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United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

28feb15_unThis afternoon I will be speaking at the United Nations in New York City for the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world will be attending various sessions and talks.

My talk is part of the Violence in the Digital Age: New Approaches to Cyber-Abuse of Girls and Young Women discussion and panel.

Panel Description: Cyber violence against girls and young women is a fact of life in the digital age. With the advent of the internet, violence against girls and young women entered the online world, finding insidious new ways to threaten their well-being. Girls and young women can be victimized 24/7 in school, at home and throughout the community. Often they feel there is no escape. These new forms of violence and abuse require new responses. UN CSW 59 presents an opportunity to bring together national and international partners to share knowledge and new approaches. Only a global community response will keep young women safe in both the cyber and the physical world.

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MY STATEMENT:

In April of 2013 my daughter, Rehtaeh Anne Parsons, ended her life. She was seventeen years old.

Her death was directly related to the cyberbullying she suffered following a sexual assault at the hands of four young males. During the assault, a trophy photograph was taken and widely distributed through social media across four Halifax area high schools. The image, along with a story that painted Rehtaeh as a willing participant, was the main reason she would never know peace in her life again.

Since her death, her mother Leah Parsons and I have been advocating for victims of sexual assault and cybercrime. The last two years have been challenging, not only due to the death of our daughter, but also because of the realization that her case and her experience is far from unique.

We have heard from numerous women, parents, and teenagers who are suffering from the same type of abuse that led to our daughter’s death. Cyber-abuse, cyber-bullying, and cyber-hate.

For many women and teenagers suffering from online abuse, reporting incidents can be heartbreaking and the results are far to often – futile.

It is indeed a new age of communication. The Internet came into being just two decades ago with the promise it would make our world smaller and better. In the last five years, with the advent of social media, doors have been opened into our lives in a way we could never have imagined and for many that has led to terrible consequences.

Governments have been slow to enact measures to address online abuse and law enforcement agencies either don’t have the laws in place to help, don’t have the resources, or they don’t have the appropriate training. What I hear most often from victims is that they are being treated as if they are part of the crime. Victims are told to stop going on Facebook, or Twitter, or to just stop using the Internet altogether.

Giving in to predators, trolls, and abusers is not how we will end online abuse. We would never expect a family to keep their children at home if a predator was lurking in the park, or for bullied teenagers to quit school for their own good, or for women to remain indoors as a means to address sexual violence.

Yet this is exactly what is expected of victims when it comes to online abuse.

A couple months after my daughter’s death I met a very brave young lady in Halifax. She was 17 years old when she was named one of Canada’s Top Twenty Under Twenty in 2011. She took a Christmas cash gift of $72.12 from her Grandmother and turned it into $16,000 to help a school in Mali.

This young lady was about to end her life due to the online abuse she suffered only because she was so promising and talented. Her tormentor spread an image around her school that showed him standing in front of a tree that had a photo of her face nailed to it. He was standing next to the tree in the photo holding a rifle and her eyes were shot out.

The response from authorities in her case reveals very well the systemic failure when it comes to responding to abuse online. No charges, no help, no accountability at all. She was told to just stay off Facebook. Her abuser was told nothing.

She is alive today only because her mother happened to walk into her bedroom at just the right moment.

Our history is filled with discovery and invention. It is unforgivable when we turn greatness into weapons and it is just as unforgivable when the unrestricted use of those weapons is met with apathy and indifference. Our children deserve better.

Amanda Todd, Audrie Pott, Jamie Hubley, Courtney Brown, Jenna Murchison, Rehtaeh Parsons – I could literally stand here all week reading off names.

Almost 300 years ago the Irish political philosopher, Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I am here in memory of my daughter – Rehtaeh Anne Parsons. I am here with the knowledge that we can do better and with the hope that this new and amazing tool of communication will enrich our lives and bring us closer.

The was promise of the Internet and social media. We will lose that promise only if good people do nothing.

9 Comments

  1. Karin Knorr March 10, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I admire what you and Leah Parsons have accomplished in Rehtaeh’s name. You are an inspiration to all.

  2. Christine March 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Well said Glen, Thank you for all that you do. <3

  3. Jacquie Pohl March 10, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Dear Glen,

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story and for speaking on Cyber-Abuse of Girls and Young Women. We are grateful to you and we wholeheartedly support you.

    We stand with you with one voice to say silence is collusion, and we express our empathy, sympathy, and heart felt sorrow in the loss of your daughter, as well as our devotion to prevent this from happening as much as possible and to intervene in the most appropriate ways.

    How can we best support your work, and this cause? I work on the side in the anti-violence against women and children movement, and would value touching base with you. Again, thank you. We know that your work is not without emotional cost, and we applaud you for the voice you are providing for many women and for your hard work.

    Yours sincerely,

    Jacquie Pohl

    • Cameron March 29, 2015 at 9:12 am

      I too would love to know how you feel we should help. I am about to graduate University, and I am now at a stage in my life where I am deciding how exactly I want to make an impact. One idea I have been considering is getting into law, specifically cases of cyber abuse on women. I have yet to decide whether I would want to work for the government on criminal charges, or go private and seek lawsuits. Regardless, this speech is certainly pushing me in that direction.

      My question is, what legal resources are there now for these women to utilize, and what needs the most reform?

      • Glen Canning April 5, 2015 at 8:57 am

        Hi Cameron,

        Good question. I would love for you to go into law. Rehtaeh wanted to do that after her attack and after the police failed her. I know, given our stats in Canada, some believe lawsuits are a better option as the onus shifts to the rapist to prove he had consent.

  4. Monica Derr March 10, 2015 at 1:50 am

    I am so pleased that you were able to deliver this message to such a significant forum. Rehtaeh would be so proud!

  5. McComasTruth- the story of Grace March 9, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Thankful for the discussion. Understanding and change can never come soon enough…
    Grace’s Law in Md.

  6. judy March 9, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    So very proud of you and Leigh on how you have both stood your ground, despite the hurdles you faced, and for ensuring that governments recognize the seriousness of internet bullying. Insisting on making laws hopefully this from happening again. Congratulations and good luck with your talk/speech.

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