It was not a sexual assault. Not a rape as Rehtaeh’s parents want so desperately for us to believe. Rape of course takes away shame and responsibility from Rehtaeh and her parents

Damage done in the name of shame


By Diane Weber Bederman  January 18, 2015
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My mother told me in my early teens when I was hurt-not the bruised elbows and knees hurt-but the hurts that bruise the soul-that the little hurts make us stronger, prepare us for the truly big hurts. She knew what she was talking about.


My parents buried their first born child, Martin, when he was two and a half. He died at home, with the doctor and the emergency services all there. There was nothing they could do to save him. I leave you to imagine the questions my parents had, the introspection, the laying of blame on oneself or the other, or the doctors-or God.

When a child dies one of the first questions asked is “why, why me, why us?” It never makes sense so we look around for an answer. We get angry, often at God and others. We look for a villain.

I was reminded of my mother’s advice when I read Christie Blatchford’s latest report about Rehtaeh Parsons in the National Post. Christie Blatchford who remains an extraordinary witness to the sad and evil that takes place in our world wrote a beautiful piece about Rehtaeh and the young men accused of raping her and the one young boy charged with spreading child pornography.

The evidence clearly shows that Rehtaeh was complicit in allowing the photo to be taken-the type of photo that all young people know-or ought to know-may end up on social media.


The young boy, now a young man, had sent the photo to two different GIRLS. And so began his fall into the abyss. The girls shared the photos. The girls were the nasty ones. The girls, as far as I am aware, were not brought into court to explain their behaviour; their responsibility in this sad story.

Rehtaeh had dabbled in sex and alcohol-willingly according to the girlfriend who was with her-with two boys about her own age. They were all school mates. Although we acknowledge that girls mature faster than boys, Rehtaeh was not held to the same level of scrutiny as the boys. Oddly, we have come to demand of boys more restraint, more maturity, more responsibility than we do of our daughters.

It seems Rehtaeh was having sex with the boy her girlfriend liked. The girlfriend even told her not to have sex with him. Hmmm. Not very nice. But then again, we try to forget that girls can be very mean and nasty and terrible bullies.

Rehtaeh carried on with her life following that night of sex, booze and vomiting. She remained cordial with the young boy. She was dating. Five months later, Rehtaeh took her life… after a quarrel with a new boyfriend.

And her mother blamed the death, by suicide, of her daughter on an incident that had happened five months earlier.

Her daughter Rahteah, she said “is gone today because of the four boys that thought raping a 15 year old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun.”

Facts all wrong. But the story this mother told assuaged her soul. Her pain. Perhaps her shame. As long as this story held, there was no need to look into her own actions and the actions of her daughter. I understand that. The pain is too great. She has the answer to “Why me, why my daughter?” It’s his fault.

Somewhere along the way, Rahtaeh was not taught to deal with shame or hurt feelings. And I think the same can be said of her mother. They had not learned to deal with the small hurts: the small failures; the type of failures that prepare us for the big hurts that come our way, often by our own hand.

Rahtaeh had shamed herself and her parents. We don’t like to say that anymore. That one can bring shame onto one’s self and family. We can and do. We have had the sexual revolution but not to the point that we raise our daughters to drink straight vodka shots (eight shots-he had eleven) and then have sex with two male peers.(Nor should we raise our sons to behave this way). There is still within us a vestige of sense of shame. I, for one, am thankful for that little bit of shame.

So Rehtaeh’s mother and then father decided that the death of their beloved daughter was the result of the behaviour of two boys. Not their daughter. Not her fault at all. Nor theirs.

We finally heard from the young man who was charged with distributing child pornography. Thanks to Christie Blatchford we hear how he carried the brunt of the night’s repercussions. He was shunned. Forced to leave his high school. His friends. His family was harassed, including his sister-how quickly we say not to judge others but we do judge others, don’t we? Often without facts. We assume when it comes to boys and girls-and this case it was boys and girls-that the boy is always the one at fault. Especially, today in our anti-male atmosphere.

When Rahteah’s mother posted her story on line; changing the facts blaming the boys, the town took up the cry and then the province and the country.

I understand why Rehtaeh’s parents did this. They needed a reason for the death of their daughter, a suicide. It couldn’t be her fault, her failure, her inability to face the shame. It couldn’t be the parents fault. They didn’t raise their daughter that way. So they looked around and found a young boy to blame; whose life they almost destroyed.

Except that this boy, this young man now, found the inner strength to carry on and he has parents who stood by him without making excuses for him. He has parents questioning his behaviour. How could he behave this way? He wasn’t raised this way. But they understood that he was simply human. Made a mistake. But he didn’t make this mistake all by himself. It was not a sexual assault. Not a rape as Rehtaeh’s parents want so desperately for us to believe. Rape of course takes away shame and responsibility from Rehtaeh and her parents.

But the whole event is sad. The court jumped to the conclusion that the young boy was the aggressor. The villain.  And the young lady-well she was just that a young innocent girl taken advantage of by a 16 year old. That old fairy tale.

We are took quick to accuse our young boys, our young men of evil. I understand and empathize with the fact that was in the name of answering that archetypal question “Why me?” But that is no reason to destroy a boy.