Rehtaeh Parsons in 2012
|Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada|
|Hanging, resulting in coma, leading to death|
Rehtaeh Parsons (//, rə-TEY-ə), a 17-year-old former Cole Harbour District High School student, attempted suicide by hanging on April 4, 2013, at her home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, leading to a coma and the decision to switch her life support machine off on April 7, 2013. Her death has been attributed to online distribution of photos of an alleged gang rape that occurred 17 months prior to her suicide, in November 2011. On a Facebook page set up in tribute to her daughter, Parsons' mother blamed the four boys who she claimed raped and released images of her, the subsequent constant "bullying and messaging and harassment", and the failure of the Canadian justice system, for her daughter's decision to commit suicide.
In response to Parsons' suicide, Nova Scotia enacted a law in August 2013 allowing victims to seek protection from cyberbullying and to sue the perpetrator.
In November 2011, Rehtaeh Parsons, then 15, allegedly went with a friend to a home in which she was reportedly raped by 4 teenage boys. The teenagers were drinking vodka at a small party. Parsons had little memory of the event, except that at one point she vomited. While a boy was allegedly raping her, the incident was photographed and the photo became widespread in Parsons' school and town in three days. Afterwards, many in school called Parsons a "slut" and she received texts and Facebook messages from people requesting to have sex with her. The alleged rape went unreported for several days until Parsons broke down and told her family, who contacted an emergency health team and the police.
According to an RCMP report, in March 2013, six boys, including some of Parsons' accused rapists, had an angry argument with three other boys. One of the three boys, who was a friend of Parsons, was stabbed and treated for a "non-life-threatening injury".
A year following the alleged rape, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded an investigation stating, "[an] investigation into an earlier sexual assault was completed, and in consultation with the Crown, there was insufficient evidence to lay charges". According to the family, the police called it a "he said, she said" case and also decided the photo was not criminal in spite of Parsons being a minor. Likewise, there were no arrests for the March 2013 stabbing incident.
Following the suicide, the RCMP announced they were reviewing the case. On April 12, the RCMP announced the case was being reopened in light of "new and credible information" that they said did not come from the Internet.
Following the suicide, Rehtaeh Parsons' mother Leah Parsons went public with the story and started a memorial Facebook page called "Angel Rehtaeh." The blog of Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, also went viral. The story drew international attention and sparked outrage on the Internet, with CBC reporting the phrase "Nova Scotia" was "trending on Twitter worldwide."
Canadian Prime MinisterStephen Harper commented on the case, saying he was "sickened" by the story and that the online bullying was "simply criminal activity." Rehtaeh's funeral on April 13 was attended by 500 people, including Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who said he came "first and foremost as a father trying to imagine what kind of incredible, unfathomable grief could be visited upon a family."
There are reports that the group named Anonymous has involved itself in tracing the alleged perpetrators of the incidents Parsons suffered. In its news release, Anonymous blamed the death on "school teachers, administrators, the police and prosecutors, those who should have been role models in the late Rehtaeh's life." Later, Anonymous announced it would not publicize the names of the individuals it believed to be the rapists, in respect of the Parsons family's wishes. Leah Parsons had called for the case to be settled legally rather than by vigilantes.
Parsons' suicide and the circumstances surrounding it have been compared to those of British Columbian Amanda Todd and with Audrie Pott, a fifteen-year-old girl from Saratoga, California, United States, and appear to show highly similar characteristics. New laws are being considered after these events. Parsons has been described as a "victim of sexting".
After her suicide, posters appeared locally in support of the boys who allegedly attacked Parsons. The RCMP expressed concern that the posters might lead to vigilantism, although they do not name the accused.
On April 26, 2013, Christie Blatchford wrote in the National Post that a problem in the case was that one of Parsons' friends claimed Parsons was "flirtatious" on the night the photo was taken and was seen laughing in bed with two boys, and also that there were "accounts from Rehtaeh herself and independent evidence, including retrieved online messages, that supported the suggestion the sex that took place was consensual." Blatchford also wrote the photo did not show Parsons' face. In response, Parsons' father Glen Canning accused Blatchford of victim blaming and argued, "The two boys involved in taking and posing for the photograph stated Rehtaeh was throwing up when they had sex with her. That is not called consensual sex. That is called rape."
In August 2013, Nova Scotia enacted a law allowing victims of cyberbullying to seek protection, including help in identifying anonymous perpetrators, and to sue the individuals or the parents in the case of minors. The law was passed in response to Parsons' suicide.