Today marks one year since I last saw my daughter Rehtaeh alive. The last time we spoke, the last good bye, and the last "I love you." She got out of my car and walked into her mom's house. On the way home she asked if we could stop at McDonald's. How I wish we did, one last time.
It would be easy to remember her in bed with tubes in her body but I only remember the last look into her beautiful eyes. Her smile, her face, and the tight last hug she gave me. Rae passed away April 7, 2013.
It's been a year-long nightmare but I try to keep hold of myself. Keep the anger down and keep trying to remember what she would want out of this hellish mess. I think she would love the letter I received from the young person who now has her heart and a new chance to live. The promise they made to take good care of it, live a healthy lifestyle, and live a good life could have been written by Rehtaeh herself. She was thoughtful like that.
In the week following Rehtaeh's death I was much too devastated to speak, much less able to head out into the fray of cameras and reporters. That changed when I saw the crowds and the support. It was, and remains, truly overwhelming and it continues to touch our lives deeply.
Now that I'm outspoken about our daughter's struggles I've unfortunately attracted the attention of the worst society has to offer. They send messages reminding me Rehtaeh is "worm food," she's dead because I failed as a father, or that she was a willing slut at a drunken orgy that I knowingly allowed her to attend.
Recently men's rights activists have targeted me and I quickly learned trying to address their concerns about false rape allegations is like trying to engage a holocaust denier. Futile and a complete waste of time. MRAs, at least the ones I tried to reason with, just seem to hate women. Period. It's difficult to change the mind of someone who proudly states "all women are sluts."
I also have that death threat from last August. Apparently the case is still open and active, whatever that means. They haven't killed me yet, thankfully.
But by far the triumphs have deafened the defeats and helped to lessen the pain. I've spoken about not only Rehtaeh's case but about men and violence against women, cyberbullying, suicide, and mental health. Talking helps.
It's mainly through talking that I've learned the difference Rehtaeh made and the impact she's had on others. They've reached out for help because of her; some were suicidal, others victims of sexual assault and/or abuse. They feel a sense of strength and have tried to turn tragedy into victory. The local sexual assault centre, Avalon, was flooded with calls for help and remains to this day underfunded and overbooked.
For the year ahead it's my hope we address sexual assault like we've addressed cyberbullying (or what Rae's mother and I call "cyber-harassment"). Start talking to youth about healthy relationships, consent, and the law. The sooner the better. Create an environment in which victims of sexual violence and abuse will feel believed, safe, and hopeful for justice -- a complete turn around from what they experience now.
Although I've been left feeling very cynical about our justice system, the outrage and support Canadians and the world have shown restored my faith into believing something better is possible. New laws are on the books or have already passed to protect victims in Canada, young and old. Rehtaeh would be proud of us.
The silent Rehtaehs out there deserve no less.
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