The young girl was incessantly harassed and was left to feel like nobody believed the nightmare she went through.
Trigger warning: The story contains details of sexual abuse and suicide that might be distressing to some readers.
Every year, when the month of April comes around, loved ones who knew Rehtaeh Parsons remember her for the typical teenager she was and mourn the loss of the young girl, who was failed by her school and the police after the nightmare she was put through.
At the age of 15, Rehtaeh had gone with another girl to a friend's house where they were in the company of four other males. At some point, the teenagers began drinking vodka, and Rehtaeh didn't remember much about what happened to her after she got drunk.
From the little that she remembered, the teenager recalled throwing up out of the window as well as the horrifying memory of one of the males having sex with her while another yelled: "Take a picture, take a picture."
"That picture began to circulate in her school and community three days later," said Rehtaeh's mother, Leah Parsons, according to CBC.
Within no time, the young teenager who had just started high school began facing unbearable bullying online and in school. "She walked into the school and everyone started calling her a slut," Leah recalled.
What followed was seeing the school fail to take appropriate action and also watching the police place zero charges on the four males involved.
"The school did not try to protect her or 'manage' the photo distribution and the police were slow to do much of anything. The males were never interviewed. It took an entire year to close the case and inform us that no charges would be laid. Rehtaeh was crushed and felt that no one believed her," read Rehtaeh Parsons Society, a non-profit society focused on wellness through the education, awareness, and prevention of sexualized violence and cyber-abuse.
For more than a year after the sexual assault took place in 2011, Rehtaeh was bullied incessantly and experienced mental health issues.
"She was never left alone. Her friends turned against her, people harassed her, boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking asking her to have sex with them since she had had sex with their friends. It just never stopped," her mother said, as quoted by CBC.
On April 4, 2013, 17-year-old Rehtaeh tried to hang herself and was hospitalized before being taken off life support three days later, according to CNN.
"Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun," her mother said in a tribute to the young girl. "All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl."
After Rehtaeh's death, two males were arrested and charged with child pornography, and it was determined that they could have been arrested earlier if not for human error, as reported by Saltwire.
Despite the personal loss and unexplainable pain caused by her child's death, Leah has used this tragic experience to raise awareness and ensure a safer environment for other young women.
On April 7, 2021, the anniversary of the day the young teenager was taken off life support, Rehtaeh Parsons Society wrote on Facebook, "We can not avoid pain but we can create change within our communities and ourselves. Rehtaeh - I love you and miss you with every ounce of my being. You continue to amaze me and inspire me to become a better person."
If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts, please reach out to 1-800-273-8255 (NCPL) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Cover image source: Rehtaeh Parsons Society/Facebook