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editorial

Caesar Harper, father of Rinelle Harper, weeps at a press conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, November 13, 2014.John Woods/The Canadian Press

It's impossible to underestimate the courage it took for the parents of Rinelle Harper to allow the police to release her name to the media. Rinelle is the 16-year-old aboriginal girl who was sexually assaulted, beaten and left for dead in Winnipeg last week, but who survived and is now recovering. Under normal circumstances, police don't release the identity of a sexual assault victim, and the fact Rinelle is a minor makes this case even more unusual.

But Ceasar and Julie Harper don't want their daughter to be just one more among the 1,180 aboriginal girls and women – so many of whom are nameless to the general public – that have been killed or gone missing in this country. They want us to know about Rinelle, and who she is. And so we must.

This is what we know: Rinelle is incredibly strong. She was sexually assaulted and beaten after leaving her Winnipeg school, where she is a boarder, and was thrown semi-naked into the November waters of the Assiniboine River. She crawled out of the water down river, and she was beaten again, this time with a weapon. Almost seven hours later, a passerby found her alive. She was taken to the hospital and put in the intensive care unit. She was later transferred to the children's ward.

The children's ward.

We know Rinelle loves Southeast Collegiate school, even if it takes her away from her family in northern Manitoba, and that she is looking forward to graduating and joining the armed forces. We know that she is already talking about getting back to school.

We also know Rinelle is getting a good education in a province where 70 per cent of on-reserve natives never finish high school. We know that native child welfare is a disaster in Manitoba, with foster children being warehoused in motel rooms. And we know one of Rinelle's suspected attackers was raised by that pitiful system. Her plight, along with that of so many others like her, is part crime and part sociological epidemic – an epidemic that has been ignored by Ottawa and the provincial governments for far too long.

Above all, we know Rinelle Harper has a mother and father who love her. And we know that her parents' decision to release her name led to the quick arrest of two suspects, and that it has galvanized a community that has seen too much violence of a similar kind. Her parents' courage in coming forward must now be honoured by all those who can make a difference.