Special by Leah ParsonsMy daughter Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide last year at the young age of seventeen. At a time when Rehtaeh was developing who she would become, she was socially assassinated for making the mistake that many teens make; she experimented with alcohol. One night changed her life forever and I can honestly say that she was never the same again.
In 2011, Rehtaeh was fifteen years old and had just started high school. She was in school for a few months when she and her new friend went over to the home of two boys. Someone decided to bring vodka and two more males came over, making the person count to two girls and four boys. Alcohol was consumed by all present, and yes, all were underage drinking and all were in the wrong. However, that night Rehtaeh was raped by all four boys and a photo was taken. The photo was then circulated throughout Rehtaeh’s school and community a few days after the rape.
Rehtaeh quickly went from a confident girl who had strong opinions and a strong sense of self, to a very depressed, anxious girl who found it difficult to function on a daily basis. Her community turned on her after hearing the “slut” story from the boys who distributed the photo from phone to phone. Rehtaeh became the target of a mob mentality and we had to move out of our community. She had lived in that community since she was five years old and suddenly, in an instant, she was being ostracized and ridiculed.
The school did not try to protect her or “manage” the photo distribution and the police were slow to do much of anything. It took an entire year to close the case and inform us that no charges would be filed. Imagine the devastation of a now sixteen-year-old girl who hears that there will be no charges in her rape case. She came forward, gave them statements, fought back the best she could to defend herself to her peers, only to be told, in essence, that no one cared what happened to her. Rehtaeh was crushed and felt that no one believed her. The photo was still out there and the once determined girl that I knew and loved, who was full of dreams and aspirations to make this world a better place, was left in torment, anger and hurt.
Your life changes in the blink of an eye. A child makes a mistake in the wrong company and is forever altered to the point where she no longer wants to live. Rehtaeh attended therapy and was hospitalized when she felt scared because she was having thoughts of suicide.
It was her decision to be hospitalized.
What she really wanted besides help for her emotional state was validation. She wanted to be believed. She wanted those four males to know the impact that night had on her life. She wanted to know why they would further humiliate and destroy her by circulating a photo of her. She wanted an apology, but that never happened and to this day they have no remorse. They continued to target our family with their hatred after we lost our daughter.
Rehtaeh never wanted to leave this world, as I am certain is true for many people who commit suicide. She wanted to end her pain. She often told me that she would not want to leave me or her little sisters. She said, “What would they think of me if I killed myself, I want to be there for them.” Many people believe only those who talk about suicide, are serious. Rehtaeh talked about her suicidal thoughts, but she also mentioned that she just really wanted to feel better and not be tormented.
On April 4th 2013, life changed once again in the blink of an eye when my daughter hung herself in our bathroom. I know it was done on an impulsive emotion, but she couldn’t go back once it began. It was too late. She was not weak, she was not a coward. She was a young girl struggling for over sixteen months to work through her trauma, attempting to stay strong.
I feel that if this could happen to Rehtaeh it can happen to anyone. Targeting a person socially and bringing them “down” seems a common occurrence in our world of technology. Children are taking part in the epidemic of cyber-bullying in great numbers. It needs to change. We always knew Rehtaeh would make an impact on this world because she was the type of person who found strength through her convictions. Never in a million years would we have thought it would take her life to make this impact.