Dr. Phil tweet sparks controversy ahead of Rehtaeh Parsons segment
The tragic story of Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who died by suicide after allegedly being raped and cyberbullied, will be the subject of an upcoming segment on the “Dr. Phil” show.
But before the episode has even aired, it's become the source of controversy because of a tweet sent from Dr. Phil’s Twitter account that the show later acknowledged was “ill-advised.”
Rehtaeh’s father Glenn Canning says Parsons’ mother, Leah Parsons, taped "The Dr. Phil Show" segment Wednesday in Los Angeles.
“She was just asked by a producer down there if she could appear on 'The Dr. Phil Show',” he told CTV Atlantic.
The episode is expected to air in the coming weeks.
But ahead of the taping, Dr. Phil triggered an onslaught of criticism on Twitter by crowdsourcing opinions on the segment’s subject matter. The tweet from Dr. Phil’s account asked: “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her? Reply with a yes, or no to @DrPhil #teensaccused”
Hundreds in the Twittersphere immediately expressed outrage, asking why the TV psychologist appeared to be suggesting that having sex with a drunk girl, without her consent, was up for debate.
The tweet was deleted Wednesday. When asked for comment, the show’s senior vice-president of communications Stacey Luchs issued this statement to CTV News: “This was a research post in preparation for a show, not a personal post and Dr. Phil deleted it the second he saw it. It was clearly ill-advised.”
The show later released a longer statement asserting that the tweet was meant only to evoke discussion and that Dr. Phil believes that anyone incapacitated by drugs, alcohol, or mental illness does not “have the capacity to give their consent to anything, especially sex.”
It added: “We sincerely apologize that it suggested anything other than what was intended, data gathering. As you can imagine, Dr. Phil is very upset that this happened.”
Jackie Stevens of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax says the uproar the tweet caused shows that the issue of consent is highly charged.
“The way people reacted indicates how serious and sensitive an issue this is,” she said.
Parsons died in April following a suicide attempt. Her family has said the 17-year-old endured months of cyberbullying after a photo of the teen allegedly being raped at an alcohol-fuelled party made the rounds at her school.
No one was ever charged in the alleged sexual assault. But earlier this month, two 18-year-old teens were charged with distributing child pornography. Their names were not released because they were minors at the time of the alleged offences.
Parsons’ story sparked a Canada-wide debate about rape and consent, as well as the dangers of cyberbullying.
Her case also led to provincial legislation meant to curb online bullying, which went into effect earlier this month.
Under the legislation, entitled the Cyber-Safety Act, Nova Scotia residents can sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their child are being bullied online. The legislation also compels school officials to investigate each case of alleged bullying reported to them.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Alyse Hand and files from The Canadian Press