Teens, tech­nol­ogy and tor­ture

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc. Twit­ter @Wanger­sky.

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.

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