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Rape victim's family: We want justice, not vigilante justice

By Paula Newton and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activist group Anonymous tells police: "Better act fast" to take action against teens
  • Mother says the justice system failed her daughter
  • Mounties defend their actions: "It's complex"
  • The case is reminiscent of an incident in Steubenville, Ohio

(CNN) -- The family of a Canadian teenager who committed suicide after she was allegedly gang-raped and bullied says it opposes any kind of "vigilante justice" to avenge the attack.

This comes after the activist group Anonymous said it might release the names of teens it says raped the girl in an effort to force authorities to pursue prosecution. An earlier police investigation ended without criminal charges.

Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself.

"Better act fast," Anonymous warned Canadian law enforcement in a statement. "Take immediate legal action against the individuals in questions."

"The names of the rapists will be kept until it is apparent you have no intention of providing justice," the group said.

Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly gang-raped and bullied, was hospitalized after she tried to hang herself on Thursday, April 4. The high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support three days later. Two 18-year-old men face child pornography charges in connection with the case. Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly gang-raped and bullied, was hospitalized after she tried to hang herself on Thursday, April 4. The high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support three days later. Two 18-year-old men face child pornography charges in connection with the case.
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
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Jason Barnes, partner of Rehtaeh's mother, Leah Parsons, said Thursday that the family does not "support the publishing of the names" in the case -- which has shocked Canada. "We are not looking for some kind of vigilante justice. We just want justice."

Her family told CNN they met with Canadian justice officials Wednesday and urged them to reconsider filing charges. The officials assured them they would take a fresh look after a police investigation ended without criminal charges.

How to help young rape victims

A girl in torment

Rehtaeh was bullied for more than a year after the alleged sexual assault, which happened in November 2011 when she was 15, her family said.

Authorities confirmed that a photograph allegedly showing Rehtaeh having sex with one of the boys was circulated to friends' mobile phones and computers. As a result, her family said, she developed suicidal thoughts.

She also struggled emotionally after the police investigation, her mother wrote on her Facebook tribute page.

"Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun," her mother wrote.

"All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl."

Disseminating such a picture -- even if the sexual encounter was consensual -- is considered child pornography under Canadian law. However, a joint investigation by Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local authorities found "insufficient evidence to proceed with charges," RCMP spokesman Cpl. Scott MacRae said.

"There are factors in determining other than the picture itself; ages, who sent the material, computers, so it's complex," he said. "We do understand people want the answers, and the big question here is why was it done or why weren't there charges, and we understand that. We're not trying to deflect blame or not be accountable."

Healing process after rape never ends

Anonymous slams law enforcement

The Halifax case is similar to the recent case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two boys were convicted of rape.

In that case, lurid text messages, cell phone pictures and videos, and social media posts surrounding the sexual abuse of a girl emerged at the Ohio trial. It attracted the attention of bloggers and Anonymous, a loosely organized hacking activist group.

As far as the Canadian incident goes, Anonymous told Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry that "justice is in your hands and supports the legal machinery to move forward with charges.

"We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And that's your job. So do it," the group said.

The group said it took only a few hours to identify the boys who assaulted Rehtaeh.

"This wasn't some high-tech operation that involved extracting private messages from someone's Facebook account. Dozens of e-mails were sent to us by kids and adults alike, most of whom had personal relationships with the rapists. Many recalled confessions made by these boys blatantly in public where they detailed the rape of an inebriated 15-year-old girl," the group said.

The group said that declarations from police and prosecutors that there wasn't enough evidence for an arrest "should be viewed solely as an admission of incompetence on their part."

"These sad little boys had no fear whatsoever about admitting publicly their crimes and even spreading photographic evidence of it. Why were they unafraid? They believed no one was ever going to do anything to stop them and they were right," the group said.

Every officer that signed off on the "no evidence" conclusion, Anonymous said, "should be guarding the entrance to a petting zoo for the remainder of their careers,"

When bullying goes high-tech

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