Rehtaeh Parsons is dead

**Trigger warning**
Seventeen months ago, then 15-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was gang-raped by four boys in her friend’s house. One of her rapists took a picture of the assault and circulated it around her school and community. Classmates saw the photo not as evidence of rape but as proof that Parsons was a “slut.” When she most needed community support, she was bullied and propositioned instead.

Last Thursday night, Parsons hanged herself in her bathroom; three days later, on Sunday, her family took her off life support.

In between her rape and her death, Parsons struggled with anger and depression; she moved; she made new friends; she hospitalized herself. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took a year to investigate the rape, but never charged the boys. In the last few days the media has wondered how her death could have been prevented. The Herald News published an article titled “Who failed Rehtaeh Parsons?”Parsons

The truth is that we all did.

Rape culture isn’t an amorphous force that lives outside of people. It takes form and perpetuates itself through our actions. We promote rape culture through the smallest gestures–laughter at a rape joke, objectifying “compliments,” our hesitation to call out a friend, our willingness to make excuses for the known rapists in our midst, our paralysis in the face of complex systemic cruelty, our silence–and these seemingly inconsequential moments build a world where 15-year-olds are gang-raped by classmates. We build a world where it is no longer shocking when victims of sexual assault and harassment commit suicide.

Survivor support is crucial, and undoubtedly the vicious bullying Parsons was subject to after her rape drove her to such drastic measures. But unless we are resigned to rape as an inevitability, we have to intervene before violence ever occurs.

Last night, when I mentioned to my roommate that I was working on this article, she told me she wanted action. She didn’t want just another essay pointing out how terrible rape is; she wanted something to do about it. She’s right. Instead of wallowing in injustice, let’s finally wake up from the delusion that we have any more time to waste. Rape culture kills. Rehtaeh Parsons is dead and we are in a state of emergency.

Organize your neighborhood or school against rape culture: run consent education workshops and recruit participants to pledge their stance against violence. March, demonstrate, to publicly prove to all that those who inflict violence on others will not be supported or included by your community. Every time a publication runs a piece promoting rape culture, write a letter in response. Reject slut-shaming and victim-blaming of all forms. Loudly. Model respect for others’ bodily autonomy and stand up for your own in everyday situations to promote a culture of consent. Intervene if you see a dangerous situation developing, and teach others to do the same. Combat the transmission of rape culture from one generation to the next: teach kids to be better than we are. Don’t invite rapists to your parties (I can’t believe I even have to say that, but I do). Make sure survivors in your area have somewhere to turn for justice and support, and to stop their rapists from re-offending. If this resource doesn’t exist, create it. Refuse to tolerate speech that promotes rape; speak up even–no, especially–when to do so would be rude. Listen to a survivor when no one else will.

What do you do to stop rape culture? How will you honor Rehteah Parsons and create a world without violence?

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16 Comments

  1. Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Posted April 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Thank you.
    Equal Community Foundation, India, (ECF.org.in) is raising men to end violence. You can read more here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9N7OP_j-8EKTDdBbVdDeWR6dVU/edit?usp=sharing

  3. Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    The sad thing is the US military this is happening all the time. Their rape rate is so high and then they punish the victims or dishonorably discharge them.
    Suicides from this are not rare, it’s sad that victims are re victimized and the rapist aren’t held accountable.
    http://www.theusmarinesrape.com/HideTheTruth.html

  4. Posted April 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure why this, as well as most of the other pieces I have read on this subject, are written in a voice that assumes the readers aren’t survivors of rape or sexual abuse themselves. It has to be incredibly othering to see rape victims or survivors only getting attention once they are safely dead.

    Further, what exactly does “Make sure survivors in your area have somewhere to turn for justice and support, and to stop their rapists from re-offending. If this resource doesn’t exist, create it.” mean, in the real world? How do you suggest readers go about doing this?

    • Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Hi Myriad

      Thanks for your comment. I’m really sorry to hear you found the piece othering. I’m a survivor and assume many readers are as well.

      I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the problem that the cases the media covers are generally particularly sensational, and thus unrepresentative of the diversity of forms sexual violence takes. I’m having trouble coming up with solutions, though, because (understandably) so few survivors go public with their stories. Do you have any suggestions for how we can combat this problem?

    • Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Oh! And your second question. Given problems with the criminal justice system, survivors often don’t feel comfortable turning to the police. I think survivor support networks and transformative justice groups can be really powerful, if imperfect, community-based resources.

  5. Posted April 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    The last paragraph has been nagging at me, similar to what Myriad noted.

    Through years of training, I have become relatively aware of my White straight privilege–though that awareness is a journey, and not a destination!

    Rape culture awareness is similar, and even as someone who knows of the issue (I read this blog!) I am starting at square one. The last paragraph here is veerrrry densely packed with highly coded language on the topic. Stepping out my front door tomorrow, how should I “[m]odel respect for others’ bodily autonomy and stand up for [my] own in everyday situations to promote a culture of consent.”??? What do this, and the other suggestions, mean in terms of behaviors that I (will hopefully start to) notice, and the actions that I should take?

    My “rape culture privilege” awareness is nil. Show me how to be a soldier on this issue.

    • Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      I agree with you, it’s not as easy as it sounds! I’m sure we’d all love some more suggestions on how *specifically we can fight back against rape culture. In my opinion, the most important, and easiest, step to take is simply correcting others. Have no patience for words like ‘slut’, and ruthlessly remind those around you that words like this are sexist and perpetuate a rape culture! Have no shame in openly and loudly saying, “That’s sexist”, whenever necessary (and it’s necessary a LOT). Discuss movies, television, and current events with family and friends to educate them about what rape is and how we need to change our thinking about it. In my experience, people don’t like to be told that they’re saying something sexist- but who cares?! I’d rather stand up for those around me and create a positive culture than be well liked and silent.

      Anyone else have “everyday” suggestions? I’d love to hear them as well.

    • Posted April 12, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Hi Serenity–I’m sorry you found the language unclear; that’s something I’ll keep in mind. As for the example you mentioned: there are a lot of ways that we interact with others’ bodies that aren’t necessarily sexual but are still opportunities for modeling respect for personal space and preferences for touch. My favorite example, which I read on a blog post about teaching kids about consent, is asking a child whether it’s ok to hug him/her before doing so. This simultaneously sends the message that a) no one should be touched in a way they don’t want to and b) the way to determine what people want is to ask.

  6. Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    “Don’t invite rapists to your parties (I can’t believe I even have to say that, but I do).”

    What do you mean by this? I don’t think most know who is a rapist and who is not.

    • Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      I think often people don’t, but it’s not so rare. When I was an undergrad, many people knew who the repeat offenders were–but they were ‘fun’ so survivors often had to face their assailants or abandon their social circles.

  8. Posted April 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alexandra, thanks for your replies.
    As far as the othering goes, I think one thing that would begin to address this is to explicitly include people who have experienced rape in your rhetoric. While you’re calling people to action, you could include people by, perhaps, asking them to think about what might have helped them or what would help them now. You could ask for those who are in a place where they are capable of helping others to do so, or for those who are capable of sharing advice with those who want to help to do so. I am a big proponent of listening first to those who need the help I want to give and respecting what they say about what help they need and how it can best be delivered. I think that kind of thing would help to explicitly identify that you understand that some of your readers are people who have personal experience of rape and may still be dealing with the ripples that result from that (those) experience(s).

    I also think that as far as asking people to create survivor networks or transformative justice circles, that is a pretty big task and a daunting one. It’s also more practical for it to be community-supported. Perhaps instead you could include an “or” statement which involves asking people to interrogate their community leaders as to why it these kinds of groups don’t already exist in their community, requesting funds to support this kind of group, or other means to help demonstrate that the demand and desire for these groups is there.

  9. Posted April 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    In case anyone is interested, here is a piece I wrote about it and how the narrative we’re seeing in the media/politics is focusing on bullying and why that’s problematic. I live on Canada’s east coast and went to school in Nova Scotia.

    http://www.shamelessmag.com/blog/2013/04/on-calling-things-by-name-rape-exploitation-and-v/

  10. Posted April 22, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    This case, and all the too many other similar cases out there, makes me feel so frustrated and helpless. And I agree, it’s time for concrete action.

    I’m UK-based, so perhaps my perspective/ways of generating action are different, but you were asking for people to talk about what they’re going to do: I’m already working on something.

    I figure that part of the problem is that rape culture starts early. Like in your other article about girls being told not to wear tight trousers so that they don’t ‘distract’ the boys. In the UK education system, sex education is rubbish; there’s hardly any discussion of consent or healthy relationships, or what counts as rape. And with the internet (apart from a few corners like this) by and large repeating those same patterns and codes, I figured (with a group of friends) that the best way to tackle rape culture was online, aiming ourselves at young adults, between the ages of 16 – 25. So we’ve set up a website: http://www.theyesresource.com and we’re looking to build our presence online. One of the first things we’re doing is a film project featuring the voices and stories of rape/assault survivors, talking about what counts as rape, and how they feel consent ought to work. (I’m oversimplifying, but I hope you get the picture.)

    Either way, check it out, and please get in touch (theyesresource[at]gmail.com) if you’re interested in being involved. It’d be good to have voices coming in from across the world, not just the UK!

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