In a slightly more ranty #FeministFriday post than usual (with good reason) Lindsey talks about the way social media campaigns are waged by rapists against their victims, and the next to damn-near-nothing we seem to be doing about it. I don’t normally go for this kind of thing, but today I feel it’s warranted: trigger warning — if you’re not comfortable reading about sexual assault and online bullying, don’t read this post. Get someone else to, and have them tell you about what an awesome supervillain/hero Lindsey would be.
There’s a saying that frequently makes its way around the Facebook pages of writerly types: “Write drunk, edit sober.” It’s frequently (and wrongly) attributed to either Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain, because they seem like the types that would say that, don’t they? It’s meant to tap into the dichotomy of writing — the need for creativity, flexibility, and sudden inspiration in the writing process, and the need for cold precision and clearheadedness in the editing process. That dichotomy, however, is not the reason that I’m carefully keeping a glass of Carolans in arm’s reach (I’m pretty sure their slogan is “a cheaper version of Bailey’s” for those unfamiliar with it). Instead, this glass of Carolans is basically the only thing preventing me from finally becoming a low-budget supervillain à la Dr. Horrible (my parents would be so glad that I was finally finishing my education, at least).
The reason I’m contemplating supervillainy, and the reason Carolans is currently keeping the populace safe from my attempts at vigilantism, is the host of all of those misattributed pithy phrases: Facebook. Or, more accurately, social media in general, and the absolutely horrifying way that people are using social media to try to get away with rape, harass rape victims, and generally bring the whole issue of rape to a terrifying technological level.
It’s no secret that social media has begun to play an increasingly larger role in rape narratives. Sometimes, it’s a force of mixed good and evil. Social media was certainly responsible for the swift distribution of videos and pictures of the Stuebenville rape victim in the wake of her attack, but it was also social media that led to the exposure of the crime itself, and the ultimate push for justice.
More often than not, however, it is simply a method to make an already horrible situation worse, both in the US and abroad.
In the United States, video and photos of a drugged sixteen-year-old rape victim left splayed on the ground began making the rounds on social media. And then, because the world isn’t already terrible enough (*takes a fortifying sip of Carolans*) people on Twitter turned the photo of an unconscious teenage rape victim into a meme. Under the hashtag #jadapose, people would place themselves in the same pose that Jada was left in following her rape. For the lols, and because apparently kicking puppies was too mainstream.
In New Zealand, a group of teen boys who called themselves the Roast Busters would pick up, drug, and gang rape women and underage girls, then post videos of the rapes on their Facebook page in an attempt to humiliate and silence their victims. Some of their victims were as young as thirteen. Cops knew about the Facebook page and refused to have it taken down, and claimed they were unable to prosecute because none of the victims had been “brave” enough to come forward to press charges. (I wonder if that had anything to do with their public humiliation and the fact that the general public seemed to be on the side of the Roast Busters, going so far as to create an “Appreciation page”).
In Canada, a seventeen-year-old boy took pictures of a sixteen-year-old boy raping a fifteen-year-old girl while she was obviously intoxicated and vomiting out of a window. The boy raping her was giving the camera a thumbs up. (Time for another pour, methinks.) The photo quickly made its way around the school of Retaeh Parsons, the victim. When the crime was brought to the attention of the police, they were quick to cut off their investigation, saying there wasn’t enough evidence for a rape charge and that the photo’s spread was a “community matter.” Retaeh was endlessly bullied after her rape (because obviously the rape victim is the individual in the situation deserving of scorn) until two years after the incident, and with no criminal charges for her rapists on the horizon, Rehtaeh committed suicide. After her case became a media scandal, the police were quick to bring charges, and to manipulate a law forbidding the publication of the names of victims in child pornography cases to attempt to squash the discussion of Rehtaeh’s case in the media. Keep it classy, Nova Scotia justice department.
While all of these cases are a few months to a couple years old, their ability to horrify me (and to inspire me towards supervillainy) were recently refreshed when Friend R pointed me towards a new and terrifying method for exploiting social media to make rape even worse: rapists who use social media to try and cover their acts with a false narrative of consent. (When I start my second career as the Feminist Fury, you’ll know who to blame.) British officials have discussed a growing practice of rapists attempting to twist the narrative of their actions, often by sending their victims a message by text or social media that thanks them for their sexual encounter. I can think of few things more terrifying, more horrifying, and more outright sickening than a woman signing into her Facebook account and being exposed to a “Thanks for a great night” message from her rapist. The fact that social media, already used to humiliate victims, spread images of their assault, and allow harassment by strangers, might also be used by rapists to try and establish their “innocence” seems a step too far. Women already face a very difficult time being believed and taken seriously when they report a rape, and the actions of the victim are often scrutinized even more closely than the actions of her rapist: What was she wearing? Why was she drinking? Why did she go alone with the man? Why didn’t she fight back? Why didn’t she report it immediately? Having a rapist take this extra step to prevent their victim from being believed makes reporting a rape seem more futile than it already is — another chance for the victim to be on trial, instead of her rapist.
I’m not going to end this the way that many similar articles end, by telling other women to “be careful out there.” Yes, we live in an awful enough world that it’s probably a good idea for women to take extra (and unfair) precautions when around others. After all, as prevailing wisdom dictates, if a woman (or sixteen-year-old, or fifteen-year-old, or thirteen-year-old) isn’t constantly on the lookout for rape, well it’s her own fault if she gets raped. But that’s also bullshit. Before we start making every junior high student take self-defense classes and wear date rape drug detecting nail polish (which doesn’t even fucking work) let’s consider addressing rape culture. Let’s pass affirmative consent legislation, and address toxic masculinity, and make it very clear in sex ed classes what rape actually is so that the guys who think “silence equals yes” actually know that what they’re doing is rape. Let’s test the estimated hundreds of thousands of rape kits that are currently sitting on shelves (and decaying past the point of the statute of limitations) so that we can identify and prosecute the rapists who have never been caught. Let’s write to Twitter, and Facebook, and Myspace (if that thing still exists) to make them work on curbing the sexual harassment and bullying that happens on their platforms. Let’s do something slightly more proactive than telling women to watch their drinks and wear longer skirts.
And I’ll be over here drinking Carolans and stitching “Feminist Fury” onto a costume just in case that doesn’t work out.