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?”
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?