UPDATE: This story is about Rehtaeh Parsons.
Two men have pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in a case that made international headlines and changed the law in Nova Scotia. It’s the case of a teenage girl The Coast can’t identify due to a publication ban, but trust us—you know her name.
Her story raised questions about the efficacy of our mental health, education and justice systems, and prompted conversations about consent. In the past few weeks, the accused in her case have faced few real consequences, leading her parents to ask whether this is justice for their daughter.
When she was 15, the girl told police several boys raped her after they had been drinking. One of the boys snapped a photo of the alleged assault. The photo shows another boy flashing a thumbs-up and grinning as he penetrates the girl and she vomits out a window.
The boy who took the photo sent it to his friend, who sent it to two more people, and it quickly spread. The girl’s peers harassed her because of it. Struggling with depression, she later locked herself in a bathroom and attempted suicide. Her parents took her off life support three days later. She was 17 when she passed away.
When the two boys snapped and shared the photo, it destroyed the girl’s life, her mother said. “It took away her very essence of who she was. She was never the same after that. Once that photo appeared, she was never the same again.”
On November 24, the young man who flashed a thumbs-up for the camera pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography. He was underage at the time, so the publication ban protects his identity, too. In an agreed upon statement of facts, the man admitted to “having sex” with the girl, and texting the photo to two people. He will be sentenced in January.
On November 13, the second young man pleaded guilty to snapping the explicit photo and sending it to his friend. His name is also protected by the publication ban. Judge Gregory Lenehan sentenced him to provide a DNA sample to a national database, take a sexual harassment course and write an apology to the girl’s parents. The judge allowed him to walk free on those conditions.
“He is not as blameworthy as an adult,” Lenehan said of the man, who was 17 at the time. By entering a guilty plea, he took responsibility for his actions, the judge said before handing the man, now 20, a conditional discharge.
Neither of the men face sexual assault charges. That’s an injustice, her parents say.
“When you hear the details of the photo described, they can go on about [my daughter] didn’t consent for this photo being taken, yet for some reason she was able to give consent for sex?” her father said following the second hearing.
The agreed upon facts of the case state she was vomiting out a window. “Someone in that state of mind, you can just read any brief reading of the Criminal Code of Canada, they’re incapacitated—they are not able to be in a position to give consent.”
It’s unclear whether the young men involved in this case will face sexual assault charges. More than a year ago, the Province handed the case to Murray Segal, an out-of-province prosecutor. His job is to review and decide whether police and the Crown did their due diligence investigating the allegations of rape. However, his review is delayed until the current court case has concluded.
“I’m convinced 100 percent there’s a system here that needs to be looked at and needs to be fixed,” the girl’s father said outside the courthouse on November 24. “We’ve got a problem and we need to fix it, and if this case can be somewhat of a turning point, then so be it. I hope it can be.”