This past Sunday, yet another young woman was claimed by rape culture.
A little over a year ago, 15-year-old Canadian Rehtaeh Parsons accompanied her friend to a party. After she arrived, Parsons was gang-raped by four boys, one of which took a picture of the incident. A few days later, the picture was widely circulated around the school and community.
Parsons became a pariah. Her family only found out about the gang-rape after the picture had spread, and by then, it was too late for a rape kit to check for bodily fluids. They filed a police report, but meanwhile, Parsons was inundated by social media insults and harassment, both from strangers and from those she considered friends. Random boys even started texting her, asking for sex. The one word repeated throughout the texts and messages and gossip was “slut.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Parsons’ situation is almost identical to that of the Steubenville rape case that took the media by storm a few weeks ago. Except this story has a different ending.
The Parsons family moved to another town to escape the torment that Rehtaeh constantly faced. Still, the online harassment did not stop, and the young girl became depressed. In March, she admitted herself to a hospital for suicidal thoughts, and on Thursday, she attempted suicide. The attempt was not successful, but Parsons was on life support until Sunday, when her family decided to take her off.
Meanwhile, the police had conducted a yearlong investigation into the crime and eventually told the family that they could not press charges against the four boys. It had become a case of “he said, she said,” they told Rehtaeh’s distraught mother. But at least the family could know that the boys “realized what they did was wrong.”
Somehow, that doesn’t seem like enough.
It’s not enough, by any means, to make up for the crime of violating another human being, not just once, but four separate times by four separate guys. It most certainly is not enough to make up for taking a picture of the heinous crime and distributing it to an entire school. But it doesn’t even begin to cover the callous attitude our society has developed towards victims of rape.
This is rape culture.
Rape culture can begin in a million ways. It begins when our society does not address issues of consent or rape in our children’s education. It begins with boys that don’t see what’s wrong with violating an inebriated girl and with girls that keep pressing “send” when they see a picture of the crime. It begins with children that think calling someone a “slut” means they were asking for it and with parents that don’t correct that reasoning. It begins when an entire community ostracizes a family so severely that they see no option but to relocate their entire lives.
But rape culture ends in only one way. It ends with the desecration and devaluation of the victim, who did nothing to provoke the attack but lost everything because of it. And in this case, rape culture ended with Rehtaeh Parsons' death.
How many more Rehtaeh Parsons will we have to bear witness to before our society decides that it is finally time to change rape culture? How many Rehtaeh Parsons are enough?