A Nova Scotia man who texted a photo that showed him penetrating a 15-year-old girl and flashing a thumbs-up while she vomited won't see the inside of a jail anytime soon. Instead, today a judge sentenced the man to 12 months probation.
The girl in the photo, Rehtaeh Parsons, faced vicious slut-shaming and harassment as a result of the photo. She later locked herself in a bathroom and attempted suicide. Her parents took her off life support three days later. She was 17 when she died.
Until recently, Parsons' name was smothered by a publication ban as she was underage when the photo was taken, and thus it qualified as child pornography. Her parents lobbied NS Justice Minister Lena Diab to lift the ban so her story could be publicized. In December, Diab removed the ban on the condition that Rehtaeh's name is respected. The young man who posed for the photo was also underage at the time. His name is still covered by the ban.
Today, Rehtaeh's mother Leah Parsons said she was relieved the ban was lifted. "This morning when I started to get ready, that was the first kind of big relief I felt off my shoulders," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, today I don't have to remind people, I don't have to send out a notice to say her name today, we're actually allowed to say her name.' That was very debilitating. It's a relief."
During the sentencing hearing, the courtroom was packed with reporters tweeting Rehtaeh's name.
"Her voice was not heard when she struggled to be heard, but it sure is now," Leah Parsons told the court during her victim impact statement. "I was unable to console her as she crumbled emotionally after that photo was taken."
The man who appeared in the photo "displayed absolutely no respect" for Rehtaeh, judge Gregory Lenehan said in his ruling. "Ms. Parsons was treated as no more than a prop for his enjoyment."
In November, Lenehan handed a second young man, who snapped the photo, a conditional discharge. At today's sentencing, he said posing for the "sexually degrading" photo and texting it to two people warranted a harsher penalty.
"You lit the wild fire, so to speak, and it got completely out of control," judge Lenehan said to the man who appeared in the photo.
The young man cried when he first heard Rehtaeh died. "You should have been crying when she was alive," the judge told him.
When given a chance to speak Thursday, the man who posed for the photo said, "I have already apologized to Rehtaeh a few days after the picture was sent." He said he would like to apologize to her parents through his lawyer.
"This has had a huge negative impact on me," he said. He was bullied as a result of the photo, his lawyer told the court.
"Humans make mistakes," said the young man, who turned 20 yesterday. "I will not live with the guilt of someone passing away, but I will live with the guilt of the photo."
He said he hadn't failed Rehtaeh, but the justice system had failed her.
"This will be a life sentence for me," he concluded. "I am truly sorry."
Listing mitigating factors in the case, his lawyer said the man became well known after Anonymous activists in Halifax publicized his name. As a result, "he has to likely move away."
Following the sentencing, members of Halifax anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks yelled inaudibly at the young man's supporters as they left the courthouse.
Ivan Herritt, who showed up to support Rehtaeh's family and wore an Anonymous-branded hoodie but said he wasn't part of the group, said the court decision was "absolutely disgusting."
"That kid pled guilty to having sex with her while she was vomiting out a window," he said. "Where's the consent? Where's the rape charge? How do you give consent when you are vomiting out of a window?
"The public had the right to know who the creeps are amongst them. Everybody has a right to know, in all honesty, even a young offender. And now he's not a young offender, so everyone should know who he is. Do you want to send your child to school with him? Would you trust your family members to be around him in a public spot? No. So the public has a right to know who these rapists are, who these sexual deviants are. I'm proud of Anonymous for doing what they did."
Now that the court case is over, former Ontario chief prosecutor Murray Segal is free to conduct his independent review of how police handled Rehtaeh's case. Leah Parsons said she planned to meet with Segal as soon as he's back in town.
"We've been waiting for [the review] more so than we've been waiting for the sentencing results," Parsons said. "We are curious and we've been wondering for three years now what are in those reports and what are the reasons that nothing was done when it should have been done and why no sexual assault charges. We look forward to seeing what the results are of the review."
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