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Why Was No One There for Rehtaeh Parsons?

04/12/2013 08:18 EDT | Updated 06/12/2013 05:12 EDT
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When I was in Grade 12, the administration at my school decided to move the annual graduation celebration, which traditionally took place in June, to November.

My very good friend's date was someone she had met at sailing camp over the summer. Charming, good looking and very well-to-do he was the kind of guy we all aspired to date one day.

The after-party took place at a friend's house. His parents were home. Yes, there was alcohol. They only asked that we not get too drunk. My friend's date made me a drink. A male friend of mine took one look at the watery vodka and orange, dumped it down the laundry sink, rinsed the glass, put in fresh ice, OJ and a splash of vodka -- really, just enough to call the drink a Screwdriver -- and handed it back to me.

One minute, I was sitting on the chest freezer, fully engaged in a conversation. The next, I was lying sideways, unconscious. Then the puking started, and by all accounts, it was violent and awful.

I have no memory of it at all.

I vaguely recall standing at my front door, trying to get in. I kind of remember my date and my mother leaving me on the living room floor when it became obvious I was never going to make it upstairs. But I definitely recall the sick feeling in the morning, my mother's fury and my shame at having to go to my friend's house to apologize for disrespecting their one rule.

The problem was; I hadn't. I had part of one drink. That's it. That's all. No-one could figure out how I managed to get into the state I did with the speed that I did, but there I was.

The mystery was solved two years later, when the date showed up at our apartment. "Do you remember that time I put drugs in your drink and you puked everywhere at that party?" he asked me. He laughed, said it was a fun night, too bad I couldn't really remember.

Oh yeah, I remember it; 27 years later.

I also remember having to show up at school on Monday to face the taunting. And was there plenty of it. I was called "carrots" (for the semi-digested carrots I had spewed everywhere) for my entire senior year and part of university.

Thank God there are no photos of my humiliation, no digital footprint to haunt me on Facebook or YouTube. I probably remember it more than anyone. And I am thankful for the friends who looked out for me and defended me, knowing that what had happened to me was something that had happened to me, not something I did to myself.

I believe in my heart that's what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons. She went to a party and something went horribly, tragically wrong. Instead of supporting her, her so-called friends tortured her until she felt that the only way to get peace was to die.

However Rehtaeh left herself vulnerable to teenaged boys with questionable impulse control, it was a poor choice. But here's the thing: Every adult alive today made decisions as a teen that they lived to regret. But the key is that we are still alive. No-one, no-one, should literally die from disappointment or embarrassment caused by the folly of youth. And whatever happened to Rehtaeh, it's a cruel irony that guys frequently become so emboldened by booze that they think taking whatever or whomever they want is okay, but don't drink enough to render themselves unable to complete the task. Steubenville taught us that.

My husband and I have tried to instill in our 15-year-old daughter the importance of avoiding situations where something bad can happen. But bad things happen when they shouldn't. It's a fact that I and the parents of Newtown and now, sadly, Rehtaeh Parsons, know all too well.

The mourners for Rehtaeh are legion. Thousands have sent messages across social media, sorry for the loss of a girl her father Glen describes as one whose "heart was too big."

Where were her friends during her alleged assault? Was no-one brave enough to stand up and say "Hey, this is wrong?" Were the girls too afraid of dropping a notch on the social scale to say "Hey, that's probably not a good idea," or call for help if she seemed unable to make the decision on her own? Were the guys too afraid of being branded as weak, or worse, gay, to intervene? Was there no-one among the many who allegedly shared images of it across social networks who thought to share it with a teacher, parent or police?

How many count themselves as mourners today?

My daughter knows you go to a party with friends, you stick together and look out for each other. You get into trouble, call. Someone else gets into trouble, call. I don't care what time it is, I don't care what led to the trouble -- call. Something seems wrong, intervene as best you can, and call. I will come and, if necessary, I won't come alone.

We must say these things to our daughters. We must teach our sons to value the girls in their lives. While we teach about taking responsibility for our actions, we must also teach the value of humanity, starting with the golden rule.

Rehtaeh's parents did all they could do to help her. But the voices of those who taunted Rehtaeh for 18 months were louder than the voices of those who tried to help her, and she finally chose to silence them all by silencing herself.

And there, but for the grace of God -- or a smaller heart than Rehtaeh Parsons -- goes all of us.

Rehtaeh Parsons Vigil