Rehtaeh’s tragedy: teen, 17, commits suicide after photo of alleged gang rape sparks bullying campaign

Rehtaeh Parsons Rehtaeh Parsons


Took her own life: Rehtaeh Parsons. Photo: Screen grab, CBC News

Speaking out: Leah Parsons right, wants people to be aware of her daughter’s case. Photo: Screen grab, CBC News

It was meant to be a harmless night of teenage fun: a small group of school students had gathered at a friend’s house, to talk and joke over a few drinks.

But the tragic consequences of that night more than a year ago culminated this week in the death of a 17-year-old girl, an anguished family demanding answers and a public outcry about how the Canadian justice system could have let off her alleged attackers.

Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, was taken off life support at a Nova Scotia hospital on Sunday, three days after she attempted to commit suicide at her home in Cole Harbour.

Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, says her daughter was a sensitive soul who loved art, animals and had a big heart.

“Rehtaeh stood up for others, showed compassion to animals and people. She was an amazing artist. She made my life complete,” Ms Parsons wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to her daughter.

“When Rehtaeh was born I dedicated everything to her and promised her the world. Others in this world took that away from her.”

On the night of the party in November 2011, Rehtaeh had gone with a friend to another person’s house, where a number of students had gathered.

Her mother alleges Rehtaeh was gang raped by four teenage boys, one of whom took a photo of the attack. That photo was then circulated around her school, sparking a bullying campaign that ended 18 months later in Rehtaeh’s death.

In an interview with CBC Radio, Ms Parsons said her daughter had drunk a lot of vodka and only remembered “bits and pieces” of the night.

She said her daughter initially kept the incident to herself and was trying to forget about it when three days later she discovered a photo was circulating among her classmates.

“She walked into school and everyone started calling her a slut,” Ms Parsons said.

She said her daughter broke down in the kitchen and revealed to her what had happened. It was then that her mother called police to report the alleged assault.

Ms Parsons wrote on Facebook that her daughter’s life soon became “so bad she had to move out of her own community to try to start anew in Halifax”, and she began to “struggle emotionally with depression and anger”.

Rehtaeh was hospitalised for six weeks when her thoughts turned towards suicide.

Police investigating the case said they had concluded that it came down to a “he said, she said” situation, Ms Parsons wrote.

She claims investigators told her that they believed the boys raped Rehtaeh, but “the proof in a court of law was difficult to gather”.

Scott MacRae, a spokesman for Halifax Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told ABCNews苏州美甲学校 that the investigation into the alleged rape started in November 2011 and lasted almost a year.

“At the end of the … investigation, police, along with the crown attorney, concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges,” he said.

In the wake of Rehtaeh’s death, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry said he was now reviewing the case.

Hacker group Anonymous has released a statement saying it knows the identities of at least two of the four boys involved in the alleged gang rape, and has threatened to release their names unless the police “take immediate legal action against the individuals in question”.

“If we were able to locate these boys within 2 hours, it will not be long before someone else finds them,” Anonymous wrote.

“We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And That’s your job. So do it.”

Anonymous has become involved in similar cases before, most famously, the Steubenville, Ohio rape case which resulted in the conviction of two high school football players.

The group also exposed the identity of a man they said was responsible for the online bullying which culminated in the suicide of 15-year-old Canadian student Amanda Todd last year, weeks after she posted a moving video detailing her plight with online bullying on YouTube.

Dr Damian Maher, a lecturer at University of Technology, Sydney who specialises in cyberbullying, said photos on social media of a young person allegedly being sexually assaulted would constitute a crime in Australia.

Anything of that nature should be reported to police, and should also be reported to the social networking sites that they appeared on, he said.

“People have rights when it comes to images of them being circulated on the internet,” he said.

He urged people who were being cyberbullied to remove contact with the perpetrators by, for example, unfriending them on Facebook.

However, that could be difficult for younger people, whose social network online was often the same as off-line.

“Young people are very susceptible to those types of taunts,” he said.

“If someone is in a situation where they’re being bullied, I think being able to turn to someone else for support and share it with another person is the most immediate way to hep a person through that.

“Counselling also may be a way to work through the issue.”

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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