Teens, technology and torture
Adolescence has always been one of Dante’s nine circles of hell.
Now, that hell can be instantly photographed, recorded, posted and shared for all posterity. It’s worse than ever. I can’t imagine living in it. Just before the Thanksgiving weekend, Toronto lawyer Murray Segal’s independent report into the response of police and prosecution services to the Rehtaeh Parsons case was released.
Nothing I write will come close to encompassing the heartbreaking tragedy in this case; it is almost too much to bear.
Rehtaeh was only 15 when - drunk and vomiting out a window, her pants down - a male acquaintance was photographed having sexual intercourse with her.
The photo was shared around her school. Rehtaeh, unable to escape the images and knowing that police would not be charging anyone, committed suicide. Only then were people charged.
Segal doesn’t pull punches: “A young person’s integrity, dignity and privacy was violated in a degrading manner. A teenage girl was sexually objectified in a dehumanizing way. Instead of intervening to help someone in a vulnerable state, two other young persons decided to treat her as a prop.”
The report takes a hard look at the mistakes made during the investigative process - it also is an important piece in a discussion about how to address cyberbullying.
If you’re a parent of teenagers, it’s well worth a read and a blunt family discussion.
You can find it here: http://bit.ly/1Pdoj8I
Anyone who has teens knows that they sometimes demonstrate bad judgement, are souped up on hormones and going through physical changes and are ill-equipped to see anything more global than their own immediate circumstances and surroundings.
And they’re armed with technology.
Segal puts it well: “The cultural context has shifted. Powerful technology has been placed in the hands of adolescents who are not great self-regulators and who lack impulse control.
“Years ago, adolescent mistakes could quickly be forgotten.
“Today, that is no longer the case. Because the consequences of adolescents’ conduct are different, the rules must be different.
“The justice system has an obligation to respond to the way our world changes, and to address this new phenomenon.”
Even the Internet’s inability to forget made things worse: “My point here is that, by all accounts, the circulating photo and related bullying is the aspect that truly affected Rehtaeh the most, because it prevented her from moving forward,” Segal wrote.
“The photo kept resurfacing and she was constantly on edge because it was impossible to tell when and where it would appear. One way or another, this problem has to be addressed.”
That may be old news in a case that has stretched on since the original assault in November 2011.
But it’s something that every teenager who has a cellphone - OK, practically every teenager, then - should be forced to sit down and think about.
They should at least be aware that their actions can harm or even kill people and that, once it’s uncorked, the genie often can’t be put back into the bottle.
We talk to them about riding in cars with drunk drivers, about not being drunk drivers.
We talk to them about the dangers of drugs, especially party drugs with unknown provenance.
It’s pretty clear the world wide web, a cellphone with a camera and bad judgement can be every bit as dangerous.