Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rehtaeh ! Steubenville ! Bystanders and their Parents equally to blame

When I read Leah Parson’s emotive description of the pain, and anguish which drove her daughter to suicide after persistent victimization by former friends and school mates and the failure of the Canadian judicial system to help her.
She wrote “The Person Rehtaeh once was all changed one dreaded night in November 2011. She went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral. Because the boys already had a “slut” story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT.”

The case was complicated in many ways; there was no way to prove rape as the compliant was registered a week later and the picture circulated online was of an obscene act, but did not show their faces. Her mother writes “Rehtaeh was suddenly shunned by almost everyone she knew, the harassment was so bad she had to move out of her own community to try to start anew in Halifax. The bullying continued, her friends were not supportive.”
Two of the perpetrators were caught and recently charged with child pornography for distributing a sexually implicit image of a child, the only charge that the police could legally raise.

To me, a young girl was being victimized by a large number of young people in a small community, over a period of time using social networks and isolation.  This case is similar to the Steubenville Rape case where a rape conviction was made against two juvenile footballers. Alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, lack of parental supervision, and an unconscious victim were the chief ingredients in this crime.
Social media was used extensively to tweet or post about the incident. Immediately after the crime, perpetrators bragged and shared obscene videos and picture online, denigrating the victim among friends and the local community.  During the trial, social media was used to intimidate, harass and threaten the victim; her supporters, bloggers, parents and others who supported the case.

During the trial by social media, these comments were witnessed and supported by a large number of passive bystanders. Knowingly or unknowingly, by not taking a stand and condemning the slander, they and their parents became active participants in support of the ongoing victimization. Their inactivity fuelled the victimization as the perpetrators thought they were on the winning side.  Most of the bystanders had the power to end the victimisation, there and then by a single comment. But none did.

Parents should educate their children not be party to rumours and gossip online. To fight for morally right causes. To be able to walk away or take a stand against bullies or other popular students who behave immorally. Only then, will be make cyber space safe for our children. It should be noted that social media was effectively and positively used to harness support for the victim, their families and bring about changes in law.

We can always ask ourselves some of the questions below:

1.    What role did the parents of Rehtaeh’s classmates and school mates who supported the bullying do? Did they advise their children against passing judgments and took part in the victimization?

2.    The boys who committed the offence, seemed least apologetic and in fact appear to aggressively prove their innocence. What drove them to brand and harass Rehtaeh? What role do their parents play in this entire incident? Passive  or Active?

3.    Should the law reform in line with the new age or simply try to apply old laws to the online world.

4.    Is parental supervision of their children moral conduct online lacking?

5.    Do children not understand the implication of sexting and that it is illegal?

6.    Do children not understand the implication of non consensual sexting?

7.    What role do social networks play in reducing use of their network for such victimization?
photo credit: renattovect via photopin cc

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