HALIFAX – Rehtaeh Parsons’ mother is calling a rash of posters, some placed on the street outside her home, a form of harassment.
“It just felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. How dare they do that?” Leah Parsons told Global News.
“My daughter is gone because of them and they have the nerve to show up on my street and my community where my children live and keep harassing us. That’s harassment.”
Rehtaeh was taken off life support just over a week ago, after she hanged herself in her Cole Harbour home. Rehtaeh was allegedly sexually assaulted by four boys in 2011, and a picture of the assault was distributed throughout her school. An initial police investigation did not yield any charges.
Parsons says it was the assault and subsequent bullying that pushed her daughter to commit suicide.
The posters, printed in bright neon colours, were put up in Cole Harbour, Eastern Passage and Halifax. Entitled “Speak the Truth,” the posters encourage people to “listen before you judge” and to “stay strong” and “support the boys.”
“If they had wanted to speak the truth, they had over a year to speak the truth,” said Parsons.
“They weren’t coming forward then, but now all of a sudden they’re trying to say that Rehtaeh was lying, she wasn’t raped.”
This isn’t the only backlash. After Sunday’s rally outside the Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen St, a counter-protest took place with the same message of “support the boys.” There was also a Facebook page created to support the young men, although it has since been taken down reportedly at the behest of the RCMP.
“Just keep your heads up guys,” wrote one poster. “This will go away in time and just keep in mind everybody that knows you, knows you didn’t do anything.”
Global News has tried repeatedly to reach out to the boys and their families, but they have not offered a comment.
Neither the Halifax Regional Police or RCMP consider the posters a form of harassment at this point. However, some fear the posters send the wrong message.
El Jones, who organized last Thursday’s vigil for Rehtaeh, says the posters are an act of intimidation – not only towards Rehtaeh’s family, but also to other victim’s of sexual abuse.
“I think people that are considering coming forward may very much feel like ‘I don’t want to go through that. I don’t want posters on my block. I don’t want people calling me this and putting up posters or passing around pictures of me so it’s better for me to stay silent.’ And that’s what we see a lot.”
Meanwhile, Parsons is optimistic about the re-opened RCMP investigation into Rehtaeh’s alleged assault. She also hopes the province’s promise to review police and crown prosecutor’s actions will yield results.
“Rehtaeh always spoke her mind. She never had a problem expressing her sadness, her anger, her feelings to me anyway. She wanted to speak out. I’m speaking out for her because I know this is what she would want.”