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

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Canadian child pornography trials are subject to a blanket publication ban on information that would identify any minor involved in or witnessing the crime. With so much time gone, so little concrete evidence left to work with, child pornography charges – for taking and spreading the photo of Rehtaeh – were the option that was left. And as a result, media outlet’s covering the trial cannot use Rehtaeh’s name.

Rehtaeh’s family does not want this ban. They want their daughter’s name spoken; they want people to know that Rehtaeh is getting what justice she can, and how little that justice is, and how late it came. But they have no choice. The ban is automatic, no matter what the victim or the victim’s family says.

I have never experienced sexual assault, but I know that there is no one right way to survive it, no one right way to feel. There is no one right way to be a survivor, and that’s why blanket bans need to change, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

The very heart of any blanket ban is an assumption that a person will be diminished by public knowledge of what happened to them. But that is an old attitude, from a time when sex meant you were spoiled goods, whether or not you consented. Today, it is not necessarily true that a person or a family will want to avoid being identified. And while I understand the argument that courts must be cautious with exceptions, so that publication bans are not broken lightly, here’s the truth: the moment a ban ignores what the victim wants is the moment it goes from protective to damaging.

If we want to help people who have suffered sexual assault, we need to start listening to them – or to the people they have left behind. Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents argued to the court that they wanted Rehtaeh’s name to be published, but the law simply won’t allow it. So those laws need to change to allow the input of victims and their families.

Two of the young men involved, whose names cannot be shared since they were minors at the time of the crime, have pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. When the second entered his plea, the Halifax Chronicle Herald opted to break the publication ban and print Rehtaeh’s name. At the opening of the November 25 article was this editor’s note:

 “We’ve decided to publish the name of the victim in this story, despite a court-ordered ban. We believe it’s in the public interest in this unique case, given the widespread recognition of Rehtaeh Parsons’ name, and given the good that can come, and has already come, from free public debate over sexual consent and the other elements of her story.”

The following day, Chronicle Herald editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon published this moving image depicting Rehtaeh’s mask being removed. This cartoon captures the situation perfectly. Rehtaeh was not some nameless, faceless crime victim. She was a 15-year-old girl who should have been looking forward to college, a career, a life. She loved animals; she was compassionate, kind, a good friend. She was a person. She deserves to be respected.

And when those who attacked her and harassed her and drove her to suicide finally face what measure of justice we can achieve, we must speak her name.

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