Assaulted On Social Media

by Brendan James

Ann Friedman studies the mixed effects of social media in the aftermath of of rape and sexual assaults:

For decades, the challenge facing anti-rape activists was to take what is often an intensely private crime—54 percent of sexual assaults are estimated to go unreported—and bring it to national attention as a pervasive crisis. Now that cases regularly crop up in which photos and videos of sexual assaults are circulated on social media, it’s becoming harder to argue that rape is anything but a public scourge. We are all bystanders. We all bear witness.

Yet the increased attention on social media often has tragic consequences for victims. They don’t just have to grapple with the physical and psychological ramifications of being sexually violated. They have to deal with the fact that everyone else knows what happened, too. …

For a victim, there’s no difference between people who share footage of the assault because they want to raise awareness about the problem and people who share footage to laugh at it or, worse, because it turns them on. “The horror of having the intimate violation of your body exposed, shared, transmitted, and existing in a way that you know can never be expunged is awful,” says Kaethe Morris Hoffer, legal director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. “Since the advent of the Internet, it has been a tremendous and devastating burden for survivors to live with the knowledge that they have no hope of ensuring that images of their sexual violation will ever be erased. What social media does is make the transmission of it a hundred times faster and more shareable.”