Social media has become a new tool in rape culture.
The April 14 episode of CBS’s Emmy-winning drama The Good Wife began with the entire screen filled by a tweet being typed and posted: Todd Bratcher raped me.
In The Good Wife, the victim uses Twitter for recourse against her attacker and is held in contempt of court for violating a gag order. But her rapist has used social media himself, posting a video of him and his friends as he rapes a blow-up doll with a hairbrush. He calls the doll by the victim’s name, Rainey, and laughs about the faux assault, as do his friends. They toss the doll around, calling "her" Rainey over and over.
In the end, social media undoes the perpetrators in The Good Wife just as it did in Steubenville, Ohio last month (see SheWired 4-3-2013). But in two other recent cases it undid the victims first.
Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 when her mother found her hanging in her bedroom in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was taken off life support last week, never having regained consciousness.
Audrie Pott was 15 when she hanged herself last September in Santa Clara, California. On April 15 the three 16-year-old teens accused of raping Pott were finally arrested after a cyber trail of photos of the assault was pieced together by police. The boys’ names are not being released due to their age, although Pott’s parents are pressing for them to be tried as adults.
Parsons’ mother has also taken to social media to decry what happened to her daughter. The four boys involved were never arrested, although officials are now re-examining that case. Pressure from Anonymous, the cyber guerilla group, has added to the discomfort of the Halifax police. The group has threatened to name the four alleged rapists, but has not yet done so at the request of Parsons’ mother. (Anonymous also figured in The Good Wife episode.)
I’ve received a series of emails since Parsons’ death from different groups, Change.org among them, demanding an end to "rape culture." But rape culture can’t be ended by signing a petition. Rape culture can only be ended when rape is recognized as a crime regardless of who victim or perpetrator are.
When my last piece on rape ran here, I got a lot of Twitter responses, some from men confused about why women would call men they know rapists.
I don’t feel like educating men about rape, but somebody has to since society has turned a blind eye to rape and its back on rape victims for generations. So I kept explaining, again and again. No still means no. And if a woman is too drunk or high or is unconscious and you have sex with her, that’s rape. Even if she was into you before she was drunk or high or unconscious.
A few men told me that "there’s a point where a man can’t stop."
No, there isn’t. There’s a point where a man doesn’twant to stop, but that’s different. A man’s desire to have an orgasm never trumps a woman’s desire to not be raped.
Both Parsons and Pott, as well as the unnamed Steubenville victim were all raped while they were unconscious.
Think about that for a moment: Each of these girls was raped when she was out cold, unconscious after drinking too much at a party. Each rape was either photographed or videotaped. Then the rapists spread the images of the rapes onto social media.
This was how each of these teenagers discovered she was a rape victim: When she saw either photos or videos of herself being raped online.
Anyone who is engaged in social media knows that the Internet is forever. Hundreds, thousands, millions of people can access whatever it is that has been posted.
Millions of people can view your rape online. Just like porn.
The rape photos of Parsons and Pott were sent throughout their high schools and social networks. Everyone knew they had been raped. Everyone had an opinion about it. Everyone they knew as well as hundreds of people they didn’t know.
Both teens were slut-shamed at school as well as among their friends and associates, where rumors were spread along with the texts and emails with the embedded photos. Texts asking for sex were sent to them. Texts calling them sluts were sent to them. Texts bullying and shaming them came constantly.
There was nowhere to hide. Parsons posted on Facebook before she killed herself "worst day ever." Because more than a year of vicious taunts and bullying had taken their toll. She couldn’t stand it one more day. She hanged herself.
Pott lasted only eight days before she, too, hanged herself.
Most rapes are private affairs: One man, one woman or girl. But each of these incidents was a gang rape that was also viewed and recorded by non-participants. No one intervened, no one tried to protect these young women who were dangerously vulnerable.