Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd were not just bullied; they were victims of criminal acts

Rehtaeh Parsons
Rehtaeh Parsons

Canada is earning a bad reputation at home and abroad when it comes to how we turn a blind eye on bullying. What many fail to realize, is that the two high profile cases of bullying in the past six months were also criminal.

Last October, Canada and the world were both captivated and horrified over the suicide of British Columbian teenager Amanda Todd.

When Todd was in the 7th grade, she used a video chat service to meet new people online. One day, a stranger convinced Todd to bare her breasts on camera. This still unknown individual later blackmailed her and threatened to expose the topless photo to her friends unless she gave the man a show, she refused.

Later that year the photo was all over her school and the internet. Todd experienced anxiety, depression and started to use drugs and alcohol. She wound up moving to a new home, she changed schools twice, but it didn’t matter.

Everywhere she went, that same individual was there online to ensure her classmates knew who she was. After years of being physically, verbally and psychologically bullied she hung herself at the age of 15.

Amanda Todd’s tragic tale made headlines the world over when a video of her telling her story with flash cards went viral shortly after her death. It brought bullying to the forefront of the Canadian discourse and it got some politicians speaking out on bullying, if only briefly.

Amanda Todd
Amanda Todd

As if Amanda Todd’s story wasn’t heartbreaking enough, another headline grabbing tragedy surfaced this week from the other end of the country; the alleged gang rape, bullying and suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia.

A couple years ago, Rehtaeh was at a friend’s house where four boys allegedly raped her. While the assault was taking place, a photo was taken and it was soon distributed online.

As the picture went viral throughout the community, the school remained effectively silent, but the RCMP failed as well. It took ten months just to interview the boys involved and charges were never filed.

While police and school officials sat back, Rehtaeh was continually bullied at school and online for two years. Last week she was taken off life support by her parents soon after she attempted to hang herself.

Now, I’m not a woman, nor have I ever been raped, but I can tell you after being bullied throughout my high school years that what I went through is nothing compared to what these young women had to endure.

Being bullied as a child is bad enough; it’s not all that different from being tortured as an adult. The physical pain along with the sense of loneliness and hopelessness can stay with you long after you’ve moved on. It also moulds who you’ll become in the future, even if you don’t realize it at the time.

These two cases however, go well beyond black eyes and name calling. The Canadian media has steadily referred to these cases as bullying stories, but they’re criminal stories as well. Bullying is an extremely distasteful by-product.

I’m not trying to lessen the impact bullying had on these two girls; it is in fact what put them over the edge. I just feel the media should be putting more emphasis on the failures of our public servants.

After all, these circumstances involved the exploitation of a minor, gang rape and in both instances there was the distribution of child pornography. So far in both occasions no one has been charged or even arrested.

We need to hold our schools and police departments responsible for turning their backs on the people they supposedly serve. We need proper investigations, but more importantly we need suitable prevention.

I know prevention starts with the parents, but I can’t remember one instance when I was in school where my fellow students and I were lectured by teachers or police officers about bullying or rape.

Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons have brought bullying into the media spotlight. Hopefully it stays there long enough for local, provincial and federal politicians to get together and try and curb it. Meanwhile, not only are the parents of the victims left without a daughter, they are left without justice.

“I think we’ve got to stop using just the term bullying to describe some of these things. Bullying to me has a kind of connotation… of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity. It is youth criminal activity, it is violent criminal activity, it is sexual criminal activity and it is often internet criminal activity” – Stephen Harper.


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