Ending the rape culture that allows school-related gender-based violence...in Canada!
On April 4th 2013, Rehtaeh Parsons locked herself in her bathroom at home and hung herself. She was only 17 years old. Three days later, her heart-broken parents had to make the extremely difficult decision of taking her off life-support and let their angel go.
Leah Parsons is Rehtaeh's mom. In a Facebook page called “Angel Rehtaeh” set up in her daughter's memory, she writes: “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. This day changed the lives of our family forever.”
Following her rape, Rehtaeh had to change schools and suffered emotionally because she was shunned and harassed by her peers and her community for being the victim of a rape.
The four boys who raped her were never charged. The media coverage that followed Rehtaeh's death kept referring to the growing problem of bullying in schools. But, the real culprit in Rehtaeh's suicide is the rape culture we live in. This rape culture allowed four boys, not only to rape Rehtaeh with impunity but also to make a public joke of her rape. That a picture of a 15 year old girl who was sexually assaulted can be shared in a school setting is not only a frightening and disturbing thought, it's a very real problem. Its called school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and it is threatening the education of children, especially girls, in Canada and around the world.
In Plan Canada's 2012 report, “A girl's right to learn without fear”¹, SRGBV is defined as “acts of sexual, physical or psychological violence inflicted on children in and around schools because of stereotypes and roles or norms attributed to or expected of them because of their sex or gendered identity. It also refers to the ways in which experiences of and vulnerabilities to violence may be gendered.”
The Plan Canada report also notes: “In most societies, unequal power relations between adults and children, and the gender stereotypes and roles attributed to girls, leave schoolgirls especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, rape, coercion, exploitation, and discrimination from teachers, staff, and peers. Boys and girls who do not conform to dominant notions of heterosexual masculinity or femininity are also vulnerable to sexual violence and bullying.”
The report indicates that “[i]n Canada, nearly a quarter of Canadian girls, and at least 15 per cent of boys, have experienced sexual violence before they reach 16.”
As long as gender-based violence continues in schools, young girls run great risks when it comes to their education, their physical and mental health, and in instances like Rehtaeh's case, their lives. One of the recommendations made by The Working Group on Girls to stop gender-based violence is to “encourage programs that include raising the consciousness of boys and men to school and street sexual harassment and how they may escalate into domestic violence.” ²
To help put an end to these prevailing rape culture attitudes and to engage a wider public, a campaign called Draw the Line ( http://www.draw-the-line.ca) was launched in the province of Ontario, Canada. Draw the Line (DTL) is a sexual violence prevention campaign that wants to start a dialogue about sexual violence. The campaign also “challenges common myths about sexual violence and equips bystanders with information on how to intervene safely and effectively.”
May 21, 2013 is Draw the Line Day. It is meant to be a day to raise awareness about sexual violence in one's community. (Learn more about the day here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Draw-the-Line/434453903249330.)
Here are simple ideas to raise awareness about sexual violence:
-Get a group together to chalk DTL messages on the sidewalks!
-Distribute DTL postcards (http://www.draw-the-line.ca/show/your/line ) to pedestrians!
-Change your Facebook profile photo to start a dialogue!
Are you drawing the line on May 21? I am and I'm doing it in memory of Rehtaeh, the angel who “stood up for others, showed compassion to animals and people.” May she rest in peace and know that we will not let violence prevent another young angel from continuing her education and shining!
1- “A girl's right to learn without fear”, is a report published in 2012 by Plan Canada and the University of Toronto: https://plancanada.ca/document.doc?id=325
2-Recommendations from The Working Group on Girls: http://girlsrights.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Harassment-PDF.pdf