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The case of Rehteah Parsons – Why it should never have happened

So much has already been said by so many about this tragic story. A beautiful 17 year old taking her own life after being sexually assaulted, followed by sexually explicit cyberbullying.

Her death has spurred a public outcry, calling for an investigation into her case. Many have wondered whether the police, the Crown and her school could have done more, not only with respect to the sexual assault allegations but also with regards to the cyberbullying. Unfortunately, any investigation will not bring her back to life. It is much too late. My heart goes out to her parents and loved ones. No one should have to experience such loss.

I have regularly discussed the dangers of cyberbullying, particularly when the victims are young. What I have not discussed is the relationship between cyberbullying and violence against women. Too often, we hear news stories of young teenage girls taking their own lives because they were cyberbullied or cyberharrased. The bullying and harassment almost always appears to be related to some form of sexual victimization.

It took a very long time for our society and our legal system to recognize that violence against women is different than violence in general. The police and the courts now take domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment much more seriously than they did 30 or 40 years ago. Hopefully, it will take our society less time than that to take cyberbullying, and particularly cyberbullying against women, just as seriously.

No more young women or girls should have to die because the system has turned a blind eye to their suffering, online or offline.

Maanit Zemel
Miller Thomson LLP

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Maanit Zemel

Internet and Social Media lawyer, commercial litigator at MTZ Law
Maanit Zemel is a commercial litigator admitted to practice in Ontario and New York, with substantial experience and expertise in Internet and social media law, including Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), privacy, online defamation, cyberbullying and cyber-security. Read more.
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