Shortly after Rehtaeh’s death, I read an online blog post by Canadian writer Crystal Smith. In her post, titled How I Failed Rehtaeh Parsons, Smith says she was in a park with her son and struck up a conversation with another parent who happened to be a police officer. Seeing as it was a big news story at the time, their discussion turned to Rehtaeh’s story.
This police officer told Smith that, “…if you read the police report of the case, things are not as they have been made to appear in the media.” Smith then said something (more as a question than a statement) to the effect of Rehtaeh being a “troubled girl,” as she tried to figure out the point the officer was trying to make. The officer replied that, “yes, it appeared she was troubled.”
A couple weeks after Rehtaeh died, another Canadian writer claimed to have inside information about the case and had gained access to Rehtaeh’s police file, or at least parts of it, from a police source. The article she wrote was nothing short of a victim blaming hit piece designed solely to exonerate the officers involved in the investigation and to paint the four youths involved in a favourable light; as if Rehtaeh’s sexual assault was a misunderstanding.
Journalists using unnamed police sources is nothing new, especially if the force involved is facing a public backlash. It’s probably one of the most gutless things an officer of the law can do – reach out anonymously to a reporter in order to discredit a victims story in the media.
It nothing new.
On April 26, 1994, a 27-year-old woman told the New York City Police Department that she had been dragged into the bushes and raped in Prospect Park in the city’s Brooklyn borough. In the days that followed, New York Daily News’ Mike McAlary wrote a story entitled “Rape Hoax, the Real Crime,” and alleged that the woman “will probably end up being arrested herself” because she “invented the crime.”
McAlary’s source was an unnamed police officer. Even after DNA evidence was gathered from the crime scene, McAlary continued to write articles casting doubt on the victim’s integrity and calling for her to be arrested.
The woman was vindicated last Tuesday when the NYPD announced that the DNA evidence in the 23-year-old case matched James Edward Webb, a serial rapist who is already serving 75 years in prison, according to the Associated Press.
The woman’s lawyer, New York attorney Martin Garbus, said she was experiencing very mixed emotions.
“She’s feeling a combination of pain, confusion and relief,” Garbus, who also represented her at the time of the case, told the Guardian.
“The newspaper stories, which were relentless, day after day, were nearly as traumatizing as the rape itself,” Garbus said.
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