Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
In April 2013, a 17-year-old girl named Rehtaeh Parsons, was removed from life support and subsequently died. This happened three days after her mother discovered her daughter hanging in the bathroom of their home in Nova Scotia, Canada. The girl had apparently gotten drunk at a party in 2011 and was gang-raped by four boys, who took a picture of the scene and posted it online. Rehtaeh was mercilessly bullied by classmates for two years after the incident and even after the family moved to a new town to get her away from the abuse, the bullying continued. In August 2013, Canadian authorities charged two 18-year-old boys with distributing child pornography. In November 2014, the first accused was sentenced to a conditional discharge with 12 months' probation, which means that his criminal record will not show a conviction in this case unless he breaches the terms of his probation. In January 2015, the second accused, who had texted a photo that showed him penetrating the victim and flashing a thumbs up while she vomited, was sentenced to 12 months' probation.
Rehtaeh is one of the many examples of teenagers who get drunk and then get raped or sexually abused while photos of them are being taken and they are not aware of it due to their level of intoxication. Although the majority of examples used in this article are American, it does not mean similar situations are not happening locally. In fact, in March 2013, a Gr 12 boy from a high school in Welkom was arrested after he was caught having sex in a public park with a drunk girl who appeared to be unaware of what was going on around her. Friends of the boy apparently recorded the sexual act on their cellphones. The boy was spurred on loudly by his friends and the commotion was so loud that a neighbour came outside to check what was going on, while a taxi driver also stopped to investigate. These two men pulled the boy off the girl, who, even in her drunken state, threatened to complain to the police because they had been interrupted. She then left with the boy, and hours later police members and her parents found her underwear in the park. When she sobered up, the girl couldn't remember anything about the incident, but her blood was subsequently drawn to establish her level of intoxication. The boy was charged with rape since the girl, who was very drunk, could most probably not have consented to having sexual intercourse, even though both of them were older than 16. The police had further tracked down the boys who had taken the cellphone footage and warned them that distributing the footage was also an offence in contravention of provisions of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 and/or the Films and Publications Act 65 of 1996 (www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/ Friends-film-teen-raping-drunk-girl-20130307).
Parents, educators, law enforcement officers, etc must take note of this trend among teenagers. From a young age, children, especially girls, are warned to be vigilant around alcohol and potential sexual predators and when they reach their teens, they are assumed to be aware of these dangers. Therefore, when they find themselves in situations where they get drunk, raped and filmed, some people will be of the opinion that what had happened to them was their own fault because they had not been more careful or self-aware. Tennis (2014) believes that this form of victim-blaming, in which intoxicated individuals are deemed responsible for what happen to them, enables the sexual assault of drunk and, especially, unconscious victims, to occur. Perpetrators of rape permit themselves to view drunk and unconscious individuals as inviting exploitation - as if allowing oneself to become out-of-control drunk can actually be viewed as an implicit statement of consent! Even worse, some perpetrators cease to see their victims as human beings at all.
When someone is so drunk that they don't remember what happened the next day, they would have been, in all likelihood, too drunk to consent - in other words, too drunk to excitedly say "yes" to having sex. When someone doesn't consent, then any sexual activity with them amounts to sexual assault and/or rape. And it is important to note that, in terms of section 16 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007, even if a child has consented, the person who committed the act of sexual violation with the child is still guilty of the offence of having committed an act of consensual sexual violation with a child. However, section 56 of Act 32 of 2007, which relates to the age and age differences between children, also needs to be taken into consideration. Of further importance is what is defined as sexual assault and, according to the Department of Justice, it is when someone touches another person in a sexually suggestive way without that person's permission. Having sex without permission is known as rape (www.justice.gov. za/faq).
Some people abuse alcohol in the same way that they would use date rape drugs. This means that they coerce or force a person to drink a lot of alcohol in an attempt to get the victim drunk enough that s/he does not know what is happening. Then there are those who will seek out an extremely intoxicated person with the intention of taking advantage of that intoxication to cross sexual boundaries.
In some cases, perpetrators take further advantage of their victim's situation and photograph the rape or sexual assault and even distribute it to their friends. The ability to record and communicate rape and sexual assaults has given an additional dimension to the crime of rape and sexual assault against girls. Young people with raging hormones and low impulse control are passing around these pictures, which amount to child pornography, without realising the consequences of their actions.
Burleigh (2013) argues that teen sexting is a way of "magnifying girls' fantasies of being a star of their own movies and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest". Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs primarily between cellphones. Teenage boys engaging in this practice can face legal consequences, which can mean the end of their lives before they've even reached adulthood. Teenagers also do not realise that the photos they disseminate can reach an international audience and stay in this public domain forever.
A real life story
The shocking story of what happened to the 15-year-old Audrie Pott, an attractive brunette, confirms the tragic consequences of teenage drinking, sexual assault and sexting. Rolling Stone magazine published Audrie's story a few years ago (Burleigh, 2013), and Servamus decided to share her shocking story to warn parents and teenagers about the potential repercussions of teenagers' irresponsible actions, and how it can result in the victim committing suicide.