Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rehtaeh Parsons Was out of Reach of Those Who Could Help Her, Report Says

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rehtaeh Parsons Was out of Reach of Those Who Could Help Her, Report Says

Article excerpt

Rehtaeh Parsons out of help's reach: report

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HALIFAX - In the months before she committed suicide, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons could have turned to a variety of programs aimed at troubled youth, but she often remained out of the reach of those who could help her, a new report says.

An independent review of the school board's handling of her tragic case released Friday concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that she was rarely at school.

"Even though there were communications as she transferred (between schools) ... it doesn't seem as if the adults in her world were able to help her as she was going through this trauma," co-author Debra Pepler told a news conference.

"Nobody was able to grab hold of her and help her navigate that."

Rehtaeh hanged herself April 4 and was taken off life-support three days later.

Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted by four boys in November 2011 and that a digital photograph of the incident was passed around her school in Cole Harbour, prompting months of harassment through social media.

The RCMP have said they looked into the allegations but concluded there were no grounds to lay charges. They have since reopened their investigation after receiving new information. The Nova Scotia government says it will review the RCMP's original investigation.

The case and a number of other high-profile cyberbullying cases has sparked a national debate about online harassment.

Soon after Rehtaeh's suicide, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the issue in the House of Commons, at one point declaring: "We absolutely must speak out against the notion that some people have that 'anything goes' on the Internet."

Harper has promised criminal legislation later this year that could include a ban on distributing intimate images without consent.

The school board review commissioned by the provincial government says cases like Rehtaeh's are all too common.

"Rehtaeh Parsons' story is one of too many in Nova Scotia and across Canada involving young people who see no way out of their problems," said the review.

"This is why our emphasis has to be on prevention of bullying, cyberbullying and sexual assault."

However, the review said Rehtaeh's constant truancy made it difficult for school and mental-health officials to keep an eye on her, said Pepler, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto.

"It just didn't seem that it was possible to, in some sense, hold on to her and get her where she needed to be. That might have been in school or a youth mental health system -- she needed to be somewhere other than by herself."

The review's other author, Penny Milton, agreed.

"Almost all policies in every school district assume that kids are in school," said Milton, a former CEO of the Canadian Education Association. …

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