In two previous posts “Rape and bullying lead to suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons” and “Rehtaeh Parsons could get justice after all”, I described Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide after she was sexually assaulted in November 2011 by four boys. She was subsequently bullied when a digital photograph taken at the scene was passed around the school, resulting in months of harrassment – both online and in person.
Whether she was unaware of, or didn’t trust existing programs to assist troubled youth, Rehtaeh Parsons didn’t seek help.
In a review of the board’s conduct in handling her case that was released on Friday, it was concluded that the Halifax Regional School Board could have been of help to her, but was unable to due to the fact that she rarely attended school.
There have been 13 recommendations by a Halifax panel calling for revised education codes of conduct and emphasis on prevention of bullying.
Tragically, Rehtaeh committed suicide by hanging April 4, 2013. Although she arrived at hospital alive, she was removed from life support just three days later.
The RCMP had previously looked into the allegations, but they concluded they had no grounds for laying charges. The investigation has since been reopened after receiving new information and the RCMP investigation will be reviewed by the Nova Scotia government.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spoken out about the bullying incidents and has promised new criminal laws that may include a ban on using or distributing intimate images without prior consent.
Since Rehtaeh’s charges of sexual assault seemed to get ‘lost in the shuffle’ of her transfer to another school and the new school was unaware of the incident, formulating better policies for sharing information between schools and school districts was recommended.
Rehtaeh was also failed by Nova Scotia’s mental health system. Although her father, Glen Canning, took her to the IWK Health Center when she showed signs of being suicidal a few months after the sexual assault occurred and she stayed there five weeks, she appears to have not been helped. Rehtaeh’s parents are not the only ones to come forward with concerns about treatment of patients at IWK.
Rehtaeh’s mother Leah made a statement on Facebook, saying she and the rest of the family would need more time to read the report. She wrote, “We will be speaking out about our thoughts once we can absorb this information more thoroughly.”
Although the 13 recommendations in the report are somewhat vague, the Nova Scotia government says it has accepted the recommendations.
One of the recommendations takes aim at a school board policy regarding transfers of high school students, reacting to statements that Rehtaeh was unable to return to Cole Harbour High School because her transfer out was recorded as permanent.
Here’s hoping this is just a start to a broader, national review of the policies regarding bullying, suicide prevention and mental health services.