Killing them softly: How rape stories going viral is killing our kids

So, let’s talk about Retaeh Parsons, shall we?

Parsons, 17, died in the hospital on Sunday after attempting suicide a few days earlier. Why did Parsons try to end her life? Relentless, viral cyber-bullying (and real-world bullying) by her peers and the perpetrators of her sexual assault in 2011. According to reports, no matter where she went, the Nova Scotia teen couldn’t out-run the taunts and pressure to have sex as well as photos of the rape posted online and circulated, well, everywhere.

“She was never left alone. Her friends turned against her, people harassed her, boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking asking her to have sex with them since she had had sex with their friends. It just never stopped,” said Leah Parsons, Retaeh’s mother.

After more than a year investigating the allegations, police said they didn’t have enough to go on to press charges because, “they couldn’t prove who pressed the photo button on the phone.” (But presumably, if there are photos, you would be able to see who raped her. Yes?)

But let’s just set aside the gross inadequacies with the criminal justice system — whether in Canada or right here in America — because that’s a much longer post for another day. Let’s just focus on the really pressing issue here: What the hell is wrong with people that they would bully a rape survivor?!

Or, as Jezebel writes:

We don’t know why some teenagers are resilient enough to withstand intense bullying and some are not. But we do know that teenage girls are routinely shamed and punished for taking x-rated photos, even though studies show that boys are just as likely to snap dick pics and way more likely to share them around. Nevertheless, PSAs warn girls not to sext instead of telling recipients not to break their trust. It’s the exact same double standard that prompts policeman to tell women to avoid dressing like sluts instead of cracking down on rapists — or, as in this case, decide it’s too “complicated” to take action when there are photos of a drunk 15-year-old allegedly being raped circulating all over the internet because she chose to drink that vodka, right?

Unless we stop thinking that there are two different kinds of girls and women — those who drink and have sex and therefore kinda sorta maybe deserve to get raped/those who take topless photos of themselves and therefore kinda sorta maybe deserve to have them spread around, and those who don’t — nothing will change.

Or as Mommyish posted:

But to compound her pain, these little monsters also allegedly took pictures of her being raped and circulated them to her entire school. Just for rapey kicks. Somebody definitely failed to meet goal #1 in raising their sons — that being not raising rapists.

And not content to let this be just another story of a girl’s life ending after rape, folks have taken to twitter with the hashtag #RipRetaeh and the Occupy Steubenville twitter crowd is pouncing on this as, perhaps, another target for the Annonymous hacker collective and for online action to meet real-world justice, as it did for Jane Doe in Steubenville. There’s also a Change.org petition.

I can’t help but have empathy for Leah Parsons. Perhaps some belated justice will soothe her heart. As a mother myself, I’m not sure it would be enough. And this story, this on-going distopian meme of teenage sexual assault survivors facing brutal bullying while simultaneously enduring the ineptitude of a criminal justice system that has not kept pace with modern social media — or even educating their ranks on what constitutes sexual assault and how to be of service.

This is supposed to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but this is not the kind of awareness I want!

And I also keep flashing to the conversation we were having last week about Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and comprehensive sex education. I went on Ralston Reports last week and talked about Nevada Assembly Bill 230, which would expand current sex education curriculum and institute statewide standards for every county. (Some counties have no sex ed at all right now!) One of the things I have talked a lot about with people is the need for educating kids — of all genders and gender-identities — on what consent means. There were people — fully grown adults! — at that sex ed hearing last week who actually laughed at survivors of rape who were sharing their stories on public record to testify in favor of AB230.

There was also testimony from more than one survivor of sexual violence, including Nevada Women’s Lobby lobbyist Sara Wainright (my apologies if I misspelled your name), who shared her story of being in a relationship with a police officer who repeatedly sexually assaulted her.

“I didn’t know I was the victim of sexual violence because I didn’t know what that was,” Wainright said, her voice cracking.

And sadly, Wainright was not alone in sharing similar experiences in which survivors did not realize that the violence and trauma they were experiencing would be classified as rape or that there were laws to protect them, a sobering reminder of the prevalence of intimate partner violence as we enter Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It showed how vitally important it is for people to learn about consent.

If grown adults are chuckling in the audience at the testimony of sexual violence survivors, it’s not hard to see the roots of similarly themed cyber-bullying that results in some teens taking their lives. That part of my brain that stores my outrage is screaming: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

But I guess this is just another brick in the wall. Flores was threatened with physical violence following her testimony at that same hearing that she had an abortion at age 16. So why should I be surprised anymore that girls are getting ripped to shreds after being raped?

Remember when getting raped was the worst thing that could happen to you?

When did we cross over into a time when surviving rape is worse?

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