Making Leah Parsons Amazing Person of the Week is long overdue. Early last year we spoke to Ms. Parsons for the first time. We were in awe the entire conversation. Leah is brave, tenacious, and strong-willed and well, amazing.
Leah’s daughter Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide by hanging on April 4th 2013 at her home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada due to ongoing bullying and harassment after an online distribution of photos of her gang rape. Rehtaeh was forced to live in continual humiliation after the tragic incident. For 17 months, Rehtaeh was constantly called names like, “slut”, “whore”, and “skank.” Even though it was Rehtaeh who was raped, she was blamed while the four boys who attacked her went about their normal lives. Rehtaeh lived in misery. Her family tried everything they could to help Rehtaeh but without much help from the Canadian justice system nothing was accomplished.
Rehtaeh spent three days in a coma before her family decided to take her off life support. She passed away April 7, 2013. She was only 17 years old at the time of her death.
Immediately after the rape, Leah Parson’s began to fight for justice for her daughter. However, RCMP came back to say, “There was insufficient evidence to lay charges”. The boys were not questioned and their phones were not reviewed for the photograph of the rape in progress. Instead, the police called it a “he said, she said” case and decided the photo was not criminal in spite of Parsons being a minor.
On April 12, the RCMP announced the case was being reopened in light of “new and credible information.” Over a year later one of the boys involved plead guilty to making child pornography. Nevertheless, because of his age at the time the photos were taken, the boy was sentenced to a conditional discharge with 12 months probation and registration in Canada’s national sex offender DNA database. He was 20 at the time of his sentencing.
November 2014, the second person charged, then 19, pleaded guilty to a charge of distributing child pornography. He received a conditional discharge in Jan. 2015.
Any parent reading this story can relate to how Leah Parsons felt at the time. She was quoted saying, ‘The photo set into motion a series of emotional turmoil. She was 15 years old when that photo started circulating; the cruelty she received would have been too much for an adult to endure, let alone a child.”
How it is possible for boys who raped and photographed a young girl get off so easy? Then, circulate the humiliating disgusting photos online and throughout school. Unbelievably, this type of injustice happens in the US too.
Mrs. Parsons deserved the right to speak out about what happened to her daughter and share her feelings. She needed to raise awareness and she needed support.
Canadian media reports about criminal trials involving child pornography are subject to a publication ban under the Criminal Code of Canada. Leah was not even allowed to use her daughters name in media. If she wanted to have her story posted, raise awareness, or be interviewed by Canadian media, she could not use her baby girl’s name. Leah stayed strong and with the help of the online anonymous group, she started #RehtaehParsonsIsHerName
People all over the world took a stand for Leah and Rehtaeh. Before long, Rehtaeh’s name was everywhere. Way to go Mrs. Parsons and Anonymous. Recently, Mrs. Parsons posted the following emotional statement:
I struggled and spent time contemplating whether to go ahead and write another victim impact statement. Every time I thought of writing one the thought would follow with “Why bother? What I say will have no impact on him or how he thinks moving forward in life.” Then came the realization that I was looking at this statement all wrong. I do not have to speak to change your view, values and perspectives at all. That is where I was stuck.
I was stuck with wanting you to feel pain, remorse, regret. What a huge additional burden to carry because how could I possibly achieve that goal? I cannot. I also cannot feel defeated by succumbing to silence. No, that would be a shame for everyone who has been helped, everyone who found their voice and made changes in their community because Rehtaeh’s voice came forward. Her voice was not heard while she struggled to be heard, but it sure is now.
Every day, I wake to a huge emotional void of love that I once called Rehtaeh. I promised Rehtaeh the first day I met her that I would protect her and nourish her life in every way possible. I did not foresee that I would have to shield her from such cruelty that she endured before she left this world. I was unable to console her as she crumbled emotionally after that photo was taken and circulated. People often say, “How can someone’s life come crumbling down due to a photo?” I’m here to say that is exactly what happened. I watched every moment of the tower crumble. Rehtaeh’s tower of strength and the vibrancy of a young person on the verge of embarking on her journey into adulthood.
While nothing exists in isolation, the photo set into motion a series of emotional turmoil. She was 15 years old when that photo started circulating; the cruelty she received would have been too much for an adult to endure, let alone a child. Her words continue to haunt me: “Mom, I’m too young to have all these emotions, I just want my friends and my life back.” “Mom, I feel like I am waking each day into a nightmare.” While trying to get her the help she required, I lost my daughter. She was never the same person again but she kept trying. She tried to defend herself constantly.
In all honesty, I was crumbling right alongside of her, seeking some sort of resolve to move forward. She never understood how someone could be so cruel. What could she have possibly done so wrong for someone to share that photo with others? She could not comprehend that and neither could I. What would be the motive other than to harm Rehtaeh on a very deep level by ruining her reputation? A community she once bragged about became one that she feared. Fear of being ridiculed. You may say she was too sensitive, but, you see, that was always her strength. Rehtaeh’s strength was always that she CARED deeply and in the end her loving nature became engulfed in a tunnel of self-doubt and lack of worth.
I know that Rehtaeh did nothing to deserve that type of treatment. I know she was not cruel or mean to you [name removed]. You probably knew nothing about her whatsoever. Did you know she loved to read, would drop everything to help an animal or friend in need? That she was bright and funny? Did you know she had two little sisters that she adored? Did you know that the day she was born she changed my life for the better? After she was born I spent the next seven years in university and she was my driving force. No, you would not know these things because you never took the time to view her as a person.
That night Rehtaeh was viewed as an object, and instead of helping her you posed for a photo and shared it with others.
She didn’t get to see any of those goals listed and she never will.
I’m not going to go on about all the struggles I now have to endure just to make it through the day. I will say that I always believed Rehtaeh would make an imprint on this world. I just never imagined it would be at such a young age and it would cost her life. Our family lost a huge part of us but so did society in general, and in our loss we gained insight, wisdom and direction. A spotlight has been cast on the distribution of photos without consent and my only hope is that others will continue to learn from our tragedy.
Leah Parsons is one of the bravest and strongest women we have ever known. She vows she will continue to spread the message her daughter wanted to send. R.I.S.E. & Stand vows to be right there with her helping every step of the way.
There needs to be strong punishment for rape. Everywhere! No matter what age you are. There needs to be strong laws against cyber-harassment. Social networks need to step it up and be of better help. We have a long way to go but we will be successful. In the name of Rehtaeh Parsons we will fight and for her beautiful mother Leah Parsons and every other child with similar experiences.
R.I.S.E. & Stand is beyond proud to name Leah Parsons Amazing Person of the Week.