Like the rest of the world, the folks in my small Canadian community watched the court proceedings of the two boys charged with raping a classmate in Steubenville, Ohio with shocked dismay and horror. It was easy to look at those boys in Steubenville and say, “Oh, they’re different from us. They were small town football heroes, protected by their community.”
“That is so awful,” we said.
“Those kids are being raised with absolutely no morals or values,” many said smugly.
“I am so glad I am not raising kids in the states,” some said. “Thank God those things don’t happen here.”
Then today’s paper arrived and smacked that smug look right off our faces.
The headline screamed, “Who failed Rehtaeh Parsons?”
Rehtaeh Parsons was a 17-year-old girl from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
On Sunday night, Rehtaeh died after trying to commit suicide earlier that week.
A year and half ago, she had been raped by four boys. The rape was photographed and shared on the internet. Rehtaeh was shunned by her classmates and eventually changed schools.
Even after Rehtaeh switched schools the bullying continued. She received texts from boys asking her if she wanted to have sex and texts from girls calling her a slut.
Rehtaeh told her parents what happened a few days after the rape occurred. They immediately went to the police. Rehtaeh’s mother said the investigation took over a year and the boys themselves weren’t interviewed until long after the rape occurred. After a year of investigating, the RCMP said there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.
Could someone please tell me what the hell is going on???
What possesses a teenage boy to rape his classmate while his friends look on and join in like it’s some sort of bizarre drinking game?
What possesses a child (and I say “child” because these kids were children) to take a picture of this crime and post it on the internet for the world to see?
What possesses a teenage girl to send hateful text messages to someone who has already been victimized many times over instead of helping her?
Where was the empathy? Where was the sympathy? Where was the compassion?
Where were the adults???
It sounds like Rehtaeh’s parents were doing everything they could to help their daughter. What about the parents of the other children?
Don’t tell me people didn’t know. Cole Harbour is a small community. Everyone knew.
What did the parents of these boys do when they were told what their children had ‘allegedly’ done? There was photographic evidence for godsake! Did these boys go to counseling? What did their parents say or do to let their children know that what they did was wrong?
Did Mom and Dad stick their heads in the sand and say, “Not my boy. I know, I know. You have a picture of him doing this awful thing but it must have been her fault. My boy wouldn’t do that.”
And what about the parents of the kids who tormented Rehtaeh on Facebook and through text messages? Did they take away their children’s computers? Their phones? Were these children counseled on how their actions made another human being feel?
The scariest thing about all of this is that these kids who raped, bullied, and tortured Rehtaeh didn’t think of her as a human being. They dehumanized her, so that they could treat her the way they did. This is how bullying happens. It’s how genocide starts. It’s how the Holocaust occurred. If you don’t think someone is a person, worthy of your respect, then you don’t care what happens to them.
In her book “Just because it’s not wrong, doesn’t make it right” parenting expert, Barbara Coloroso talks about how we need to be raising compassionate, caring, empathetic children.
I know there are no quick fixes or easy answers. Nor is it possible to pour into our children all we have learned. Their learning must come from the inside out. They need opportunities to care and to share and to do. They need to be accountable for what they do or fail to do. They also need opportunities to reflect on moral issues, work through ethical dilemmas, and determine for themselves what kind of people they would like to become.
For godsake people. A child is dead. How many more children have to die before we start doing our jobs?