Rampant faults in our legal system have perpetuated victim blaming in cases of sexual assault. In 2013, 15 year-old Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide following the distribution of a photo depicting an alleged sexual assault that was perpetrated against her. Ambiguities about consent amounted to very limited charges. Last week, one of the men involved in the alleged assault and the distribution of the photo was sentenced to 12 months of probation on charges of the distribution of child pornography.
The photo, depicting one man having sex with Parsons as she vomited out of a window–his hands held up with thumbs up–should have been a prosecutorial gold mine, a practical no-contest for securing the penalty of life behind bars.
Parsons faced harassment and harsh criticism. She was blamed for her own assault. Parson’s was victim blamed in the all too typical “she must have been asking for it” sense. The limitations of the sentence of probation are horrifying.
How was this allowed to happen and more importantly, how will it impact similar cases?
If someone can so blatantly violate another human being and escape a meaningful conviction, then how can people who have suffered from sexual assault feel safe or protected? Sexual assault is stigmatized, and as indicated in part by Parsons suicide, light sentencing further propagates these negative personal attacks.
While the stigmas associated with sexual assault are hard to eliminate, institutions, such as the justice system, should be the leaders of a movement to change this sentiment
Victims of sexual assault, however deeply hurt and harassed, are at the very least deserving of solace in a meaningful conviction.
While this may not to change the way people treat them, it has the potential to set the tone for the way that victims of sexual assault should be treated. At the very least, it can assure them that they are not to blame for what happened to them and that society is invested in preventing sexual assault.
This case then represents far more than two men getting the proverbial “slap on the wrist” for a single rape, but rather a signal as to how our society as a whole treats sexual assault and its perpetrators. Ultimately, the perpetrators in this case were given incredibly light sentences and while that is an issue in and of itself, the message it sends is far more devastating. It now has unfortunately become up to us as a people then not only to erase stigma from a few bullies on the Internet, but now also within our legal institutions as well.