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URGENT: Youth leadership needed to save our girls

April 25, 2013

How is this a leadership issue? In Nova Scotia, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life after photographs of her being raped at a party at the age of 15 were taken and then circulated on social media for over 18 months. In a similar case in California, 15-year old Audrey Pott hanged herself after she was sexually assaulted while passed out at a party seven months ago, and after humiliating pictures were posted online.

Rape, suicide and cyber-bullying are leadership issues because, at so many points in time, a little bit of courage and leadership could have saved these lives. It would have taken:

  • One person to call 911 during the assault at a party
  • One person to stop the sexual assault
  • Many people to refuse to forward evidence of a crime and pornography
  • One person to report it to police or a school resource officer
  • People to reach out to support these girls after they had been victimized (and, perhaps many did)

In the aftermath, people are lobbying politicians to enact stronger cyber-bullying legislation; but leadership from police, judges and politicians comes too late for these girls. It can only penalize future actions of a similar kind – not prevent them.

I’m also advocating leadership of a different kind. Let’s empower young people to stand up for one another. I’m talking about daily acts of self-leadership to do what’s right and to lead within their sphere of influence. Every day teenagers “don’t let friends drink and drive.” Let’s empower them to put a stop to sexual violence. Let’s denounce the aggressors so we don’t have to hear that these girls – the victims – were ashamed when that’s clearly not where the shame should lie.

Let’s also remember that leadership is about tenacity. Please ensure we’re not distracted by the latest issue on the news and forget that almost daily we are reading about violence against women in our communities. If taking advantage of young girls at parties is a cultural norm, then I am concerned for my daughter, and my neighbours’ daughters. Please support the local organizations that work tirelessly to prevent violence against women and who are there to help women, families, employers and communities pick up the pieces in the aftermath.

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