By Kathi Bliss
I read a story this week about a 17-year-old girl in Canada whose family had to go through the awful decision-making process of turning off her life support after three days, when she was hospitalized after attempting to hang herself in her family’s home.
If those circumstances weren’t bone-chilling enough, the suicide attempt came after more than a year of what her mother has called almost constant torment, bullying and harassment by her schoolmates after she was the victim of a rape. It seems her attackers thought it would be a good idea to gang up on her in the bathroom at another friend’s home. Then, they thought it was a good idea to take photos of the attack on their mobile phones, and to share those photos with their community.
To add insult to injury, some of her classmates thought it would be fun, having received the photos, to pass those photos along to other friends. Or to call her a slut. Or to ask her if she wanted to have sex with them, too.
The story sounds nightmarishly similar to the story from Steubenville, Ohio, when so much of the community looked the other way while a girl was victimized and photographed by her rapists at a party, and then eventually humiliated by her classmates.
And it makes me wonder what kind of children people are raising, these days.
The headline for the story on the Canadian case asked, “Who failed Rehteah Parsons?” The answer to that question is as clear as it is complicated. Put simply… everyone failed that poor girl. Her attackers. Her so-called friends. Her classmates. Her community. Everyone.
Let’s start this conversation by acknowledging one simple and absolute truth: No high school student in the world, anywhere, ever, would have sexual contact with multiple partners and allow herself to be photographed during the activity unless she was either being coerced in some way, or being forced.
So, kids, if one of your friends sends you a picture of this happening, know that you are not witnessing a joke. You are not witnessing a prank. You are witnessing an attack. You are witnessing a crime, and if you do not report it to the authorities immediately, then you are guilty of helping to cover up a crime.
The second simple and absolute fact is that we do not need to share every moment of our personal lives via text, Twitter or Facebook. And we certainly do not need to share other people’s personal lives via those venues. It’s the Golden Rule, plain and simple. If you don’t want someone sharing that picture or video of you, then there is no need to share it with your friends. If you choose to share that photo or video with anyone other than the authorities, that decision makes you not a whole lot better than the people that perpetrated the attack or took the pictures in the first place.
Guys… “No” still means “no.” Touching a girl when she does not want to be touched, or when she’s too intoxicated to say “no” clearly, does not make you a stud. It does not make you a man. It makes you a coward and a criminal.
Girls… No one has a right to touch you without your permission. No one. I don’t care how cool they are, or how popular they are, or what their reputation is. Your body is your own, and having your body violated is not something that you should “expect,” or “tolerate.” It’s a crime, and it’s something you should report straight-away. Being attacked in that way does not make YOU bad or immoral. It proves that whoever attacked you is bad and immoral.
Guys AND girls… A rape victim is not a “slut.” She is not a “whore.” She is the victim of a crime. She – or he – deserves your compassion, your support and your understanding, not your scorn. Not your teasing. Not your bullying. All you are doing, when you bully a rape victim, is perpetrating yet another assault. That’s not something to laugh at or be proud of. It is a mark you should bear with shame.
Parents… Please make sure your kids know this stuff. The Stuebenville rape shocked the nation because the community was so complicit. People in that community genuinely defended those attackers, because they believed that the attackers genuinely didn’t know they had done anything wrong. They didn’t think that the kids sharing those photos and videos over the Internet didn’t know that they had done anything wrong
I’m stepping up right here, right now, and begging you all to make sure that your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren, friends and babysitting charges know, in absolute certainty, that it IS wrong. It is ABSOLUTELY wrong.
I wish that the authorities would release the name of EVERY SINGLE TEEN in Steubenville who saw what was happening to the girl there, or who saw and shared the photos afterward; I wish they would give us the names of everyone who shared the photos of Rehteah Parsons being attacked. Those people, to my mind, are as worthy of our distrust, disappointment and disgust as the boys who made the headlines for assaulting the girls in the first place. And they deserve the same level of recognition.
Rape is an uncomfortable subject. No one wants to talk about it, and because it remains taboo, it remains misunderstood, under-reported and under-prosecuted. Rapists get away with it, because no one wants to talk about it. It’s time to talk about it. It’s time to scream from the rooftops about it, and never shut up. It’s time to say, “We will not tolerate this behavior. We will not support it, and we will not turn a blind eye. We will support rape survivors, and not scorn them. And we will greet rapists with the disgust that they have so rightly earned.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Judge Bonn said, in Commissioners’ Court on Monday, that he hates that we have to read proclamations for these things; he hates that we live in a society where we NEED to have “Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month,” because it’s sad that we live in a society where such “months” must exist. I agree with him. It is sad that we live in a society where such things exist.
But we DO live in that society. And as long as we do, the only thing we can do is make sure that Lockhart is not the next Stuebenville, Ohio, or one of our girls is not the next Rehteah Parsons.
We have to make sure that we don’t fail our kids, and that they don’t fail each other.
The Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has a 24-hour Help Line available at (800) 700-4292. If you believe you need to report a crime, contact the Lockhart Police Department at (512) 398-4401, or the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department at (512) 398-6777, or dial 9-1-1.