On the night of April 7th, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons’ heartbroken parents took her off of life support. Her story soon went viral across the Internet, with millions expressing shock, horror, rage, and a profound sense of sadness at a promising young life that was so tragically cut short. Because Rehtaeh Parsons didn’t have to die.
Eighteen months ago, four teenage boys allegedly gang raped Rehtaeh and spread photos of this horrific act throughout their school and Nova Scotia community. Classmates gloated over photographic evidence of the worst moments of Rehtaeh’s life, tormenting her for months with slurs like “slut”. Meanwhile, school officials and law enforcement turned a blind eye to the allegations, treating it as “a minor incident of bullying rather than a rape,” in the words of Glen Canning, Raehtaeh’s father.
Rehtaeh was victimized over and over and over again. By treating Rehtaeh as an object to be abused, tormented, and discarded, each person involved –from those who allegedly raped her to those who did nothing to stop it– stole a piece of her dignity. Rehtaeh shouldn’t have felt such despair that she believed her only option was to take her own life, but she did. Her family will never watch their little girl grow up. And sadly, the casualties of our rape culture only continue to pile up.
I see Rehtaehs everywhere. In one of my closest friends, whose years of sexual abuse spur bouts of depression, extreme anxiety, and intense nightmares over a decade later. In the desperate women who phone the hotline I volunteer for from a bathroom stall, terrified that an abusive partner will rape them yet again. In the 16-year-old who was raped by two Steubenville High School football players, shamed by her Ohio community, and terrorized online, where images of her assault live on as a painful reminder of a culture that condones violence against women and girls. In the 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who took her own life after allegedly being sexually assaulted by three teenage boys while passed out at a party, photographed in the midst of her attack, and viciously cyber bullied by classmates. In the estimated 200,000+ women who will be sexually assaulted this year.
From the politician who infamously coined “legitimate rape” (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin), to rapper Rick Ross, whose lyrics to “U.O.E.N.O” read “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”, our rape culture is shaming, blaming, and killing our women and girls. When CNN’s Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow can lament over the fates of two convicted Steubenville rapists (whom Harlow referred to as “star football players” with “promising futures”), you know something is very, very wrong.
What to do up next.