Last week, I published a blog post about Rehtaeh Parsons, the Cole Harbour girl who committed suicide following an alleged sexual assault and the subsequent bullying that followed. (see post below)
Today I received an interesting comment from someone with the handle TruthSeeker. It invites a different perspective. While I disagree with most of what the poster has to say, I do agree that we can’t start a witch-hunt. We can pressure our lawmakers and politicians to pursue a very difficult case, but we shouldn’t be taking the law into our own hands.
Kindness nurtures kindness; hate nurtures hate. And right now, there is a lot of hate floating around out there. Perhaps instead of ranting and raving about how could such a thing happen and kids today and how this wouldn’t have happened in MY day (yeah, it did…it just didn’t get spread all over the internet) we could try working on our own little circles – be kind to ourselves, each other. I want justice to be served, but hate isn’t going to get us there.
I invite you to read what TruthSeeker has to say, along with my follow-up comments, and let me know what YOU think. I understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty, but I have a very hard time believing that Rehtaeh Parsons was able to give informed consent to four of her male classmates so that they could have sex with her, photograph the act, and then send the picture around to their peers. Call me crazy, but something about that story doesn’t ring true for me.
p.s. I have been advised by a lawyer-friend that I don’t understand the ins-and-outs of the law very well. Which makes sense seeing as I have an English degree, not a law degree. Since he’s much smarter than me in all things legal, here’s what he had to say: Regrettably the law is not as cut and dry as we would like it to be. Law is an absolute premise (statutes saying you can’t do this or that), justice is the contextual premise. Your commentator is correct. We cannot presume guilt because of age, alcohol, the numbers involved. Just because it looks criminally icky (and it does look very icky) does not mean when the evidence is reviewed, or heard that it would qualify as a breach of the law.
4 thoughts on “Rehtaeh Parsons – Do her alleged “rapists” deserve our open hearts and minds?”
It may or may not be a breach of the law….BUT (notice that’s a big but) society has to take a stand against this kind f behavior. We must be outraged. We must not condone or do anything to encourage. This kind of behavior is devastating…it is humiliating…it is demeaning to girls/women…it MUST be stopped.
Yes, yes, yes. We must somehow let these boys know that their behaviour was/is intolerable, even if it is not proven that they broke the law. As Barbara Coloroso said, “Just because it’s not wrong, doesn’t make it right.”
I feel compelled to articulate in writing my reflections on consent, dignity, and the divergent moral and legal viewpoints and implications that arise from sexual activity between adults and involving minors . We need to feel safe in the world; otherwise we would never leave our house, or allow our children to go on a play date, sleep at a friends house, ride a bus, attend school, go to church camp, or attend a party with friends. We need to believe we can easily identify good people and avoid bad people. We know what places and people are safe, and believe we can predict human behaviour with such precision that we can protect those we love from being harmed or from harming others. When this utopia is breached, it is as a result of aberrant, and extraordinary circumstances and activities that could rarely be predicted much less avoided. If it could have been avoided, inevitably the person harmed must have done something wrong to place themselves at risk.
We need to believe when these things happen to someone else, blame is swiftly assigned, and accountability accepted or imposed, so we can restore order to our community, legal and political system. This belief system is what allows us to leave our house but it does not afford us any real safety, or humanity. Nor does it instill in our citizens a collective responsibility to acknowledge we are systemically failing our society when it comes to promoting healthy sexual integrity and the protection of boys, girls, men and women whose physical and emotional person has been exploited, and used for the sexual gratification, profit or amusement of others. Victims of sexual exploitation and assault often serve a life sentence of fear, shame, and self loathing, and can turn to self abuse or the abuse of others. Those who have been accused of sexual assault, may identify a range of factors that could mitigate against or aggravate the level of legal culpability for their actions. There are few services available to sex offenders, and the stigma associated with sexual assault often results in the alienation and isolation rather than self awareness, rehabilitation and integration. We lack empathy. Rationalization and minimizing bad behaviour rather than seeking to understand it, and the impact it has on others serves to expand the divide. We need to narrow the gap that separates us, before we can hope to address the fallout from harmful sexual interactions resulting from illegal activity or simply bad actions and poor choices influenced by capacity, power imbalance, self esteem, gender stereotypes, peer pressure and intoxicants. The end result is that people are hurt, sometimes irreparably, when we fail to model, teach, learn and accept healthy sexual integrity needs to exceed the limits of what is legal to include what is safe, respectful and pleasurable for all participants.
Often there is no legal remedy for activities that are reprehensible, degrading and dehumanizing. This lack of accountability, reinforces that such activities can be acceptable and it blurs the line between what is right and what is legal. I accept that not all sexual encounters occur in loving monogamous relationships. This is my utopia, and one that I will promote within my family, but I accept it is not a compass that needs to be followed and that all individuals are free to chart their own sexual morality so long as they do not break the law. I do believe in all our interactions including sexual, we should seek to avoid harm and promote civility, compassion, and decency.
Unfortunately, sexual assault is common place. People are neither good or bad; all people have the capacity to do good things or bad things, and bad things can happen in safe places like a school, a church, a friends party or your own home. I am not an arm chair expert but I am a citizen of this country, and as a result I am compelled to know the law as relates to my actions and will be assumed to know it. Legally you can never have sex with someone who does not consent to having sex. With the exception of legal marriage, the age of consent is 16, and 18 for those activities involving exploitation such as pornography and prostitution. An adult or person in authority, cannot have sex with someone under the age of 16 regardless of age gap or consent. Minors can participate in sexual activity between themselves in limited circumstances; a 14 or 15 year can have sex with someone less than five years older; a 12 or 13 with some less than 2 years older. Taking and distributing a sexual or sexual act photograph of someone under the age of 18 is illegal. Someone who is intoxicated to the point of incapacity cannot consent, and the accused person’s self intoxication is not a defence to sexual assault. Educate and inform yourself by reviewing the Department of Justice website. All these limits have evolved in response to the reality that these things happen so often, Parliament saw the need to codify a response that you cannot do these things to another human being and citizen of this country. This is the minimum standard we are required to meet legally. Morally, I think we can and should strive to exceed that standard as the foundation needed for healthy sexual integrity will reduce harm and promote the well being of our society in general.
Thank you, Myrna, for your intelligent, well-thought out, unbiased response to this situation.