The heart breaking news of the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons this week brought a sick tale of alledged gang rape and the bullying that began afterwards. What made an already sad loss of life even worse was the lack of apparent investigation and no prosecution by either the school involved or the police. The police claimed that lack of evidence was the reason why any investigation did not progress anywhere.
Despite these claims, the online vigilantes Anonymous, the group responsible for hacking various governmental and other websites, say that they found evidence of the crime, along with the the name of the alledged attacker and numerous witnesses. This investigation apparently took less than two hours and was completed without any hacking at all. Theoretically, their actions were ones that any law enforcement organization could have done.
This development raises so many questions, from the abilities of the school to detect and deter bullying, to the police’s ability to investigate a crime and looking for digital evidence, to the help of a vigilante internet group who some consider a terrorist organization and others consider heroes.
It can be difficult to believe that a school where an alledged crime was committed did not investigate to the fullest of their abilities. In most schools, due to the current environment, there is a security system with multiple cameras placed around the building(s). Even if an incident occurs out of sight of the cameras, the surveillance system could still capture students moving to or from the incident. Also a school is always a hot bed of gossip, even with the staff, and it can be incredibly difficult to think that the rumours were not enough to spur a detailed investigation. Bullying is a giant hot topic right now and even if the school did not investigate the original attack, the following bullying, both verbal and online should have been looked at both seriously and in depth. Text messages on a cell phone is evidence of bullying. That in itself is enough to spur both a school and a police investigation and intervention.
According to the website of the school board that Rehtaeh’s school belonged:
What can I expect from the school?
- School staff will investigate your concerns.
- An adult your child trusts will support your child and help to solve the problem.
- The principal or other school staff will meet with you and your child.
- If more help is needed, the school will involve others, such as a Safe Schools Consultant or the School Administration Supervisor.
Did this happen and if so, how much effort was made?
From the law enforcement viewpoint, they would be relying heavily on information provided from the school and therefore would have limited options. There should have been at least interviews and some kind of investigation into the bullying at least but without the cooperation of the school, how successful could law enforcement be?
The final, and probably most contentious issue, is the help being offered by Anonymous, a group who have taken down governmental websites but also the websites of hate groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church. A group that are, just as their name suggests, anonymous and are affiliated to no nation, who practice their own form of justice throughout the online world. No matter the view of the group and their activities, an offer to help law enforcement to re-open the investigation and at least punish those who hounded Rehtaeh Parsons is one that should not and cannot be ignored. If a convicted felon can be a witness or evidence against another criminal, there should be no pause in taking the help offered by this group.
If the light of such a tragic event, there has to be no stop unturned in finding the perpetrators and punishing them to the maximum of the law. Those who committed the alledged rape have to be treated as adults and tried for the crime as well as some form of manslaughter. There can be no safe habour for these people. Those who became involved in the subsequent bullying must also be prosecuted as they contributed to the loss of a seventeen year old girl. There are too many children who feel that they have no other choice but to end their life. This is a crisis that is seemingly ignored by the adult world unless something tragic such as a suicide occurs.
The Canadian Safe Schools network was created to help resolve the bullying situation but is clearly not making an impact on the subject. They have visions and guidelines and a pretty website but offer no hard facts as to the number of incidents of bullying reported or students prosecuted. Bill 13 in Ontario was introduced to curb bullying but it can only be as strong as the schools, school boards, and local communities choose to be. Bullying in school should result in expulsion, not a three day suspension, not a five day break from school, but a swift exit from the school as well as any other school in the school board. Expulsions take a lot of effort from the school to provide the information and evidence and even then it can be appealed by the parents which might block the expulsion. Every children have to be offered an opportunity for education but those who have been proved to have bullied, a normal school is the wrong place for them. There has to be an alternative education system setup where students who bully must attend.
One death from bullying is too many. A death from being the victim of a hideous attack and subsequent harassment is so much more than too many. It should never happen. Children have to be protected, not by banning dodgeball or playgrounds but by being proactive against bullying and harassment. Punish those involved in it, not just with actions by the school and the school board but with prosecution by the law, by shaming and punishing, by making the punishment for bullying so great that no one would consider being involved in bullying for fear that it would affect the rest of their lives.
If convicted of a sex crime, the offender must be placed on the sex offender register, and live with that. There has to be something similar for bullying, a way of making those who bully pay for the rest of their lives. Anything than prevents the loss of another young life.