Hacktivist collective Anonymous isn’t outing the identities of the boys who allegedly gang-raped a Canadian teen who later committed suicide after photos of her assault went viral — their own friends and family are. An open Facebook group supporting the boys involved in the Rehtaeh Parsons case, calling itself “Speak the Truth,” was closed down apparently due to a request from the authorities because the context of posts could be used to identify some of the alleged rapists according to screen caps. Canadian blog Dance of Red has images of the more incriminating posts.
The Parsons’ story gained international media attention after her death last week. Parsons’ mother claimed on Facebook her daughter struggled with depression following being sexually assaulted at a party, having photos of the night spread throughout her community, being subject to harassment about the photos, and having the local police mishandle the investigation of the assault and the distribution of the photos. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) closed their original investigation after a year citing lack of evidence. Previous reports suggest the high school Parsons attended all but ignored the assault, despite being made aware of the investigation and having photos of the assault “spread like wildfire” around the school. The RCMP announced Friday they will be reopening their investigation into the case due to new and credible information about the assault, and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Drexter announced Monday there would be a review of the handling of the case after the current criminal investigation is concluded.
Anonymous claimed to have identified all four of the assailants in press releases last week, but were waiting to release the information “until it is apparent” no legal action would be taken against them. Press release comments on their investigation suggest that Parsons was doubly made a victim by a systematic indifference to her plight from law enforcement, prosecutors, and school administrators. Around one hundred Anonymous and Parsons supporters including her mother held a rally outside of the Halifax police station on Sunday asking for justice.
But a small group of counter-protesters, possibly affiliated with the Facebook group, also came out to support Parsons’ assailants. The counter-protesters waved signs proclaiming support for the boys — presumably the same boys who took photos of themselves sexually assaulting a teenage girl without the capacity to consent, then spread them around like a joke. Photos of the counter-protest posted by Dance of Red:
The initial reaction of the community to the alleged assault, and backlash to the possibility of the assailants being held accountable for their crimes, highlights the pervasiveness of victim-blaming that is a hallmark of rape culture. And sympathy for the alleged perpetrators of sexual assault is not unique to this community. Media coverage of the Steubenville defendants focused on their “promising futures” — as though their criminal conviction, not their act of violating an unconscious girl, was what caused that future to be compromised.