Not content with possibly outing at least one of the boys accused of gang-raping a Canadian teen on Facebook, supporters of the four boys have now started posting signs around Halifax suggesting that the victim, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, lied about the assault. According to post to the Angel Rehtaeh memorial page, the signs have even showed up on her mother’s street. They read:
“Speak the truth. There’s two sides to every story. Listen before you judge. The truth will come out. Stay strong and support the boys.”
A group supporting the boys surfaced on Facebook over the weekend but was quickly closed down, reportedly after police grew concerned that posts to the group could be used to identify the boys. An Anonymous-organized protest outside the Halifax police station as part of campaign for legal action called #OpJustice4Retaeh drew a small group of counter-protesters using the same messaging as the Facebook group and the signs.
According to her mother, Parsons killed herself two years after being sexually assaulted by four boys at a party and enduring intense slut-shaming bullying as pictures of the incident spread throughout her community. An investigation into the assault and the distribution of the photos ended after a year without charges, but was recently re-opened after the public outrage about how the case was handled.
The level of support some are showing for the alleged assailants is a stark contrast to how the community reacted to original assault. Parsons’ high school reportedly turned a blind eye to the incident — with some students reportedly “not entirely surprised by the alleged sexual assault or the reaction to it in the community.”
Despite its tragic outcome, Parsons’ case has brought renewed awareness to issue of sexual assault among young teens in Canada. In Windsor, the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre of Essex County received 11 reports of alleged sexual assaults from girls 13-15 in the two weeks following Parsons’ suicide, compared to 57 for the entire year of 2012. While they don’t believe the rate of assaults has increased, younger sexual assault victims “generally feel a high level of isolation” and hearing about cases like Parsons can help them recognize they aren’t alone in their struggles with rape culture.