04/11/2013 01:19 EDT | Updated 04/11/2013 03:02 EDT

Rehtaeh Parsons Suicide: Bullying Victims In Canada Are Mounting. Is Anyone Listening?

Slut. Fag. Loser.

This is the way their world ends.

With a casual cruelty scrawled on a Facebook wall for all to see.

It’s one of the little deaths suffered by children every day, across the country.

These are not your father’s bullies. Rather, the digital age has given tormentors an unprecedented reach into young lives. From Facebook to texting to Twitter to YouTube, bullies burrow deep into a young, raw psyche -- and deliver devastating blows.

And we, too, suffer that devastation as we learn their stories and their names.

Amanda. Jamie. Michael. And now Rehtaeh, or Rae, as her dad called her.

Earlier this week, the parents of Rehtaeh Parsons made the heartbreaking decision to remove the Halifax teen from life support.

A few days earlier, she had tried to hang herself.

If claims of being raped by four schoolmates are proven, the 17-year-old certainly endured more than most victims.

But the same fatal thread remains. Her father says she was hounded online with a photo of the ordeal.

“They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation,” grieving parent Glen Canning wrote in a blog posted on The Huffington Post Canada.

“Why is it they didn't just think they would get away with it?” her father asked.

“They knew they would get away with it.”

Parsons’ death stirred a tsunami of outrage across Canada.

Why didn’t school authorities investigate the assault? A school board spokesperson told the Chronicle Herald they didn’t want to interfere with the police investigation.

And what about the persistent bullying that would ultimately propel this tragedy into national headlines?


These questions, of course, always come too late.

Here’s a more prescient one: What will stop it from happening again?

Not just the next headline-snatching tragedy -- but the countless ‘little deaths’ that are adding up in schools and homes and social networking sites and on mobile phones as you’re reading this?

Story continues after slideshow.

Photo gallery Canadian Bullying Victims See Gallery

To date, anti-bullying measures are little more than a patchwork of local laws and programs -- some provincial legislation, some school board policies, some grassroots campaigns at schools and in communities.

And yet, the vulnerable still slip through the cracks.

After all, could there really be a more more visceral campaign than the one launched by Vancouver-area teen Amanda Todd? She was in the grips of persistent and brutal bullying -- both online and at school -- when she shared her story on YouTube last September.

The nine-minute clip shows Todd holding up cue cards, detailing her ordeals in school after school, city after city.

A month later, she took her own life.

Indeed, the social media knife cuts both ways. While bullies flock to cyberspace, so do their victims to find a forum for exposing the abuse.

Jamie Hubley, an openly gay teen in Ottawa, also chronicled his experiences online -- a series of blog entries that culminated in an online suicide note.

“I couldn't fix my own boy and that's tearing me apart,” his father, city councillor Allan Hubley, told CBC after his son’s death.

Mitchell Wilson of Toronto never got much of a forum at all.

You wouldn’t know it by that wall-to-wall smile, but the 11-year-old spent his short life battling muscular dystrophy. His mother had died when he was just eight.

Then came the demons. And a battle he did not win.

In November 2010, Wilson was attacked by a boy who went to his elementary school. The encounter ended with Wilson losing his iPhone -- and a row of teeth after getting his face smashed into the sidewalk.

The boy told his story to anyone who would listen -- including people who should listen. But his case found deaf ears among police officers and teachers. Ten months later, Mitchell Wilson took his own life, shortly before he was to testify at the trial of the boy who allegedly attacked him.

A judge acquitted a 13-year-old of assaulting and robbing him, The Toronto Star reported, because the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the attacker.

Jenna Bowers-Bryanton went looking for a very different kind of ear online.

The teen from tiny Belmont, N.S., dreamed of becoming a singer.

She posted some of her performances on a social networking site.

Cue the armchair critics with that particular brand of ruthlessness that so often comes with anonymity.

"They told her she had no talent, that she was ugly, that she may as well go kill herself," family friend Marsha Milner told CBC.

And, in all all-too familiar refrain, Bowers-Bryanton did kill herself. She was 15.

In the aftermath of her death, an exasperated Const. Todd Taylor of Truro Police Service told The Chronicle Herald, “We need to find something today we can use to put this type of behaviour in check. There is absolutely nothing to stop these young people from doing what they’re doing. There are no consequences. That's disturbing.”