I’m so sick and sad right now after reading about Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17 year-old Cole Harbour girl who killed herself after she was raped by four boys who shared a photo of that crime around her school. It sounds like she was rebuilding her life, attending another local high school but the depression and anger got the better of her. She hung herself, after continued harassment by former schoolmates, including girls who called her a slut.
If those boys had stopped for one minute and considered how they would feel to be raped, I wonder if they would have found it so easy to rape Rehtaeh and to share a photo of that act around; and if those girls had shown outrage and anger instead of shaming the victim who is, really, a mirror of themselves– perhaps Rehtaeh would have found the strength she needed to continue.
It’s horrifying to me to remember my own confused self-hatred as a young woman… and to see it reflected in these boys who so devalued a girl’s experience and girls who are so devalue their own sexuality and womanhood. I remember it not being clear or easy, I remember blaming victims and blaming myself; but it is easy and clear to see that things may not have appreciably changed since then for many young women and men.
At the same time, I think there are many young women and men who would not allow such a thing as happened to Rehtaeh without standing up and speaking out, who have a stronger sense of themselves than to let an injustice like what happened to Rehtaeh to go unchallenged. Still, it sounds like many of them were quiet, as were many of the adults in the lives of these young people.
I believe it is up to men and women to examine the way they view themselves, one another, and how they relate to each other; and to model for young people what it means to treat themselves and others with respect. The boys that raped Rehtaeh and shared a photo of the crime, showed extreme disregard for her as a human being but the also had no qualms about degrading themselves in public, and apparently no fear of the legal consequences for themselves. The girls who called her a slut demonstrated their own self-hatred and shame about being women.
I know a lot of change is driven by youth, their idealism and commitment to justice. But I think every individual man and woman who cares what happened to Rehtaeh need to examine their own attitudes, beliefs and actions and how well they demonstrate what it means to be a man or a woman and a self- and other-respecting human being to those young people. We’re all in this together, and we can do better.