A 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl died Sunday more than a year after a “viral” photo of her alleged rape turned her into a social pariah at school.
The family of Rehtaeh Parsons blames her suicide on her classmates’ relentless bullying. They also blame the police who never prosecuted the four boys who allegedly raped their daughter when she was just 15.
“My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death,” her father, Glen Canning posted on his personal website. “Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police.”
Parsons’ story has drawn comparisons to the recent rape in Steubenville, Ohio, which created an international outcry because of graphic images that circulated online. Both Parsons and the unnamed 16-year-old Steubenville victim were vilified online after their alleged assaults.
After four boys allegedly raped Parsons at a house party in November 2011, one of the boys distributed a photo of the assault to “everyone in her school … where it quickly became viral,” her mother says on a Facebook page called “Angel Rehtaeh.” Boys who saw the picture asked her for sex, and other students called her a slut, her mother told the Toronto Star.
(CNN reports that authorities confirmed a photo of Parsons “allegedly having sex” with one of the boys was emailed and texted among “friends.”)
Her family reported the alleged rape and photo to Halifax police, who decided after a nearly year-long investigation there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges for sexual assault or child pornography, The Toronto Star reported. (In Canada, it’s illegal to make sexual photos of people under 18, so it’s not clear why police didn’t at least press child porn charges.)
Parsons fell into a depression, her mother says. She changed schools and was hospitalized at one point for six weeks, The Toronto Star reported. On the night of April 4, she became so distraught that she locked herself in the bathroom and had hanged herself by the time her mother burst in. (Parsons was put on life support and died several days later.)
She was reportedly never the same after her assault.
“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” her mother wrote on the Facebok page she created.
The Nova Scotia Justice Department is reviewing how police handled the case, so it’s possible the four boys accused of breaking Parsons down could be prosecuted.
It’s impossible to know whether a prosecution would have healed Parsons’ broken spirit, though. The memorist Christa Parravani wrote a powerful op-ed in the Washington Post recently on the toll of her twin sister Cara’s rape.
Here was Cara’s testimony from the day her rapist was sentenced: “Edgardo Hernandez is the worst kind of thief. He did not steal my wedding rings, yet my marriage has dissolved. He did not take my legs, yet for over a year I was afraid to leave my house, to walk around in broad daylight. October 18, 2001, was the day I died.”
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