One night in November 2011, a 17-year-old boy threw a party. At this party, he watched a friend rape a 15 year-old-girl while she vomited out of a window. Instead of intervening, he took a photograph of the rape and distributed it to friends. After months of tormenting by her peers over the photo, the girl hanged herself.
The friend who assaulted the girl was charged with distributing child pornography, but not rape. His trial is set to begin soon.The boy who took the photo was charged with creating child pornography and entered a guilty plea.
Today, a judge ruled that the boy, now 20, must apologize to the girl’s parents and take a “sexual harassment” course. No jail, not even probation.
The girl’s name was Rehtaeh Parsons. In 2013, her father wrote this letter. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking letter, and this passage in particular stands out given the sentence today:
“Rehtaeh Parsons thought the worst outcome for her case would be no charges against the men who raped her but we all know better. The worst thing that could happen would be charges. That they would be found guilty, and that Rehtaeh would sit on a court bench and listen in utter disbelief as they were given parole, or a suspended sentence, or community service. All for completely destroying her life while they laughed. Why is it they didn’t just think they would get away with it; they knew they would get away with it. They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation.”
Her father is right. Those boys knew they would get away with it, and they did.
Mary-Anne Franks: I write about gender bias generally and often write specifically about non-consensual pornography. I am the Vice-President of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (cybercivilrights.org), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about online abuse and advocating for social and legal reform. CCRI is the parent organization of the End Revenge Porn Campaign (endrevengeporn.org) founded by Holly Jacobs. In my work with CCRI, I have helped more than a dozen states and the federal government draft legislation on so-called “revenge porn.”