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Ending the rape culture that allows school-related gender-based violence...in Canada!

"Globally, between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, many in and around schools."

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

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Cartoon from the Halifax newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, depicts RCMP neglect and bias against women in what the police investigating the case concluded was a "he said, she said" situation and didn't press charges.

Comments

Khaiwana's picture

I don't know what to say

This is an extremely sad story. Tears fell from my eyes as i read it. I think, I should do something on DRAW THE LINE DAY.

Saving Angel's picture

Power to you!

Hi Nelly! I felt so good reading this to know that my fellow Canadians are standing up just as I am! Together we can battle this rape culture-culture of violence-lack of impunity. It's important that we all "draw the line" together to stop these acts from happening as we remind the people around us that these acts are all wrong and unacceptable.

Thank you for sharing this amazing event with us all here on World Pulse! I'm definitely going to be visiting the website to find out some more information on how I can help and join!

Much love & respect xoxoxo

LisaXi's picture

Speaking Up and Out for Rehtaeh

Wow!!

Thank you for bringing Rehtaeh Parsons story to light, and sharing it on this global platform. And thank you for raising the voice of this young girl who was violated in ways I'd hope no girl would ever have to experience.

I will check out all the links and info you posted- thanks for the resources.

Jan K Askin's picture

Even in the First World

Dear Nelly,

Your article so effectively demonstrates that gender-based discrimination/violence exists even in our so-called enlightened first world countries. The circumstances around the suicide you describe has occurred in the US a scandalous number of times.

Awareness can be the first step to solutions and lasting change. May Draw the Line day raise that awareness this year and in ensuing years.

Bravo for your efforts. Women around the world are indeed connected in our ongoing strivings for equality.

Your sister in the US,
Jan

Jan Askin

Nelly Bassily's picture

Yes, it's shocking to see how

Yes, it's shocking to see how interconnected our worlds are when it comes to these disturbing cases of young women being assaulted. And, as you pointed out, in our "so-called" advanced, rights-demanding countries, I think the patriarchy is even more entrenched and even more insidious which sometimes makes it harder to fight and to raise our voices against. I recently organized a protest against the brutal sexual violence that was viciously targeting women in Egypt, another country (my roots and origins) so near and dear to my heart. And yet, I can definitely draw on the similarities from both contexts and it pains me to see that women are targets of assaults, everywhere. But, I know that women are not standing by and letting that be the norm...more and more, our voices are heard, more and more we are taking back the public space that we absolutely have the right to be in without fearing for our lives.

Nelly Bassily
"We must become the change we want to see in the world"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

milliej7's picture

Thanks for your piece Nelly.

Your writing is clear, informative and pro-active. I think you are using your voice wisely. The story of Rehteah is disturbing, shocking and upsetting but still needs to be told.

I particularly like the way you share one individual's story but contextualise it. I also like the way you incite the reader to do something themselves, your voice is motivating and your message is clear. Thank you for raising my awareness of what is going on in Canada and no doubt many other countries across the globe. Good luck with your fight.

But unfortunately, the fight is not over for this young woman. Sadly (and I sigh as I write this) and even posthumously, Rehtaeh Parsons cannot rest in peace it seems. A columnist from a Canadian newspaper, The National Post, wrote: “It isn’t so clear that [Parsons] was abused, let alone by two boys or three or four, let alone by the justice system” Rehtaeh's parents reacted to the column: http://o.canada.com/2013/04/26/glen-canning-retaeh-parsons-father-respon...
I find it incredibly disturbing that even following Rehtaeh's tragic death, there is STILL victim blaming. It's such a shame and the only way this is going to stop is for the rape culture we live in to stop. It has to STOP.
I'm really glad to hear that some of you said you would be checking out the information from the Draw the Line campaign. Only through awareness raising and not letting sexual assault become a "normal" part of our lives, will we change things. Standing by idly is not an option.

Nelly Bassily
"We must become the change we want to see in the world"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

Stacey Rozen's picture

Drawing a very solid line

Thank you for making me aware of the DTL campaign, Nelly. I will tell the girls here about it and try and highlight it in our community. Your writing is so informative and comprehensive.

Creatively,
Stacey

akaneko's picture

Hi Nelly, Thank you so much

Hi Nelly,

Thank you so much for sharing this heartbreaking story and for providing all of us with information about DTL! Here in the U.S., we have unfortunately been hearing about several incidents like Rehtaeh's. There are so many layers to this issue and I think you did a wonderful job of communicating the consequences of SRGBV. I hope you continue to use your voice to shed light on this pervasive problem, as it is something that tragically affects women all over the world.

Best wishes,

Alison

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