For Victims of Violence Canada

This is an article I wrote for Victims of Violence Canada. It details my thoughts on Rehtaeh’s case and how our family was left with many unanswered questions.

We believe that is one of the biggest problems of all. Why are we left wondering? Why are we left hoping for answers to simple questions?

It’s difficult for me to write about my daughter without coming across as angry and cynical. The truth is I am angry and cynical. My daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons, was violated in November 2012. She was violated again by an indifferent police investigation and it feels like our family continues to be violated by a system more interested in excuses than justice.

I don’t know how to tell this story anymore. I have more questions than answers and it starts to sound like I’m selling a conspiracy. An angry dad not wanting to see his daughter in bad light no matter what the evidence says. I understand that’s how I might seem and I hope whoever reads this just gives me the chance to explain why I’m angry, hurt, and cynical.

In November 2012 my wife Krista and I were home alone, in bed reading. It was past ten o’clock and we were about to call it a night when the phone rang. It was Rehtaeh’s mom. She said she had the worst news – as bad as I could ever image. She was wrong.

The worst news came a year and a half later in a hospital corridor. The silence of that early morning let the doctors words echo in my head and down the hall even though he barely spoke above a whisper. “This is as grim as it gets,” he said, “She won’t recover.”

And with those few simple words my life would never be the same. I learned at that time my precious daughter would not be a survivor, she would be a victim. I would die with her in that bed. I would die and walk out the door forever changed. I would no longer look forward to her sharing all she was going to do in life. She’s a story now. Memories, pictures, dreams, glimpses of her in the city, and brief moments when I forget she died and think of calling her.

My daughter – Rehtaeh Anne Parsons – meant everything to me. She was my sunshine, my pride and joy. My only child. She was the girl who reached through her pain and suffering to give me the last words I would hear from her, “I love you dad.” She said them the day before she decided her life was not worth living anymore. She said those words in my car as I dropped her off at her mom’s. I watched her walk into the house and I drove away. Rehtaeh died April 7th, 2013. She killed herself.

The passage to her death was hell. I remember everything about the week she was raped. Her mom’s voice, shaking, telling me Rehtaeh was attacked the weekend before at the home of some boys a new friend took her to. It was supposed to be a sleep over. Something fun teenagers do. Something safe and normal.

The following year was a nightmare. I can’t bring my self to say living hell because there was no living about it. Hers was a slow, painful death. We watched our caring, loving, compassionate, and intelligent daughter turn into an unrecognizable ghost. Bloody, scarred, angry, afraid, fixated on death and suicide.

It seems unbelievable how this story unfolded. In brief, the assault happened while she was throwing up from drinking too much vodka and it continued into the next morning. Four boys raped her. One of them took a photo of it with a cell phone. For the next few days they spread around the story and the photo. They said she was a slut. They openly admitted she was throwing up sick while they had sex with her. Their description was graphic, they held nothing back.

Later texts messages sent to Rehtaeh would read, “Are you the slut hanging out a window throwing up and getting fucked?”

When Rehtaeh broke down and told her mom what happened the police were called, then a crisis team, and the local sexual assault centre. The assault centre was, and continues to be, amazing. The police might as well as not bothered to pick up the phone at all.

For the officers involved with Rehtaeh’s case I can only look back and wonder why? Why didn’t you do something? I see other charges and cases for similar crimes and it’s so maddening. Why didn’t you do that in my daughter’s case? Why didn’t you care? Most of the time you didn’t even offer us the courtesy of returning our calls.

A few months ago an officer involved with making training videos for the Ontario Provincial Police interviewed me as part of a victims of crime series. He asked if there was anything I’d like officers to know. There is and it’s simple — if at the end of your investigation if you don’t believe you have enough evidence to lay charges we would understand. We know nothing is perfect. We just would want to know that you did everything you could. That you tried. That you cared. As a police officer, victims and victims families shouldn’t be left with dozens of unanswered questions about what you did and didn’t do.

It was and remains infuriating that the police told Rehtaeh there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges. We knew it would end that way if the investigating officer didn’t bother to collect any. How else could it end? At one point the officer told us not to tell her how to do her investigation but we weren’t telling her anything of the sort. We were wondering instead, why she wasn’t doing any investigating at all.

They closed the case after almost a year. Few witnesses were spoken to, no cell phones seized as evidence, no visits to Rehtaeh’s school, not one of the four boys Rehtaeh said raped her — the ones that openly bragged about having sex with her as she threw up — were spoken to by police. Not one boy, during the entire year long investigation.

Instead it appeared the investigation was focused on Rehtaeh, what she did, and what she said.

Does that seem right?

We did everything we could to save our daughter. She was in and out of therapy. Spent five weeks in a youth mental health centre. Moved in with me, away from the drama, but as it turned out, not the photo or the story. A reporter later told us the photo spread throughout the whole school district. Hundreds of people ended up with it and probably still have it.

Rehtaeh hung herself in the bathroom of her mom’s house on the evening of April 4th, 2013. She died alone, fighting the demons to the end. We donated her organs as she would have wanted. I had a letter arrive a few months ago from a 17 year old that now has the chance to live a full life thanks to Rehtaeh’s heart. The letter ends with a promise that they’ll take good care of it. Rehtaeh could have written it.

What happened after Rehtaeh died still seems surreal. Her mom, Leah Parsons, went home from the hospital and wrote a few words on Facebook about losing her daughter to bullies and rapists. The story exploded and soon the boy in the photo with Rehtaeh tried to call her. He wanted to explain what happened. He said everyone is blaming him for her death.

He then reached out to her on Facebook. Leah told him she has nothing to say to him and that if he wanted to he could inbox her what happened. So he did. She screen captured his long confession and forwarded it to the police and they re-opened the case in light of “new and credible evidence” that came forward.

The following week an officer sat in my living room and told me the statement the boy made to Rehtaeh’s mother didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. So based on that they should have already known Rehtaeh was throwing up as four boys had sex with her, that she had to be carried around the house, that they took a photo of it and sent it to God knows who, and that when they were finished they had to dress her because she was unconscious. The police claimed they already knew all of that.

And yet, they did nothing when it would have mattered. All of what I just wrote is in that kids email along with his plea that he’s “not a rapist.” Clearly, something is wrong here. The police had a photograph of a rape in progress (and there is no other way it can be interpreted), a confession, and, if they wanted to put some effort into it, dozens of people who got photo-text messages sent to them by two of the boys who say it’s Rehtaeh in the picture.

The police later appeared on national television and said there is no evidence to substantiate a charge of sexual assault.

Saying we were kicked when we were down really wouldn’t do justice to how I felt reading the news a couple weeks after Rehtaeh died. A National Post reporter claimed to have been given access to and had first hand knowledge of Rehtaeh’s police file. A file we still can’t see. The reporter claimed her source was close to the case and at first I thought it had to be a cop. They were trying to defend themselves. But perhaps it was a Crown Attorney, possibly the one who told the police they weren’t going to precede with charges.

Think about that. Someone in the justice system, linked to this case, could have revealed confidential information about it. What a disgusting violation of our trust. I will never have faith in our justice system again.

The reporter’s “source” claims there was an independent witness there that night and that the witness told the police the sex was consensual. We wondered how that could be? Rehtaeh remembers nothing so how could it have been consensual?

That article, and the source behind it, has caused me an insurmountable amount of grief. Every time I read something about Rehtaeh there it is, down in the comments sections, someone writing about a witness saying Rehtaeh wasn’t raped. I’ve been targeted online by trolls numerous times who say the same thing – my daughter was a slut who made up a rape story.

Last December a local reporter from the Halifax Chronicle Herald did an in-depth story about Rehtaeh and the case. Unlike the National Post reporter they actually spoke to the witness who told the police the sex was consensual. When they asked the girl what happened she said that there was a woman in the house that night and if someone was being raped there would have been screaming and fighting, especially if it was by four people. The witness said the women didn’t wake up so Rehtaeh couldn’t have been raped, thus the sex must have been consensual.

Is that why this case never went ahead? Does that explain why nothing was done to bring our daughter justice while she was alive? A case outcome predetermined based on a 15 year old witness with no knowledge of what rape is or what consent means. A girlfriend of one of the boys involved.

We’ve tried our best to do as much as we can during the past year in making a difference for the future. I’ve talked to many people about Rehtaeh and her heartbreaking story. We’ve spoken out about rape culture, cyberbullying, the law, sexual assault, and even weighed in on Bill C-13. The Federal Government is going to pass a new law to address the sharing of intimate images without consent.

Peace now eludes me. I’m not too big to admit I suffer and am in pain. I will be for a long time I imagine. There are charges in the case before the courts now. Two of the boys there that night are up on child porn charges. We’re not sure why the first investigating officer didn’t go that root. It’s the same photo. Again, more questions than answers.

One of the two told me if I didn’t shut up he’d kill me. He’s being charged for that as well.

Once the charges are over Murray Segal, a respected attorney from Ontario, is going to launch a review of how the police handled this case. We are eager to finally have some answers.

I want this nightmare to end, but I can’t wake up from it unless I know I’ve done everything I can to prevent this from happening to another family.

Rehtaeh would be graduating from high school this year. She dreamed of university.