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The Teenager Who Took a Photo of Rehtaeh Parsons Being Sexually Assaulted Is Now a Free Man

In the midst of a global media outcry and a controversial publication ban, the man who took a life-ruining photo of an infamous Nova Scotian sexual assault victim that later committed suicide stood trial. Meanwhile, the man who assaulted her has...

by Hilary Beaumont
Nov 14 2014, 2:53pm

Protesters outside the court.

A Nova Scotia man, who infamously took a sexually-explicit photo of then-15-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons (who later committed suicide), won't do jail time thanks to a judge's ruling yesterday. Instead the judge handed the man a one-year conditional discharge, to wrap up a highly contested case.

In other words, he walked out of the court a free man, with a few caveats: he has to give his DNA to a national offender database, take a sexual harassment course, and apologize to Parsons' parents.

It's a case that has been widely covered in the press, including in VICE Canada, but Parsons' name was not able to be published due to a controversial publication ban. We were bound by Canada's criminal code to not publish her name. Even though other media outlets got around this by publishing their Canadian stories on the American version of their outlet, we wanted to ensure we reached our Canadian audience directly. So, we were stuck with abiding by the same publication ban that all other Canadian media has to respect.

Outside of the media, however, the ban was been widely violated (just check Twitter).

The girl's parents told the court Thursday that the explicit photo was the cause of their daughter's death. The photo shows a separate man flashing a thumbs-up as he penetrates Parsons from behind. She is vomiting out the window. When the photo was taken, she was 15.

The man who snapped the photo, the same man who was allowed to walk free yesterday, was 17 at the time. He sent it to his friend, and it quickly spread throughout the girl's high school. Her peers relentlessly harassed and slut-shamed her; and even though she told police the photo was visual proof of her being raped, they wouldn't lay charges.

Struggling with depression, she locked herself in a bathroom and attempted suicide. Her parents took her off life support three days later, on April 7, 2013. She was 17 when she died.

It wasn't until August 2013, after massive public backlash, that police charged the man who took the photo that ruined her life. Outside the courthouse after his sentencing, Parsons' father told reporters that justice won't be served until the rape allegations are fully investigated.

The victim's father.

When he heard the attorneys and judge describing his daughter vomiting in the photo while a man penetrated her, he wondered why no one was ever charged with her rape.

"We always thought, and we always believed, that [our daughter] was sexually assaulted that night, and they're sitting there saying she was vomiting, throwing up from intoxication, and they were having sexual intercourse with her. What are we supposed to think sitting there listening to that?"

He questioned why the Crown laid the "easy" child pornography charges rather than charges of sexual assault. While the man who took the infamous photo of Parsons has now gone through the legal system, the man who actually assaulted her that night has not.

"We thought there was powerful evidence to suggest she was sexually assaulted that night... There's no sentence that would be good enough or strong enough to ever reflect what this did to my daughter. There just won't be."

As he spoke, a small group of protesters—that identified themselves as part of the Anonymous collective, by wearing Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas—yelled his daughter's name, along with "Justice!" and "Fuck the ban!"

They held neon signs with her name and the words, "What if she was your daughter?"

When judge Gregory Lenehan read his decision, he asked the 20-year-old defendant: "How would you have acted if that were your sister?"

If she were his sister, he would have physically intervened instead of taking the photo, the judge said.

As he read his decision, Lenehan weighed the "severe" and "vile" nature of the photo, and its contribution to the girl's death, against the idea in Canadian law that young offenders should be rehabilitated into society.

"He is not as blameworthy as an adult," the judge said.

He believed the man, now 20, was remorseful, and had taken responsibility for his actions by entering a guilty plea.

In her statement to the court, the girl's mother said she didn't want the man to go to prison:

"Some may think I want the people involved, and the guilty party, to go to jail and be punished severely. The truth is, I don't want that for him at all. I don't feel jail time would serve anyone in this situation. My wish is that the accused actually felt remorse, that the accused does see the wrongdoing in this situation, not because he was caught and held accountable but because he actually felt accountable."

When the judge finished reading his decision, the packed courtroom was completely silent. Meanwhile on Twitter, the girl's name and the hashtag #youknowhername blew up and trended nationally as Canadians expressed their outrage at the decision, and the publication ban, which makes discussing and reporting this story even more difficult.

Follow Hilary on Twitter.

A previous version of this article had redacted the name of Rehtaeh Parsons due to a publication ban. The article has since been edited to include her name.

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