In November 2011, when Rehtaeh was 15, she went to a party with a friend. There was drinking, and her memory of the evening was spotty. At that home, her mother said on a memorial Facebook page, she was raped by four boys. One of the boys allegedly photographed the assault and distributed the evidence among Rehtaeh's classmates.
After moving towns to attend a new high school, and hospitalising herself because of suicidal thoughts, Rehtaeh hanged herself in the bathroom of her home.
I looked up her story when it was sent to me by a writer at the Canadian Huffington Post who saw the YouTube video of the gang rape ordeal in Dandora as documented by Denis Okari of Kiss TV (The Star first broke the story on March 12 in an article titled 'Dandora's most chilling secret gang-rape on the rise').
I have seen a common refrain expressed online in response to Rehtaeh’s death and also the Dandora gang-rape documentary: "What are we teaching our kids?" It's a good question to ask when four young men allegedly felt that they had the right to do whatever they liked to a girl who could not - did not - consent, when others at the party didn't intervene, and when a young woman's peers felt that sharing a photograph of the worst thing that had ever happened to her was justified.
But I think a better question to ask may be: "What aren't we teaching our kids?" When it comes to what young people apparently believe today about sex and the meaning of consent, something very important isn't getting through.
Last September, a British Columbia teen posted a heart-rending video detailing the constant cyber-bullying she had endured for more than a year. One month later she commits suicide.
In Ottawa, three teenage girls stand trial for human trafficking and running a prostitution ring. South of the border, in Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players are headed to prison for rape, and two girls face charges for threatening the victim. In Fort Colville, Washington, a pair of boys, just 10 and 11 years old, are charged with plotting to rape and murder seven classmates.
Cue the cliché question: "What is wrong with kids today?" Perhaps the problem is what we are teaching them, or more accurately, what we are not teaching: compassion.
I didn’t come up with the items above myself; they were sent to me by Katy Hall who writes for the Huffington Post in Canada. Once she came across the YouTube video of Dennis Okari’s documentary, she figured I should know what else is happening in the world. She also shared with me a piece written by Craig and Marc Kielburger, the co-founders of Free The Children. They believe that the issue isn’t the kids - it’s us and I tend to agree.
All the e-mails I have received and the phone calls we took on the issue of gang-rapes in Dandora were filled with shock, pain, disbelief and in some cases anger.
Children as young as 13, 14 and 15, raping – nay – gang-raping their peers is not something we can even imagine. It’s so easy to fall into the usual pattern of asking about the police, government, chief etc. The truth is a lot simpler as Craig and Marc Kielburger put it – what’s wrong with us.
Numerous scientific studies over the past few decades have found a direct correlation -- the greater a person's capacity for compassion and empathy, the less likely they are to commit acts of aggression or anti-social behaviour.
When we read about horrific acts of bullying, it is not enough to utter the mantra "what is wrong with kids today" and flip to the next page of the newspaper. We are not powerless to prevent these tragedies -- the solution starts with educating our children in a culture of compassion.
These 'kids' didn't create the hot mess the world is in, we did. What happened in Canada and what is happening in Dandora isn’t just about crime; it’s also about socialisation.
We need to have more dialogue with our young people about respect and about what is and what's not appropriate behaviour. Before we dare to utter the ever condemning, self-defeating words “what’s wrong with kids today?” let’s ask ourselves, what have we done to our kids? What have we taught or not taught them. You see, the problem with children today is the adults.