Nova Scotia

Rape, bullying led to N.S. teen's death, says mom

A Nova Scotia mom is speaking out about the rape and bullying she says led to her teenaged daughter's suicide.

Rehtaeh Parsons told police she was raped at a party when she was 15

A mother's grief

10 years ago
Duration 2:37
A Nova Scotia mother is speaking out about her teenage daughter's suicide in an effort to make sure it doesn't happen to others

The mother of a teenage girl from Nova Scotia who killed herself after allegedly being raped and photographed by four boys is speaking out, to tell the story behind her daughter’s tragic death.

Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, died on Sunday in hospital after attempting suicide a few days earlier.

"Rehtaeh was a very sensitive person and very insightful. She was a critical thinker, she thought outside the box. She was always a deep thinker, she ran, always understood the plight of others. She had great compassion. That’s who Rehtaeh was," said her mother, Leah Parsons.

In 2011 when Rehtaeh was 15, she went with a friend to a small gathering with other teenagers and started drinking vodka.

Parsons said Rehtaeh only remembered bits and pieces of the night, but does remember throwing up out a window.

While one of the guys was allegedly having sex with her another yelled, "Take a picture, take a picture."

"That picture began to circulate in her school and community three days later," said Parsons.

Online tormenting

Then the online backlash and bullying began.

"She walked into the school and everyone started calling her a slut," said Parsons.

She said her daughter broke down a few days later and told her what happened. They called an emergency health team and the police.

Parsons said after a year of investigating, police told her it was a "he said she said" case and there was not enough evidence to lay charges.

RCMP confirm they investigated the allegations and consulted with the Crown, and it was determined there was not enough evidence to proceed.

"We have to deal in facts and not rumours," said RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae. "We may not be able to go down certain roads because of the tragic circumstance.

"I feel like the door is always open for people to talk to a police agency."

The family said they were told the photographs were not a criminal issue even though Rehtaeh was underage.

The family moved from Cole Harbour to Halifax, and her mother said Rehtaeh tried to keep her head up high but was depressed.

'I think kids today listen to a story and if that’s the most sensational story to go with they jump on that and they don’t care how it hurts other people.'—Leah Parsons

"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," said Parsons.

Rehtaeh admitted herself to the hospital in March because of suicidal thoughts.

"Every text, every negative thing she would read to me. It was hard," Parson said. "She tried and she kept trying."

Rehtaeh tried to kill herself on Thursday and was put on life support. She was taken off on Sunday.

Parsons said the justice system failed her daughter.

"I think she would have had some satisfaction that it was real [if there were charges], because no one believed her," she said.

Parsons also blames her daughter’s bullies.

"I think kids today listen to a story and if that’s the most sensational story to go with they jump on that and they don’t care how it hurts other people. It’s just too easy to Facebook and text, to say and do mean things," she said.

"They just jump with the rest of them."

Parsons created a memorial page on Facebook to share her daughter’s story.

"She made my life complete," she wrote.

"When Rehtaeh was born, I dedicated everything to her and promised her the world. Others in this world took that away from her."

Justice minister investigating

After Parsons took her daughter's story public, people expressed outrage that more had not been done to help the teen.

An online petition demanding an inquiry be called into the police investigation  garnered more than 2,000 signatures by Tuesday night.

Nova Scotia's Justice Minister said late Tuesday night he was asking his office to look into what actions they could take on the case.

"This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened — as I think are all Nova Scotians — by the death of this young woman," Ross Landry is quoted in the release.

The statement adds that Landry hopes to meet with Leah Parsons in the coming days.

"It's important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities."

Meanwhile, a psychiatrist at the IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax said adults need to do more to support teens in an evolving society.

Stan Kutcher said what allegedly happened to Rehtaeh used to be the type of story that was kept hush-hush, but social media has changed that, creating a forum for bullying.

"There's really no place for a young person to hide," he said. "We have to be able to expand the number of doors that kids can knock on while they are experiencing these problems."

Kutcher is advising parents to take an active role when it comes to the online behaviour of their children.

"We spend an awful lot of time teaching kids how to drive, we spent an awful lot of energy ensuring that they can drive responsibly, and we need to do the same with social media."

While teens may be advanced when it comes to using technology, Kutcher said adults need to teach them how to use social media responsibly.