Rehtaeh Parsons with a rescue dog
*** Trigger Warning ***
Rehtaeh (Heather, spelled backwards) was a sensitive, an avid reader and a straight-A student until, at age fifteen, she attended a party at a friend’s house.
There are some basic details to which all parties agree:
- Rehtaeh had a great deal of vodka in a short period of time
- She engaged in sexual activity with up to four boys.
- Digital images of these encounters were captured.
Accounts diverge from here.
Rehtaeh claimed she was raped. Her family and a small group of friends believed she was telling the truth.
However, the majority response to her accusations was at in the best case insinuations of “buyer’s remorse” with a heaping helping of slut-shaming on the side and malicious bullying and ruthless harassment when images of the exchange began circulating in her high school.
Rehtaeh’s family relocated but the traumatic fallout followed them.
After a year, the case was closed the case due to lack of evidence in a he-said, she-said situation.
Rehtaeh had already not been doing well and on April 4th, 2013 she hung herself in her bathroom. Her mother tried to save her but by the time she broke door, the damage was irreparable.
Her family removed her from life support on April 7th, 2013.
Attention to Rehtaeh’s story came on the heels of the verdict in a Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
The details were nearly identical: a party, alcohol, images of star football players gloating about their sexual conquest, a girl who was raped and a community who categorically defended the perpetrators in the face of damning evidence against them.
During their trial, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond insisted they couldn’t have raped the victim because they weren’t violent.
When both were found guilty there were two very sets of responses. Without any concern for the victim many talking heads trumpeted the stain this would place on the lives of two promising young men. Another faction saw the punishment meted out for the crime as far too lenient.
Henry Rollins wrote an exceptional piece—which is really worth reading in its entirety—implicating rape culture while refusing to let the perpetrators off the hook.
It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one [sic] that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. I guess that is what I am getting at. Sex was probably not the hardest thing for the two to get, so that wasn’t the objective. When you hear the jokes being made during the crime, it is the purest contempt.
As lucid as his insights are they fall into the same trap as those who foist the term ‘rape culture’ as a readymade framework for calling out the insidious cultural prerogative resulting in one woman being raped every two minutes in the US.
In other words, in the time it takes to read this post two women will have been raped.
Only one will report the crime.
I object to the term rape culture. I don’t deny its existence as much as readymade-ness of the accompanying critique. Inversion is never subversion.
To perhaps put it better: blaming rape on ‘rape culture’ is analogous to blaming kidney failure for killing a cancer patient. Yes, the patient died because their kidneys stopped working but what caused the kidneys to stop working came as a result of a broader systemic malfunction.
The problem with the way things are now is that the burden of proof is placed on the shoulders of the victim—missing and misconstruing the onus. Rape is the result of a failure to seek and receive consent. Thus from a legal standpoint what happens after the non-issuing or retraction of consent is rape, full stop.
Why can’t we focus on consent instead of the crime which arises from discounting it?
First off, while there are a fucking shit ton of resources on rape statistics, preventing rape, surviving rape, etc. there is very little substantive material pertaining to consent.
But I only found two decent resources: Reed College’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response document as well as a similar document from Vassar. The former is impressively thorough; the latter, more vital.
But the documents only tell us what any person who with an ounce of humanity already knows: flirting does not constitute consent. Further, drugs and alcohol render their user incapable of consenting.
Still women are raped and blamed by their rapists using the most specious and conceptually flimsy sexist notions.
This is literally not difficult at all but beautiful people like Rehtaeh Parsons continue to suffer and fall as a result of the sins committed against them.