The family of Rehtaeh Parsons says they are “sick” and “disgusted” that a dating website used a picture of their 17-year-old daughter who had killed herself after complaining of being cyber-bullied.
The ads for ionechat.com began showing up on Facebook on Tuesday. It featured pictures of the Cole Harbour teen alongside the words “Find love in Canada! Meet Canadian girls and women for friendship, dating or relationships. Sign up now!”
Parsons, 17, was taken off life support in April after attempting to take her own life following an alleged sexual assault and relentless online bullying.
According to Rehtaeh’s mother Leah, her daughter had been attacked at a party she attended two years previously. A photo showing her alleged rape by four boys was published online and Rehtaeh then began receiving abusive messages.
Her parents said she had been bullied so severely since the images surfaced she had to change schools and move house, and spent six weeks in hospital being treated for depression.
Her father said on Wednesday that he had been “disgusted” by the advert.
“I don’t think this was some accident. I think this was just someone doing something…to see how many people they could all of a sudden get to their website or doing something outrageous just for hits and visitors,” he said.
Late Tuesday night, a website administrator told Global News that the image of Rehtaeh was taken from “Google Images randomly”.
“I [used] it accidentally because I [didn’t] know about the story [that happened] with the woman,” Anh Dung wrote.
Dung called the incident the “biggest mistake” he’s ever made and that he felt sorry when he learned Rehtaeh’s story.
Facebook said it had banned the company involved from the social network.
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the internet and using it in their ad campaign,” a spokesman said.
“This is a gross violation of our ad policies and we have removed the ad and permanently deleted the advertiser’s account.
“We apologise for any harm this caused.”
Parsons’ death prompted a review of how RCMP and the school board handled the case. Cyberbullying legislation was officially put in place in Nova Scotia in August; it gives victims the ability to sue cyberbullies and their parents, if the accused are minors.