Some justice in Rehtaeh Parsons case


There is no justice in this universe but what happens right here, on this planet, when there are repercussions for transgressions against one another. Sometimes, though, you have to settle for what you get.

Trigger warning for sexual assault and bullying of a sexual assault victim.

Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide after having been sexually assaulted at the age of 15 by four boys, then enduring two years of harassment and bullying that included a photograph of the assault. The RCMP couldn’t do anything because they claimed there was no evidence to go on. Some of the more morally inclined members of Anonymous gave the police some evidence, though, using the EXIF data on the (digital) photograph, and two of the suspects have been arrested on charges of making and distributing child pornography.

Police said the evidence did not support sexual assault charges against the two.

They are due in youth court on Aug. 15. They cannot be identified because they were minors at the time of the alleged offences.

Police arrested the pair at 8 a.m. AT at their respective homes following an investigation by the RCMP/Halifax Regional Police Criminal Investigation Division.

According to Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, four boys sexually assaulted her daughter when she was 15. The Cole Harbour, N.S., teen was then said to have been mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a photo of the attack was circulated at school and on social media.

Well, it’s pretty obvious why the evidence didn’t support sexual assault charges, without my having ever seen the picture — they were likely pictures of the aftermath of the assault and probably didn’t include proof of what had just transpired. So even though there was ample evidence that she’d been assaulted, the evidence doesn’t apparently show anything about who did it.

Here’s the thing, folks: you’re grossly unlikely to ever have enough evidence to convict someone for a rape or sexual assault, much less mere sexual harassment. The standards of evidence for putting someone away for these illegal acts is very high, and the presumption of innocence wins out almost every time. This is generally a good thing that our courts try to only punish the demonstrably guilty, regardless of how successful it ever is and how the system can be gamed by individuals with a mind to do it. The down side of it, though, is that the only justice that a rapist will likely ever see will not be for the rape, but for catching them on other indiscretions.

With regard to the current conversation about who’s trustworthy in this community and who isn’t, don’t expect anyone “named” to experience any sorts of repercussions outside of people distrusting them from now on. While that’s a step forward, it’s certainly no perfect justice.

I can see why, in such a setup, the idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing god is comforting — that someone could do incredibly heinous things and get away with them, cover them up, or even continue to victimize their original targets with impunity, is saddening, and a damning indictment of our species.

Comments

  1. Apparently Not Erin says

    I’m still thrilled that they’ve been charged with something. I hope they won’t be tried as minors with their records sealed.

    At least child pornography charges have ramifications that are far reaching. They’ll not be allowed to work with children so that rules out teaching, running Scout groups, working at the Y or with 4H if they’re so inclined. I can imagine most churches wouldn’t allow them to be involved with ministry if that’s their thing. It would probably also ruin scholarships and spots on university or college teams. If they can’t get them on the actual assault (which would not be considered child molestation due to their ages), this is a fitting charge…if it sticks. I truly hope it does.

    I want them to be tried as adults. I want their names released at some point (though I don’t want any siblings they have punished along with them). I want them used as an example for others so that kids can learn that their acts of youthful stupidity do have repercussions, that while ruining someone’s life they’re actually ruining their own life along with it and that they can get caught. I want parents to learn that there’s a problem and that they’re contributing to it by not teaching their children to respect others.

    I’ve already shown this article to my 11-year-old and told him what the boys had done. We’ve discussed what ended up happening to Rehtaeh, and what could happen to him if he does something like those boys did. We also discussed what he should do if someone shows him inappropriate pictures of classmates. There is no reason for parents to let behaviour like this to slide. Instead, they need to make their behavioural expectations clear: this is never acceptable.

  2. machintelligence says

    Well, they did manage to jail Al Capone — even if it was only on tax evasion charges.
    We also now have the setup for the “prisoner’s dilemma” game, only in real life this time. Offer the two of them (independently, of course) a reduced sentence for the first one to testify against all of the others and see what happens.

  3. davidjanes says

    Offer the two of them (independently, of course) a reduced sentence for the first one to testify against all of the others and see what happens.

    The one who talks gets a reduced sentence and then a good lawyer destroys his credibility on the stand for the quid pro quo and the other guy walks? The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a theoretical construct that oversimplifies the real world. In real life the conviction that is the massive penalty that should inspire defection is far from a sure thing, even if the other person fingers you.

  4. says

    Here’s the thing, folks: you’re grossly unlikely to ever have enough evidence to convict someone for a rape or sexual assault, much less mere sexual harassment. The standards of evidence for putting someone away for these illegal acts is very high, and the presumption of innocence wins out almost every time. This is generally a good thing that our courts try to only punish the demonstrably guilty, regardless of how successful it ever is and how the system can be gamed by individuals with a mind to do it. The down side of it, though, is that the only justice that a rapist will likely ever see will not be for the rape, but for catching them on other indiscretions.

    With regard to the current conversation about who’s trustworthy in this community and who isn’t, don’t expect anyone “named” to experience any sorts of repercussions outside of people distrusting them from now on. While that’s a step forward, it’s certainly no perfect justice.

    After all the latest naming and accusations that went on, I have to admit I came to this same kind of sad conclusion.

    After people I looked up to as “atheist heroes” were named I did a lot of the rationalization: Well that isn’t really harassment, what evidence is there for this, etc.

    I realized a little later that I was unfairly rationalizing away accusations, I was effectively dismissing claims because I was more familiar with the accused rather than the accuser and that’s a fucking terrible thing to do in cases like this.

    Conversely we have the presumption of innocence, which I think in general is a good thing that we shouldn’t abandon, but when you apply it to cases like this we get the situation you describe. There will almost never really be any solid evidence of this kind of thing to act on, and the presumption of innocence can be used by harassers (if they’re consciously looking to harass) to abuse the system in such a way to avoid repercussions.

    So the minute we assume a neutral stance and go with the presumption of innocence, we’re favoring the attacker (if the attacker did in fact do the deed).

    This makes it harder for people to come forward, and it seems the “revelations” that are coming out along with the back-channel discussion of “who to avoid” is all that is really available to any victims – even in the case where everything they say is true!

    That’s…terrible. I’m not sure what could be done to fix the issue.

  5. B-Lar says

    Actually, I think that its a good thing that this is being handled by the court of public opinion.

    In the case of rape and sexual assault its very hard to meet the standards of evidence required for a legal conviction, but what is happening now with Shermer, Kruass, et al looks a lot like the kind of shaming that can have a positve impact on future behaviour without the threat of incarceration.

    Recently I have been reading Osho, and he makes some interesting comments about how having a police force and legal system detracts from justice because it takes the responsibility for law enforcement out of the hands of the individual. Regular people are led to believe that only the police can fix the problem, and this leads to the public not concerning themselves about what a just society would look like.

    I’m certainly not advocating the dissolution of the police, and I certainly recognise the many problems with vigilantism. However, I feel like as we get more connected online, and those disgusting societal elements that we can ignore in meatspace are suddenly right there, unignorable, it puts the reins back in the hand of the individual. I think we are starting to see that the formal complaint doesn’t work, and are testing out new and different ways to clean up our online communities.

    Freedom through responsibility, not from responsibility.

  6. ischemgeek says

    I won’t call it justice until those that did it to her are convicted, the kids who helped with the harassment of her are likewise charged, the police who refused to open an investigation are at the very least reprimanded if not suspended, and the relevant teachers and administrators of the schools that refused to help her are fired.

    The boys were not the only ones who behaved badly here. They were the worst by far, but the kids who harassed her, the cops who slut-shamed her, the teachers and administrators who shrugged their shoulders and refused to do anything? They played a huge role, too.

    I speak from experience when I say that being victimized is bad, being shamed for your victimization is worse, and being blamed for your victimization and how you’re being shamed is worst of all. No, the cops, teachers and administrators didn’t rape or harass her, but the sure as fuck didn’t help her after she was raped and while she was harassed, and that is part of their damned jobs. We know for certain the cops minimized what happened and told her in effect to grow up about it, and given my experience with somewhat similar situations (I was the school outcast all through school growing up – you remember that kid that kids would be made fun of if they were seen with? That was me), I would not be at all surprised if the teachers victim-blamed her as well. “Oh, you’re just too sensitive.” “Just ignore them, they’ll go away if you ignore them.” “You need a thicker skin.” “Fight back, stand up for yourself.” “Nobody can make you feel bad without your permission.” “You’re letting them get to you. You need to not let them get to you.” etc.

    Because that’s what they did to me. Punishing me for “tattling” until I wouldn’t report anything through official channels because I knew I would be the one with a mark on my school record when all was said and done and blaming me for my harassment was easier than actually doing anything about it, so that’s what they did. I would not at all be surprised if that played a big part of why Rehtaeh felt so hopeless and desperate that she committed suicide. I literally lost track of the times the lack of support from authority figures I was receiving nearly drove me to it, and I didn’t have a recent rape that was being trivialized and blamed on me to cope with on top of the victimization.

    I went to school in NS. Not in that region, but in the province. Let me tell you, based on my experience, that victim-blaming, brush-it-under-the-rug attitude is systemic, at least up to the school board level and I would not be surprised if it goes higher than that. The province makes a lot of nice word-sounds about bullying every five years or so when another scandal like this comes to light, but all that results is even stricter punishments to the victims – because if everyone’s too scared to report, they can say, “We’ve received no reports of bullying this year! We are awesomes!”

    The province is trying to paint it as an isolated incident, and they’re completely full of shit. It’s not. It’s the status quo of how they deal with bullying and harassment, and that’s why I won’t be happy until I see the cops and the school employees see some real fucking consequences for their own misconduct here. They need to make real consequences to brushing shit like this under the rug happen, else we will only see more Rehtaehs in the future.

  7. says

    “I can see why, in such a setup, the idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing god is comforting — that someone could do incredibly heinous things and get away with them, cover them up, or even continue to victimize their original targets with impunity, is saddening, and a damning indictment of our species.”

    The evidence used against these dregs was provided by Anonymous. What a pity we have to rely on them as a god substitute.

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