One of the two boys convicted of distributing a photo of himself having sex with Rehtaeh Parsons , the 17-year-old Canadian teen who died after she was taken off life support following a suicide attempt, has given his first interview. He insists the sex was consensual and that he didn't 'bully' Rehtaeh, while his parents defend him as a good kid "who's made some mistakes."
Parsons was hanging out a window after having just vomited, being penetrated, when the photo was taken without her knowledge or consent. She was just 15. The two boys who had sex with her, both 16, passed the photo to several friends. It spread like wildfire and she was cruelly mocked. Parsons attempted to hang herself two years later and suffered severe brain damage. She was taken off life support a short while later.
The two who were in the photo and took the photo, respectively, are both now 20; one pled guilty to manufacturing child pornography and the other to distributing it. Neither was given any jail time. The teen in the photo was sentenced Thursday to one year of probation and ordered not to drink alcohol. Their names can't be legally published in Canada. (The Parsons family has pushed for Rehtaeh's name to be published and her story to be told.)
In an interview with the National Post, the teen and his parents insisted that the sex was consensual. Parsons' parents have called it rape. (The police said they didn't have enough evidence to charge them with sexual assault; they also waited 10 months to investigate.)
"Obviously, if I felt like if she didn't want it, it wouldn't have happened," the teen told the paper. "It was all mutual. We were in the groove."
During his sentencing, as the National Post's Christie Blatchford notes, the teen said that Parsons' eventual death had nothing to do with his actions, telling the court, "I will not live with the guilt of someone passing away, but I will live with the guilt of sending the picture." He also said, "I have pled (sic) guilty to distributing child pornography, not a sexual assault" and, "I never played a part in the bullying [of Rehtaeh], nor would I."
Blatchford calls that "a courageous challenge to the public narrative" around the case and calls the teen "brave." The boy's mother, meanwhile, insists that he's a good kid, although she doesn't understand "why kids are having sex at parties," she says.
"I don't sit here as a parent and say he's perfect," she told Blatchford. "He's not. He's made mistakes. Tell me a teenager who hasn't. If we did something stupid when we were a kid, made out with some boy or something, the worst thing you had to worry about was, was your name going to be written in some stall?"
In a heartbreaking victim impact statement delivered during his Thursday sentencing, Rehtaeh's mother Leah told the teen—now a man—how much she'd lost with her daughter's death, and chided him for not bothering to learn what a beautiful and generous person she was:
I know that Rehtaeh did nothing to deserve that type of treatment. I know she was not cruel or mean to you [name removed]. You probably knew nothing about her whatsoever. Did you know she loved to read, would drop everything to help an animal or friend in need? That she was bright and funny? Did you know she had two little sisters that she adored? Did you know that the day she was born she changed my life for the better? After she was born I spent the next seven years in university and she was my driving force. No, you would not know these things because you never took the time to view her as a person.
That night Rehtaeh was viewed as an object, and instead of helping her you posed for a photo and shared it with others.
She read a list of goals that Rehtaeh had penned in a journal: learn to drive, make new friends, "plan for the rest of my life." She had also written, "I am very much looking forward to the rest of High School."
"She didn't get to see any of those goals listed and she never will," Leah added. "I'm not going to go on about all the struggles I now have to endure just to make it through the day. I will say that I always believed Rehtaeh would make an imprint on this world. I just never imagined it would be at such a young age and it would cost her her life."