Over the last several weeks, we as Nova Scotians have been angry, upset and horrified over the death of Rehtaeh Parsons. The death of anyone is tragic event, but in the case of Rehtaeh it that much more than that because of her relatively young age and the circumstances that lead up to her death. Rehtaeh could have been anyone’s daughter and anyone’s friend. Rehtaeh was the step-daughter of my older brother, so for me it hits much very close to home.
I have given it much thought and reflection since Rehtaeh’s death. I looked back to when Amanda Todd took her own life last fall. I see exchanges online, and in person between other youths and between adults that reinforce negative behaviours. I have read media reports that cloud minds and help to reinforce stereotypes—to contribute to stigma. Across the last few weeks, one thing that I find troubling is that in many media reports and online comments was that we have focused in on the bullying factor that lead to Rehteah’s death. The media and people online questioned the validity of Rehtaeh’s claim of sexual assault. I feel that this is part of the problem. Even in 2013, we as a society shy away from discussions of sexual assault we encourage and facilitate shame around it. Furthermore across various social media circles there was a question of whether or not Rehtaeh was actually raped. That attitude is infuriating and whether or not the legal system decided if there is adequate evidence—we must never question a victim’s claim of rape. While, we do need to deal with the realities in our society around how we treat women, how we normalize violence – in particular sexualized violence.
While, we are advanced in many ways in 2013, it is our social/cultural narratives that need to be updated. As a whole, we are still subscribing to views that are sex negative and based on outdated Victorian & Puritan value systems. Also, how we as a whole subjugate women and demoralize them needs to end. The patriarchal society that we live in needs to become a thing of the past and is archaic. As parents, educators and a community we need to help foster healthy examples of how we treat each other and how men treat women: with respect, equality and compassion. I applaud the provincial and federal governments looking at updating laws to incorporate aspects of the technologically advanced world we live in. However, I strongly feel that implementing revised laws will not be enough. We need to look at this issue holistically and deal with the root causes of this crisis. Bullying in some cases is but a symptom, and our governments must seriously look at the funds allocated for mental health, education, advocacy, and to non-profit groups that provide support to victims of sexual assault. As cited in a 2008 report, victims of sexual assault are suffering in silence with huge gaps in services provided in this province. So, while I support the work of officials to update laws in the hopes to better deal with bullying, I lament that the root causes will be swept under the rug and forgotten. Even in tragic cases, combating bullying is easy to sell as a ‘we must take action’ slogan. If we are to get serious about the crisis we face, as a society we must:
- Stop the stigma around rape
- Be role models for youth and for each other
- Speak up when we see others in trouble, and to speak out when we are victims of violence
- End the normalization of sexual violence by better education at home, school and work
- Lobby our governments to adequately fund Mental Health services
- Lobby our governments to adequately fund organizations that support victims of sexual assault and intimate partner abuse