I was having a really shitty week. My mind-numbing office job was driving me crazier than usual, my sinuses were completely plugged, causing a massive headache and I had an unexpected call regarding a four hundred dollar bill that I have absolutely no way of paying. And then I saw a post on Facebook with a picture of a bright-eyed, smiling teenage girl named Rehtaeh Parsons standing in front a lake with her dog. I read her story and bawled my eyes out at the kitchen table.
The 17-year old was gang-raped by four boys, then taunted and cyber bulled about it to the point where she took her own life earlier this week. Somehow, even though photos of the crime were widely circulated at Rehtaeh’s school, the police decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the rapists. This devastated the Parsons family, who called it a slap in the face.
Rehtaeh descended into a deep depression after the rape. “She was never left alone. She had to move out of her community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them since she had sex with their friends. It just never stopped,” her mother Leah said in an interview on CBC’s Maritime Noon radio show.
After the tragic tale made international headlines, the hacker collective Anonymous got involved. They tracked down the identities of the guilty parties in matter of hours, with a combination of internet sleuthing and character witnesses:
“Dozens of e-mails were sent to us by kids and adults alike, most of whom had personal relationships with the rapists. Many recalled confessions made by these boys blatantly in public where they detailed the rape of an inebriated 15-year-old girl,” they wrote in a statement on April 11th.
Instead of outing the guilty parties and leaving them vulnerable to vigilante justice, Anoymous used the names as bargaining chips, putting pressure on the Nova Scotia justice system to reopen the case or else they would make the rapists’ identities public.
Nova Scotia police finally caved to the pressure, releasing a statement on Friday that the case would be reopened. They denied that it was because of pressure from an outside source, claiming instead that a person had come forward to them with new and credible information.
It makes me incredibly sad that we live in a world where something like that could and will continue to happen. As if being physically violated wasn’t bad enough, to have everyone know about it, see pictures of it and question your version of the events is enough to break anyone, especially a sensitive, compassionate teenage girl. But it also makes me angry to know that for every case like this that makes the news, there are probably tens, hundreds or thousands that don’t.
The most touching tribute of all was from Rehtaeh’s father on his blog. In life, Retaeh Parsons couldn’t get away from her reputation and her father hopes that she will be remembered for more than just her victimhood.
“I had to write something about this. I don’t want her life to defined by a Google search about suicide or death or rape. I want it to be about the giving heart she had. Her smile. Her love of life and the beautiful way in which she lived it.”