Rehtaeh Parsons. via Facebook.
It’s been just over four months since Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life after a photo—taken while she was drunk and being sexually assaulted at a house party—circulated around her high school. Almost immediately after news broke that Rehtaeh had committed suicide, the hacktivist collective Anonymous pushed its way into the story, and forced the RCMP to reopen their investigation, by insisting they knew the identities of the teenagers who had assaulted Rehtaeh. Then there was silence. In April, I questioned whether or not the Rehtaeh Parsons case would end up unresolved, and up until today, it unfortunately seemed like that would be the case.
This morning, the Nova Scotia RCMP announced they had made two arrests in connection to Rehtaeh’s case but added in their press release, “no further information is being released at this time.” This, of course, opens up all sorts of questions. Why did it take four months for the RCMP to make an arrest in connection to Rehtaeh Parsons’s death, after knowing about her sexual assault for two years leading to her suicide? Who are the “two males” that were arrested? All reports indicate there were four males in the room when Rehtaeh was assaulted, so will more charges be coming? And, lastly, what has changed since the RCMP said there were “no grounds” to press charges against the four alleged assaulters?
The RCMP’s announcement will hopefully relieve some of the unspeakable awfulness this tragedy has caused Rehtaeh’s friends and family, and it’s a positive step forward—delays aside—for similar cases that may emerge in the future. We’ve seen, especially with the Amanda Todd case, that there tends to be a missing link between Canadian law enforcement and being able to prosecute men who harass young girls online, but hopefully this arrest will mark a sea change and a recognition from the RCMP that they need to get better at dealing with sexually motivated cybercrimes. The government of Nova Scotia is currently rolling out new cyberbullying legislation that will allow victims to sue their alleged cyberbullies, which sounds ok on paper, but even Rehtaeh Parsons’s mother doubts the government actually has the technology to properly enforce it.
Likewise, Anonymous’s reaction to the news the RCMP has finally made some arrests in connection to Rehtaeh’s death is cautiously skeptical. I reached out to a member of Anonymous, who worked on the Rehtaeh Parsons operation, and got this response: “We are pleased the RCMP have finally taken action in the Rehtaeh Parsons case. It's unfortunate, however, that a young girl had to die before they chose to do so. In reality, there can be no justice for Rehtaeh, because the legal system and the school system that should have protected her failed to act in time. Anonymous will continue to support the Parsons family and monitor the actions of the RCMP.”
I expect the RCMP will disclose more information about the Rehtaeh Parsons case soon, but until then, these arrests must be cathartic news for anyone who has been pushing for justice; and hopefully this does not cause any further conflict in the Parsons’ family neighbourhood from those who have loudly defended the innocence of the accused. As Rehtaeh’s mother wrote this morning, on the ‘Angel Rehtaeh’ Facebook memorial page, “All I can say that it’s about time they were arrested and it’s now their chance to tell ‘Their side of the story.’ They complain that it’s all one-sided go ahead and speak, we are all ears!”
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire