Let me know if you've heard this one before.
A teenage girl attends a party, drinks alcohol, and then is gang raped by four male classmates. The boys take photos of the assault and share them with their school, and the girl is then bullied relentlessly.
This happened to Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, but her story didn't end with her assailants being sentenced — at all. The police didn't think they had enough evidence to charge anyone of the crime, so for 2 years, Parsons was taunted with memories of that night, called a "slut," and blamed for something over which she had no control.
Last week, she hung herself. On Sunday, she passed away.
Parsons was 15 at the time of her rape and fell into a deep depression after the event that was never addressed. While an emergency help team was called when she told her parents about the assault a few days later, no one made sure she was taken care of past that point. The police were also briefed, but after a year of investigating the incident, they decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge any of the four named assailants. To them, it was a case of "he said, she said" and that the photographs of the rape were not a criminal issue — even though she was underage. They couldn't figure out who took the pictures, they said, so no one would be charged, even those who had photos of a naked 15-year-old girl being sexually assaulted in their possession.
Her family was forced to relocate from Cole Harbour to Halifax when the bullying got out of hand, but the pain that Parsons endured was getting unbearable. She checked herself into a hospital in March for psychiatric care, but attempted suicide on Thursday. On Sunday, she was taken off of life support.
"She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn't know started texting her and Facebooking her asking her to have sex with them," recalled Rehteah's mother, Leah Parsons, of the endless abuse. "It just never stopped."
The teenager's memorial page on Facebook is filled with condolences from around the world. One wonders how many are from friends, from people who could have helped her, or even from those who hurt her.
Leah Parsons' very first post on the page is the heart-wrenching tale of the events leading to her daughter's untimely death. Everything is there, from Parsons initially learning about the rape to the devastating conclusion to her little girl's life.
"The justice system failed her," she wrote. "Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl. Rehtaeh stood up for others, showed compassion to animals and people. She was an amazing artist. She made my life complete. When Rehtaeh was born I dedicated everything to her and promised her the world. Others in this world took that away from her."
Why do so many feel this incessant need to blame the victims of such awful assaults? Why do we defend the rapists, as if their lives are the ones who will truly be ruined by their actions? And most of all: Why don't we take these cases more seriously?
Rehteah Parsons shouldn't have been raped. It doesn't matter why she went to the party or why she was drinking alcohol. It matters that 4 boys came after her, raped her, and somehow got the entire school to harass her for the horrible act they committed. It matters that no one cared enough to try to help her until it was too late. It matters that none of the 4 rapists will do time for their crime.
Remember Steubenville? If we let this culture of victim-blaming and rapist-defending persist, if we have truly learned nothing, then history may repeat itself sooner than we are ready to face it.