One month before she committed suicide, Rehtaeh Parsons posted a picture of herself on Facebook with a quote from Martin Luther King captioning it as such:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
And in the end that is exactly what happened for Rehtaeh. It took 17 months, but eventually the silence of her friends became too much to bear and she left this world not knowing the storm of outrage she’d leave behind. I wonder if we knew 17 months ago what we know now, would Rehtaeh’s story had played out differently? Would we have been as outraged?
At 15 she was raped by four boys after drinking vodka at someone’s house. Let’s change that sentence for a second though. At 15 she was raped by four boys at someone’s house. You see, the vodka is actually of little consequence here. It is the first part of our reaction to rape that has to change. Many will see vodka in the story and immediately blame the alcohol. Well, if she hadn’t been drinking, this wouldn’t have happened. Really? I know lots of girls, myself included that drank at that age and weren’t gang-raped. Next, we go to “why was she at a house with four boys anyway?”. Again, victim-shaming.
Rape is rape is rape no matter where, when, who, or why it happens. It is wrong under any circumstances. Full stop.
Now, let’s ask the real questions. Why did four boys feel it was okay to rape a girl? How is it that four boys actually have the same sick mentality? How is that four boys felt it was okay to distribute a picture of Rehtaeh being raped and not even fear consequences? This is immediately where our head should go, but instead we have been trained by society to always blame the victim. In some sick way, it makes us feel better. It gives us a way to reason out the horrific nature of the crime. Well obviously, if she hadn’t of done A then B wouldn’t have happened. Sort of like, if that young woman hadn’t boarded a bus to take her home she wouldn’t have been raped.
The humiliation and pain of being raped wasn’t the end for Rehtaeh but only the beginning. And for that, we only have ourselves to blame.
There are equally disturbing events that happened here besides the rape and subsequent distribution of child pornography.
How is it that a girl can be raped and then bullied by other girls? One of her “friends” on facebook left a comment reading “Sluts need to leave this school anyway”. So much for girl power. What kinds of conversations are happening in the homes of these girls who would leave such a comment? These girls should be outraged. They should be scared for their own safety. And they should have had Rehtaeh’s back. Instead, they added insult to injury and beat her down even further.
I also can’t help but put myself in the shoes of parents when something like this happens. My heart is heavy and sickened when I think of Rehtaeh’s parents. My rage is palpable when I think of this happening to my daughter. But what of the other parents? How would I feel if my son did something like this? Would I be so blinded by my love for him that I would ignore the facts in front of me? Would I force him to do the right thing and accept responsibility despite the consequences to his future? What of the parents of the bullies? Do they even know that their kids are complicit in a young girls death? If they know, did the conversations they had around their own dinner table contribute to the “slut” mentality?
Finally, why have these boys not been charged? Apparently, the RCMP investigated this case for a year and was unable to lay charges for lack of evidence. There is photographic evidence, not to mention four culprits, and another girl who was a witness. This reeks of incompetence.
If we remove the shame of rape from the victim and heap it on the perpetrator then we change the story. If we can re-train ourselves to be a more positive person, or a more fit person or a more productive person, than surely we can relearn how to react to rape.
My gut, as usual, tells me to lock my daughters up, but my gut is instinctive and mother bearish and when is comes to stuff like this, it’s usually wrong. My head tells me to stay alert, stay informed and talk to my girls about every single aspect of growing up in today’s society, no matter how uncomfortable it may make me feel. It tells me to model how to talk about other women. It tells me to speak up.
Make your voice heard and sign the petition here to demand an inquiry into the police investigation of Rehtaeh Parson’s rape. Educate yourself and your children about the media’s role in portraying women as sex objects by signing up at MissRepresentation.org. Finally, learn what rape culture is and change the conversation around your dinner table. Ours daughters and sons will have better lives if we step up now.