A Company Stole A Picture of My Daughter Rehtaeh Parsons, Who Committed Suicide After Rape, and Used It In a Dating Ad on Facebook

My daughter killed herself 16 months after being gangraped. This week, a company thought it was a good idea to use her picture in a dating ad.
Publish date:
September 18, 2013
rape, facebook, bullying, Rehtaeh Parsons

My daughter Rehtaeh was one of the most beautiful people you could ever hope to meet. She loved life, art and animals. She was kind and full of life until the day she told me she was raped by four young boys in November 2011.

After months of bullying via texts and online, while a picture of her being raped was circulated from school to school through cell phones she lost the battle and in a moment of anger and frustration, she killed herself. I opened her bathroom door to find that it was too late. She hung herself after the pain of what she had been through had been too much. Rehtaeh endured 16 months of emotional torment.

I miss her every day.

Since Rehtaeh was raped, none of the males have been charged with the crime. After Rehtaeh’s death and almost two years of delay, two males have been charged with child pornography and one charged for making child pornography. The police have concluded that there is not enough evidence for rape charges, however, they have not told me how they came to that conclusion. This week, a dating company named ionechat.com thought a picture of my deceased daughter was appropriate to advertise how to meet "Canadian singles."

I don't think horrified begins to cover it.

The advertisement on Facebook -- called "Find Love in Canada" -- sent people to the site ionechat.com and showed a picture of my daughter underneath. The site is no longer online, and Facebook has taken the ad down.

According to Facebook, the company has been banned from ever advertising again and a spokesperson said: "This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the Internet and using it in their ad campaign. This is a gross violation of our ad policies and we have removed the ad and permanently deleted the advertiser's account. We apologise for any harm this caused." It's not the first time that pictures of my daughter have been used online in a wildly inappropriate manner.

There have been several hate pages directed at Rehtaeh that were removed. There have been Facebook pages that have used Rehtaeh’s picture as their profile and pretended to be her. There have also been pages of support developed online for the males involved, harassing and calling her a "slut," all the while using my daughter's picture.

One of the reasons she is no longer with us is because of a photo circulated without her permission, one which shamed Rehtaeh out of her community while she was in an already fragile emotional state. After the photo from her rape was passed around her school, she was called a "slut" again and again. Males that she never knew were requesting group sex from Rehtaeh.

My daughter was shunned by almost everyone she knew. I say almost because after about a month after the incident a couple friends surfaced and were there to be a support for Rae. The harassment was so bad that she had to move out of her own community to try to start anew in Halifax. She struggled emotionally with depression and anger. It was then that her thoughts of suicide began and fearing for her life, she placed herself in a hospital in an attempt to get help. She stayed there for almost six weeks.

The stay at the hospital was more like a prison sentence than a unit to help children dealing with trauma. They treated her like she was a “problem” child. When the police finally concluded the investigation into my daughter's death, they stated that it came down to “he said, she said.”

And while the bullying subsided to a degree, my daughter was always waiting for the photo to surface again. She learned to keep her head high and defend herself the best she could. Rehtaeh surrounded herself with people who truly cared.

She told me many times, “Mom, although I often feel like killing myself, I could never do that to you because you would be devastated.” In her final days before taking her life on April 4, she was having lots of mood swings and her boyfriend bore the brunt of it. Later that evening she had an outburst and locked herself in the bathroom. I believe she acted on an impulse, but I truly in my heart of heart do not feel she meant to kill herself. But by the time I broke into the bathroom, it was too late.

My beautiful girl had hung herself and was rushed to the hospital after paramedics worked on her for over half an hour in my home to try to get a pulse back. Finally, they were able to move her to the hospital but she never regained consciousness and remained on life support for a few days until she finally passed.

She was 17.

And today, here we are. With her beautiful face, her beautiful smile being exploited once again. It breaks my heart. It disgusts me.

After my daughter committed suicide, I received Facebook messages from one of the boys involved, trying to find my forgiveness.

Actually, it was more of a cry to help him so that he would not be bullied.

It was hard to read the account of what happened from him. He begged me to understand that he was not a rapist. He said that even though my daughter had to be carried and was incapacitated, she gave consent. He said that he cried when he found out that she had killed herself.

Then he said he regretted giving a thumbs up and smiling as he posed for a picture with my daughter. He said that picture had made his life a living hell. Needless to say, I have zero sympathy for him. It was that same picture that ended my daughter's life.

And now, Rehtaeh's picture is being used without her permission yet again.

Coincidence? I highly doubt that it was.

I feel my daughter’s face is a common image after the worldwide media attention. Placing her photos are more likely to draw attention to the ad and perhaps generate interest. While Rehtaeh's images are readily available through a simple Google search, to use her to promote business is sick.

It is disgusting that even in death, my daughter's image is still being exploited. When I see these violations, whether it be the singles ad stealing Rehtaeh's photos -- or the people who contact me and to say negative things such as she should not have been drinking, she was a troubled teen, she was in the wrong crowd -- I sit back and reflect on the reality of who Rehtaeh truly was. Then I think: So what if someone is a troubled teen or was drinking -- as if their behavior or emotional state somehow give permission for others to abuse them.

My daughter was never a troubled teen until after November 2011.

She was a beautiful human being and had a strong sense of who she was and what she stood for. I know who Rehtaeh was before this nightmare began. People can judge and insult her memory all they want, but I know the truth and I will always choose to cherish my wonderful memories. No one can take that away from me.

I realize that Rehtaeh will never get justice in a court of law, but I believe she will get justice in a much larger sense. She has and will continue to change people around the world.