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Let's do everything we can to make sure this doesn't become a trend, okay? Really do something, I mean. Two teenage girls have killed themselves in recent months after pictures of them being raped or sexually assaulted circulated among their classmates and online. In Canada, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was taken off life support this week after trying to hang herself. Police never pressed charges in her alleged gang rape, which occurred when she was 15.
"Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun," her mother wrote. "All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl."
Canadian authorities are reopening the investigation, which is pretty much the definition of too little, too late. Meanwhile, in San Jose, California, three 16-year-old boys have been arrested in the September 2012 sexual assault of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who committed suicide eight days later. The boys face felony and misdemeanor charges.
"The family has been trying to understand why their loving daughter would have taken her life at such a young age and to make sure that those responsible would be held accountable," said family attorney Robert Allard.
"After an extensive investigation that we have conducted on behalf of the family, there is no doubt in our minds that the victim, then only 15 years old, was savagely assaulted by her fellow high school students while she lay on a bed completely unconscious," said Allen.
Recently, of course, two teenage boys were convicted of a similar rape with photos in Steubenville, Ohio.
There's nothing particularly new about the rapes themselves. What's new is that there are pictures and videos, which are immediately circulated. Those mean evidence—though that doesn't always mean arrests, as in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons—but they also mean that victims face increased bullying, that they don't have to worry only about running into their rapists in the hallways at school, but about every one of their classmates who has seen the pictures and decided that the way to respond is not by speaking out against rape or quietly supporting the victim but by joining a pack of bullies in attempting to shame and humiliate her. And there's no redemptive ending—justice in Steubenville is good, but it doesn't undo what that girl went through; Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott are dead. What we have is a long, grueling fight to make this less common. We probably can't eliminate rape. We probably can't make teenagers not be assholes. But we can fight to change the culture so that everyone knows rape is something for the rapist, not the victim, to be ashamed of. We can push the justice system to act swiftly so that potential rapists don't figure they'll get away with it. It's not easy and it's not enough, but it would be something. And then maybe the next Rehtaeh or Audrie wouldn't feel quite so isolated and hopeless.
Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM PDT.