Rehtaeh Parsons Rape Case: Identity Of Alleged Rapists Potentially Exposed By Facebook Group

As the tragic suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, after the viral spread of photos of her sexual assault, has raised international outcry to identify and bring perpetrators to justice, friends and family of her alleged assailants may accidentally be doing the legwork for law enforcement.

Think Progress reports that a Facebook group created to support those accused in the Rehtaeh Parsons case called "Speak the Truth" appears to have posted information which can be used to identify assailants. The Facebook page has been removed amidst rumors that the pages contained information that could help authorities identify the perpetrators. 

On the Facebook page, friends and family allegedly posted messages of support for those involved in the case — making claims that what happened was "consensual." The group is said to have reached at least 130 members before being shut down on Monday afternoon when the group's page monitor posted, "sorry guys but I'm taking down the support group because the police have asked that it be removed due to the fact this is 'cause names to get leaked out and spread around.'"

Facebook and other forms of social media have been an important aspect of Rehtaeh's story so far. Just as viral sharing of images of the attack are said to have caused inconceivable pain and suffering to the young girl after her alleged assault, Facebook has been used to spread the word about bullying and rape and Retaeh's family has used the site to commemorate Rehtaeh's memory. While hacktivist group "Anonymous" has led efforts to reopen the case and help identify the victims alongside widespread support for their #OpJustice4Rehtaeh cause, emerging "counter-protests" of supporters for alleged assailants may actually be helping push forward the cause for justice, albeit inadvertently.

On Sunday, dozens of people, including Rehateh's mother, demonstrated outside of Halifax police headquarters. As such protests emerged, counter-protesters who appear to likely be affiliated with the removed Facebook group waved signs in the streets of Halifax (images of which are documented in a Canadian blog) raising claims such as: "There are 2 sides," "Speak the truth," and "Support 4 the boys."

Support for the defendants in this case seems eerily reminiscent of media coverage of the "promising futures" of the young male defendants in the Steubenville rape case. Friends and families of the young men whose futures are at stake in this case are clearly rallying around their loved ones to defend them against potential punishment in a case that only recently gained renewed steam. But their support must face the discerning view of the ongoing push for justice. Canada's CBC News reports that, while police confirmed they spoke to the "Speak the Truth" Facebook monitor and suggested the page be removed in the face of ongoing investigation, they did not demand the page be shut it down.

One supporter of the boys defended the "Speak the Truth" Facebook page by insisting, "One thing that came out of this support group, the boys can actually see who would be there for them, and that's all of us ..." But, if guilty, such efforts may not only prove futile, but could have perverse impact by revealing more information than intended. The case underlines the myriad benefits and drawbacks of social media, which, the hope remains, will ultimately be harnessed for real justice in this case. 

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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