Lately there’s been a spate of news items announcing laws against the distribution of images euphemistically referred to as ‘revenge porn’. If we’re being more truthful and describing them accurately, these are photos that have been taken – nearly always of women – in nude or semi-nude postures that all too often depict non-consensual sexual activity.
In the past it’s been nearly impossible to have such images removed from social media sites, and just about as difficult to prosecute the persons who have circulated these. Unfortunately, it’s too late for many who’ve been the victims of such postings, one of whom was Rehtaeh Parsons.
Not every book tells a beautiful story. Some tell hard ones. This is one of those.
As the title indicates, it’s a father’s telling – about the daughter he loved, a young woman who got caught up in the ugly sides of social media, who was unable to find solace or justice and who eventually gave up hope and killed herself.
It’s not an easy read, especially the parts where he spells out the kinds of cyberbullying and harassment his daughter endured, all too often in words from people she believed were her friends – words that delivered an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Even changing schools didn’t help, as Rae (as she was known by her family) found herself ‘followed’ by the postings which led in turn to threats of beatings from girls and lewd proposals from boys.
Maybe even harder to read are the chapters that recount the many instances where the police and other supposed social justice support systems failed her so badly. Whether it was a matter of police not following procedures correctly (procedures that perhaps weren’t always spelled out all that clearly) or simply a fact of cutbacks that resulted in a particularly helpful counsellor being laid off.
Particularly disappointing was Rehtaeh’s experience in a facility where she was supposed to be helped. It sounded more like a badly-run prison than a place for any kind of healing, and became the place where she started cutting herself – using physical pain as a substitute to numb the mental anguish she was experiencing.
But beyond the many horrors, it’s a story about the unconditional love a parent has for his child, one that recounts her talents and goodness by recounting memories of happy times – her accomplishments at school, a holiday in Mexico, the cozy intimacy of reading bedtime stories, and an image that later proves to be a haunting one: a front yard tire swing.
It isn’t fancy writing; it’s better than that. It’s from the heart, true-blue. And as her father recounts, it was only when news of Rae’s death went out that support poured in from across the continent and even further beyond. Canning reports on the fact that there are far too many cases that are similar to Rae’s. As he puts it, “Maybe she was just a part of a much larger culture that silences victims and supports victimizers.”
Because of Retaeh, at least some laws have changed – along with protocols now required for police investigations. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement has opened our eyes to some of the many inequities that exist in contemporary culture, we can only hope that attitudes excusing date rape and revenge porn with the platitude that ‘boys will be boys’ are being replaced, and that there will never need to be another young person who is driven into a personal hell that seems to leave no way out.
As I said, this isn’t an easy read, but it certainly is an important one.
Glen Canning is now an advocate for victims of sexual assault. He has spoken about Rehtaeh’s experience throughout Canada and the US.
Susan McClelland is an award-winning magazine journalist and author. Her writing has appeared in the Walrus, the Guardian, and the Sunday Times Magazine.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (May 18 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 177310148X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773101484
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