Rape Culture Alive And Well In Canada

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.

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  1. A friend says

    I am a rape and abuse victim, and yet after all the time I’ve known you Candace, it still makes me scared to let my name be known … I’m an adult, in my 30’s, and I’m still ashamed of what happened to me (oddly, the first time was 20 years ago this week.) I am just starting to use the words ‘I was abused’ in sentences with friends but still get the shocked look- the I’m so sorry look, the ‘wow, I never knew’ look.

    These stories are wrong. Horribly, ridiculously, mind numbingly wrong.

    Society thinks the rape victims need pity. No, we need help. We need support when we wake up one day – long after the physical wounds have healed – and realize that the mental wounds haven’t. We need help when we see a glint of pink light in a room and have a flashback to that day. We need understanding when we can’t walk down the hallway because we’re afraid of someone being around the corner even though we’ve walked down that hallway thousands of times before.

    Most of all, we need to be able to prosecute, without fear of what going through that experience will do to us – to our families – for the rest of our lives.

    The fact that kids are dying because of things that have been done to them is appalling. The fact that we worry more about what prosecuting the offending kids as adults will do to them is frightening.

    We have a responsibility as a society to keep our children safe – clearly we are failing.

  2. says

    I didn’t want to read this after having already read the story of Rehtaeh’s rape and subsequent suicide. My heart hurts for her and her family, and all victims. 
    This morning, during the school drive, the topic came up and I had a short, but hopefully meaningful conversation about this case with my 13 yo son and niece. It’s not okay to keep quiet. It’s not okay that victims are blamed. It’s not okay for boys to rape and girls to shun their peers. 
    We’ll have more family talks about this. I want my children to grow up healthy and safe and to help others stay safe too.

  3. Pam Dillon says

    Petition signed. Not only does changing this mindset begin at home, I also think it needs to be addressed in the realms of public education (in school), justice (in terms of how police and prosecutors interpret the laws and their obligations to the public) and politics. What kind of a society are we anyway? Misogyny is alive and living in Canada. 

  4. Sarah says

    Thank you Candace for speaking up – There was a photo going around a while ago with a young woman holding a sign saying something about the problem with her university orientation including a session on how to avoid getting raped rather one simply on ‘Don’t Rape’. The focus was all wrong there and it’s all wrong here.

    There has been so much horrific blaming of victims lately I’m blown away and terrified for my little girl and all the girls and women out there. Rape is about stripping someone of power and Rehteah never got hers back. Let’s continue to speak out, demand change and empower our girls every day – that’s the only way I know to shift the consciousness of our society on this. The light at the end of this tunnel for me is knowing that as parents we have a powerful position – we are key influences in the next generation – let’s make sure we teach them well.

  5. Shelley says

    I am so sick of all this. Of being told, growing up what good girls do, how I need someone to protect me if I go outside after dark and how to protect myself from being raped. Why is it so hard to grasp that we shouldn’t be teaching our daughters to avoid rape situations, but instead teaching EVERYONE that rape is wrong. Period.

  6. says

    Candace, this is such an important issue. In terms of ending rape culture, my friend Shannon is working on free curriculum for K-12 on creating consent culture. She has raised enough money to create the English curriculum for Ontario, but wants to make it bilingual and also expand to other provinces/territories. In addition to signing the petition, I think people who have the means should contribute to Shannon’s project. Until we change the discourse in school and in society, this will continue to happen. Here is a link to her project: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/creating-consent-culture-by-providing-youth-the-tools-a-teacher-training-model?c=home

  7. Laura says

    This is such an important blog Candace. It is an OUTRAGE this is happening in Canada or anywhere for that matter. What is going on in the schools and at home that makes kids think this is acceptable behaviour? Something is very, very wrong out there. 

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