TORONTO – Three 16-year-old boys have been arrested in northern California on accusations that they sexually battered 15-year-old Audrie Pott, a teen girl who hanged herself days after photos of the alleged attack circulated.
Eight days after the alleged assault, Pott posted on Facebook that her life was ruined and that she was having the “worst day ever” shortly before committing suicide last fall.
The news of the arrests broke just as authorities in Nova Scotia said they are looking further into the case of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons. The teenage girl’s suicide made international headlines this week after she hanged herself after an alleged rape by four boys and months of bullying by her peers.
The details in both cases are chilling similar.
Both teens were subjected to bullying and cyberbullying after photos of their alleged sexual attacks were taken. The photos in each case were shared among peers.
Seeking justice and answers
Shortly after Rehtaeh’s story surfaced in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, her mother Leah Parsons told several news outlets that the justice system failed her daughter.
“They told the story that Rehtaeh had sex with them all,” Parsons told News 95.7.
“So everybody turned against Rehtaeh and she was a ‘slut’ and she was the one that they targeted.”
According to Parsons, the police launched a year-long investigation into the allegations but did not lay charges.
On Thursday, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said he appointed a cabinet minister to oversee the provincial government’s response to the death of Parsons. On Friday, Dexter also announced he would work with ministers of justice, education, health and community services to assess support services for people who face sexual violence.
Both responses from Dexter came after an online petition calling for an independent review of how the police handled the investigation has garnered well over 115,000 signatures.
In California, months after Pott’s suicide, her family said they struggled to figure out what happened to their daughter.
“The family has been trying to understand why their loving daughter would have taken her life at such a young age and to make sure that those responsible would be held accountable,” said family attorney Robert Allard in an interview with The Associated Press.
“After an extensive investigation that we have conducted on behalf of the family, there is no doubt in our minds that the victim, then only 15 years old, was savagely assaulted by her fellow high school students while she lay on a bed completely unconscious.”
On Friday, a post on a Facebook page in honour of the Audrie Pott Foundation asked students to come forward if they had more information about the alleged crime.
“We suspect that the boys who we believe are responsible for Audrie’s death took deliberate steps to destroy evidence and interfere with the police investigation,” said the post. “If students have information about this crime, if they saw pictures or know anything that will assist in bringing these young men to justice, please come forward.”
In a blog post published Wednesday, Parsons’ father Glen Canning addressed Justice Minister Ross Landry asking why his daughter’s case wasn’t being taken more seriously.
“Why was this treated like a minor incident of bullying rather than a rape?” he wrote. “Isn’t the production and distribution of child porn a crime in this country? Numerous people were emailed that photo. The police have that information (or at least they told us they did). When someone claims they were raped is it normal to wait months before talking to the accused?
You have the opportunity here to do something good and lets face it; the court system in Nova Scotia was just going to rape her all over again with indifference to her suffering and the damage this did to her.”
Remembering the victims
Two days after Pott’s death was announced, students and staff wore Pott’s favourite colour, teal, in her honour.
Back in September, a Facebook page for the Audrie Pott Foundation was set up in her honour. According to the foundation website, the family set up the non-profit organization to provide musical and art scholarships and offer youth counseling and support.
“She was compassionate about life, her friends, her family, and would never do anything to harm anyone,” the site said. “She was in the process of developing the ability to cope with the cruelty of this world but had not quite figured it all out.”
On Thursday, hundreds of people joined a vigil in Halifax to remember Parsons. In Parsons’ father’s blog post, Canning also wrote about the times he had with his daughter and asked that Rehtaeh be remembered for the person that she was while she alive.
“I don’t want her life to defined by a Google search about suicide or death or rape. I want it to be about the giving heart she had. Her smile. Her love of life and the beautiful way in which she lived it,” he wrote.
– with files from The Associated Press and Global News
© Shaw Media, 2013