Another Steubenville-Like Rape Case, Only This Time the Girl Killed Herself

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 10 2013 6:43 PM

Sexting Scourge

Canada’s Steubenville case, only this time the teenage girl killed herself and the police haven’t done anything yet.

A group of protesters stand outside juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio, March 14, 2013.
Protesters stand outside juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio, on March 14.

Photo by Jason Cohn/Reuters

On Monday, after the suicide of her 17-year-old daughter, Rehtaeh, Leah Parsons, from a suburb of Halifax, posted a wrenching note on a Facebook memorial page.* Some of the details will be familiar from the recent rape case in Stuebenville, Ohio: a few boys apparently out of control, a girl who said she was raped and who was humiliated in pictures that spread around the community. In this case two outcomes differed than from Steubenville: the suicide, and before that, the authorities’ decision not to prosecute. Why didn’t they?

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

 Here is the mother’s post, which tells much of her story:

“The Person Rehtaeh once was all changed one dreaded night in November 2011. She went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral. Because the boys already had a ‘slut’ story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT. This day changed the lives of our family forever. I stopped working that very day and we have all been on this journey of emotional turmoil ever since.

 “Rehtaeh was suddenly shunned by almost everyone she knew, the harassment was so bad she had to move out of her own community to try to start anew in Halifax. She struggled emotionally with depression and anger .Her thoughts of suicide began and fearing for her life, she placed herself in a hospital in an attempt to get help. She stayed there for almost 6weeks. The bullying continued, her friends were not supportive. She needed a friend and eventually along the way a few new friends came along and a few old friends came forward.”

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The police investigated Rehtaeh’s allegations of rape and the circulation of the photo. But no charges were brought against anyone involved. The police say there was not enough evidence. Leah Parsons’ story about her daughter has gone viral, with a radio interview (it will make you weep), media coverage, and a petition with thousands of signatures calling for an inquiry into the police investigation.

The Canadian police won’t disclose details about the investigation. Instead Cpl. Scott McRae said this week, “We have to deal in facts and not rumors. We may not be able to go down certain roads because of the tragic circumstance.” Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry defended the decision not to prosecute Tuesday, saying “If the evidence isn’t in place, we can’t second-guess every investigation.” (Hours later, Landry shifted, saying he’d asked for “options” from prosecutors, which could mean they are leaving the door open to prosecute one or more of the boys. We’ll see.)

Leah Parsons says that her daughter was trying to put her life back together. She’d left her local school and town, apparently to live with her father, but then came back and found new friends. “She was doing better. She was back in her old community,” Parsons said on the radio. And on Facebook: “Just two weeks ago she stopped smoking pot, started looking for work and with the help of one of her teachers and a new therapist she was making progress.” But Parsons also wrote, “Rehtaeh is gone today because of The four boys that thought that raping a 15yr old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun. Secondly, All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her.”

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