The Rehtaeh Parsons Case Proves There’s No One Way To Respect Victims’ Rights

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This is Rehtaeh Parsons. We need to remember her name.

Rehtaeh’s story happens far too often. In 2011, then 15-year-old Rehtaeh, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, went to a party, where she was raped. How many boys were involved, how exactly it happened…that may be up for debate. The rape is not. Why? Because it was photographed. And the photograph spread around her school and her hometown within three days; Rehtaeh was called a slut and received crude messages on her phone and her Facebook page asking her for sex.

The bullying was horrific, but I’m sure Rehtaeh held out hope that justice would be done. It wasn’t. A year after the rape, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – without questioning Rehtaeh’s alleged attackers or reviewing their phones for photographs or video of the assault – declared there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges. That it was a “he said, she said” case. That releasing and sharing the photograph was not criminal, even though Rehtaeh was a minor and the photo would qualify under Canada’s child pornography laws, even if the sex was consensual.

17 months after she was assaulted, Rehtaeh attempted suicide. Her family had to make the painful decision to turn off life support when it became obvious that she could not recover.

Rehtaeh’s parents, Leah Parsons and Glen Canning, were determined to keep their daughter’s memory alive – and seek justice. Parsons’ memorial Facebook page, Angel Rehtaeh, and Canning’s blog went viral. The story exploded. Members of the hacker group Anonymous reportedly helped trace the perpetrators, although they agreed not to release names because Rehtaeh’s parents did not want vigilante justice: they wanted the measured, legal justice they still hoped to find for their daughter.

 The RCMP reopened the case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared a commitment to tackling cyberbullying; the province of Nova Scotia enacted new anti-cyberbullying legislation.

For a while, everyone knew Rehtaeh Parsons’ name.

But now, as the people who attacked and harassed her are facing the justice that Parsons and Canning so desperately wanted – that Rehtaeh deserves – suddenly, we are not supposed to use her name. Now, she is known simply as “the victim.”

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