cyberbullying, and underage drinking. All of these deserve attention, but they are not what caused this. The causes of suicide are often complex, and we cannot account for all the factors involved, but the instigating event for Rehtaeh’s trauma was the assault itself. We need to pay attention to how this was able to occur. Sexualized violence is a reality in our schools, in homes throughout our communities, and in public spaces like our streets and the internet, but it doesn’t have to be. We refuse to accept it as an inevitability. Every one of us deserves better.

Beth Lyons at Shameless Magazine:

Where [sic] there elements of bullying in what Parsons endured? Absolutely. Is focusing on “cyber-bullying” as the primary concern brought to light by her death accurate or even useful? No.

When a sexual assault, circulation of documentation of an assault, and vicious victim-blaming for an assault are subsumed into the bullying narrative, it obscures the truth of what happened. If such things are filed away under bullying, we fail to name them as instances of gender-based violence, exploitation, and harassment that are enabled by a culture that minimizes, dismisses, and normalizes violence against women.

Emily Williams at The Chronicle Herald:

We brush off and downplay sexual harassment, saying it was just this or only that. We make excuses for the perpetrators, saying that they were drunk or that their target encouraged them. We mock victims, saying that they are overreacting or that they should have enjoyed the attention. We do not take street harassment seriously, telling women that catcalls are a compliment and that they should just smile and go on their way. We do not speak up, our silence an implied endorsement.

We want justice for all victims of sexualized violence, whether we know their names or not. We want people of all ages to be certain that they can’t hurt others without consequence, and equally certain that if they are harmed by others they will be supported by their communities. We want schools to offer comprehensive education about consent. We want all levels of government to develop an appropriate response to sexualized violence. We want community services to receive sufficient funding so that they don’t have to have months-long waiting lists for vital programs (or cut them altogether).

We need to work together to prevent violent acts from happening in the first place, and not just react to them after the fact.

Two vigils are being planned in Rehtaeh’s memory. The first is tonight 11 April at 7PM, at Victoria Park in Halifax. The second is tomorrow night in Cole Harbour – we will add the location and time as soon as we find that out. Rehtaeh’s family welcomes donations in her name at East Coast German Shepherd Rescue, SPCA and Laing House.

If you need help:

There are so many people who are ready to have your back. You have no idea how many. We’re including a list of resources at the end of this post.

(We’re sure we missed some; give us a shout if you know of others we should add.)

If someone needs your help:

Be bold! Be daring! Be your most awesome self.

Talk with your friends and family about ways to help people out, so that if you’re in a tight spot you don’t have to come up with a solution from scratch. Make sure the people close to you know they can count on you in a crisis. If you’re not there when stuff goes down, but you find out afterwards, offer whatever support you can — be like the friends who stuck by Rehtaeh and the boys who told they believed her.

And if you’re not sure whether someone’s okay or not, ask. “Are you okay?” “Do you need help?” You can use these questions to let people know they’re not isolated, and that you’re a safe person for them to reach out to.

If you can’t do it alone:

If it’s not safe for you to help someone yourself, if you don’t know how, or if they need more help than you can give them alone, it’s okay to call for reinforcements. You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something.

Be the person who runs for the teacher, who calls the crisis line, or who talks to other bystanders and says “they’re in trouble; they need our help.” You will be in this position one day, and it could be one of the most important things you ever do.

We’ve Got Your Back

If you’re in Halifax, you can call one of these numbers for emergency assistance:

  • Avalon Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Response Line 425-0122
  • Emergency Services: 9-1-1
  • Halifax Helpline 421-1188
  • Mental Health Mobile Crisis Unit 429-8167

More resources:

6 responses to “About Rehtaeh Parsons’ story

  1. I’m just so broken. I was a teacher that had hoped we were becoming an enlightened county. We brag about our safe schools but let’s look deeper. Too many children are dying from the cyber bullet. Why are we raising people with no heart. Why is cruelty more rewarding than kindness?

    1. Rose, you’re not the only teacher who’s struggling with this. There’s a teacher in Ontario who’s building a K-12 consent curriculum. There are programs that bring empathy training into classrooms, and that give kids the resources to enact positive change.

      There are also parents talking about how they teach their kids about consent and empathy. There are people explaining that these aren’t just ideas, but a set of tangible skills, and they need to be taught over and over again in age-appropriate ways.

      You’re not alone. Keep the conversations going. Find voices you support and help make them stronger.

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