As unfortunate as this story is, it is one that needs to be told. In the town of Cole Harbour Nova Scotia, perhaps normally best known for being the hometown of star hockey player Sidney Crosby, a 17 year old girl took her own life due to the depression that she experienced as a result of a sexual assault she experienced a little over a year ago.
In light of stories over the recent months a lot of attention has been drawn on incidents of high school boys sexually assaulting girls at parties and the harassment and judging that the victims of these crimes receive afterwards. Most comments have been positive and have taken the side of the victims in these cases but there have been rashes of negative, victim blaming comments that have circulated through social media as well.
Much like the Steubenville sexual assault case we saw last month a cell phone picture of the sexual assault of Rehtaeh Parsons was circulated through the school. As a result a survivor of a horrific crime was shamed by her peers while the perpetrators of the crime were not subject to any shaming or name calling. According to RCMP there was not even sufficient evidence to lay charges for their crimes.
A survivor of sexual violence at any age is forced to go through a lot as a result of the assault. There are many emotions and complications that can come along with a sexual assault at any time. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions that a teenager who was forced to go through a sexual assault, be degraded by their peers, and lose many of their friends would have to go through.
What is clear is that cases such as this one are far too prevalent and must be stopped. It is crucial that we stop victim blaming messages and hold offenders accountable for their crimes. It is important that in society we recognize whose lives are being affected and who pays the price for sexual violence. It is far too often not the offenders of these crimes that pay the price. The greatest price is paid by the survivors of sexual violence and those who are close to them.
In this particular case an ultimate price was paid because a survivor of sexual assault took her own life as a direct result of the crimes committed against her. Her loved ones are now left with many questions. Why did the RCMP not have the ability to lay any charges in this case? Why did those four high school boys decide to sexually assault Rehtaeh? What could have been had Rehtaeh received support from her peers at school rather than be ridiculed for crimes committed against her?
These questions may never be answered and closure may be very hard to find. It is important that as a society we seek to learn from these stories and grow in our thinking. It is time to stop blaming victims and survivors and place the burden of responsibility for sexual violence where it truly belongs, with the offenders of these crimes.
Imagine if the shaming that Rehtaeh had went through for simply being a victim of a heinous crime was instead changed to love and support for a survivor of sexual assault. Imagine if the blame for the crime was placed where it belongs with the four boys who decided it was okay to sexually assault her and shame her afterwards. Maybe, just maybe if that was the case, Rehtaeh would have felt hope and continued growing in her life and her loved ones would not have suffered the tragic loss that they did this week.