Update: “Facebook belatedly moved to further restrict hate speech that glorified violence against women after an organized social media campaign caused some companies like Nissan, the automaker, to withhold advertising from the site…”…read the rest.
When I signed up for Facebook many years ago, I never dreamed that it would result in…death and rape threats.
Two years ago, I left my long-time career and began work to empower women and girls.
About eight months ago, I veered out a bit to help tackle rape culture on Facebook.
Last month, I began to receive death and rape threats as a result of that work. I wish I was kidding.
Today I bring you some of my thoughts on how rape—specifically the threat of rape via social media—is used to systematically stop the empowerment of women and girls.
The easiest way to squash a woman is to abuse her. And rape is a tool with the express purpose of killing her spirit completely.
There’s growing global awareness about rape. I’m not sure if there are actually more rapes, particularly gang rapes, occurring now. But it feels that way to me. Whether it is that more are reported or more are occurring, the rape of even one woman tears as the fabric of society, and hurts us all.
When we look at the aspirations of most patriarchal traditions, which the majority of people around the world subscribe to, submissiveness is usually valued in women. I even remember being told specifically as a girl, if someone tries to rape you, let them because it will be easier than fighting them, in which case they might kill you afterward.
Someone did try to rape me when I was 19. I was still a virgin, and I remember thinking, “I am not going to lose my virginity this way.” So I fought like hell. If one can “win” in an assault situation, I suppose I won. But the reality is: no assault ever feels like a win to a woman who survives it.
Had I heeded the traditional advice I was given, I know without a doubt I would have been raped.
Since my work has centered on girls, I have been criticized for veering off course. Rape is not a subject for girls, or so I have been told. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, that is just not true.
Current U.S. rape statistics tell us:
> 44 percent of victims are under the age of 18.
> 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
> Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
> And, 97 percent of rapists will never spend one day in jail.
It seems that most people still have a lot to learn when it comes to rape. Soraya Chemaly wrote an excellent article several months back clarifying 50 actual facts about rape.
But here is what I want to say today: rape begins long before it happens. Somewhere along the line, the perpetrator decides rape is okay.
I don’t believe anyone is born a rapist. Perhaps it is a gradual process. TV, movies, magazines, porn and social media cut away at the original goodness we were born with. Social media is perhaps the most dangerous because it can spread images so quickly. For instance, the child porn video posted to Facebook involving a baby recently gathered 32,000 shares and over 5,000 likes before it was removed.
Until fairly recently, you had to go to a specialty store to get pornography and it was relatively difficult to obtain child porn. Now it is readily available, including hard-core and child porn posted directly on Facebook. The baby video was taken down relatively quickly, but recent articles about girls who have been gang-raped in North America and India tell a different story.
I fear rape victims are becoming younger by the day as our tolerance for rape culture increases.
Twenty years ago, a group of men would not have sat around in public and bragged about raping a woman. I hope. It would have been considered weird and gross. And who in their right mind would have told a rape “joke”? Now behind a computer screen, millions of men seem to feel comfortable with both.
Rape has been normalized, to some, through social media. Talk about rape is now funny, protected under “free speech” or “controversial humor.” Rape drugs are also normalized through free advertisements on Facebook, or what they call “memes.”
It is not just rape itself that silences women. It is the fear of rape. Every single rape joke and meme of violence against woman has a very clear message: “Shut the f**k up, woman. Who are you to be bold, vivacious and filled with light? I can rape you at any given time and take all of that from you.”
At the same time, Facebook policy is strict on female nipples. They are not allowed on Facebook and are quickly removed. I find this more than ironic since I have personally seen a tremendous amount of child pornography. If Facebook can find nipples easily, surely they can find penises and vaginas, which are readily available on thousands of pages.
Recently my husband sat next to a woman on an airplane with a newborn. She covered her entire body, including her own head, to cover up the act of feeding her baby. When she was finished, she turned to him and apologized.
And yet rape is casually promoted via pictures and memes posted on Facebook. In my case, men posted pictures of women and girls being raped to my page. I have yet to see an apology from anyone about that.
Think about that for a minute.
The nipple argument has been going on for some time and it matters. Look at some of the pictures that have blurred out nipples so they could remain on Facebook. The Femen page is a good place to see such pictures.
Our nipples are powerful symbols: they are the non-negotiable assertion that women give life. Every man was born of a woman. And that is perhaps a part of what stings for men who hate women.
Given the prevalence of rape, it is not by accident that the threat of rape is used to silence us. If roughly one-third of women are already traumatized by rape or sexualized violence, you can bet most of those women are effectively silenced, if not re-traumatized again with every image they see.
Those who do not speak out against rape culture are complicit in it. For those who are survivors themselves, speaking out can take many different forms. Telling your story, teaching enthusiastic consent and boycotting platforms that promote rape are a few ways of speaking out. I also realize that some of us also just need to take a break at times for our own self-preservation.
Those who blame the victim instead of the perpetrator also play a leading role in ensuring more rapes will go unpunished, contributing to the cycle of more rapes.
After all, if 97 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail, you can be certain that most rapists know they will get away with it. And if we fail to prosecute rape itself, men who threaten rape are even more certain there will be no consequences for their actions.
This cycle will only worsen if we fail to confront it.
We have two very recent of 15-year-old girls being gang raped and further traumatized by the pictures of their rape being posted on Facebook. Both girls killed themselves. Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons both deserved so much better, and there are more young girls like them out there.
That is where this hits me pretty hard, going back to my attack nearly 20 years ago. I could fight off one man, who was slightly bigger than me, but I certainly could not have fought off three or four. And I never had to deal with pictures of the attempted assault being posted all over Facebook.
We are living in a different time. I am not so sure that it is a better time. All of us must work harder to change that and to empower girls around the world with the tools they need.
So far, few people seem to be pointing out to the obvious connection between cause and effect. But I believe one day platforms such as Facebook that enable rape culture will become more accountable. By allowing pictures of women and girls being raped to be posted to their site, they are a part of that culture, and must take some responsibility for that rape as well as each additional rape that will be inspired by it.
We need to stop blaming women and start shaming and punishing the perpetrators. Rape culture will never disappear by itself. We need more warriors. We need our own Gulabi Gangs all over the world.
I believe that we can find the strength within ourselves to be powerful and reclaim a culture that loves women. When we begin to collectively honor females as the holy beings that they are, rape will become incomprehensible.
Many of us have been fighting Facebook’s policies for years. Thus far, nothing much has changed.
I for one am exhausted by this fight. But every time I think of giving up, I remember what we are fighting for: our girls. For those of us who are survivors, we are also reclaiming what was taken from us. We are saying, “Not again.”
Last week, a collective of over 100 feminist and human rights organizations from around the world published an Open Letter to Facebook, which ends thus:
“In a world in which hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted daily and where intimate partner violence remains one of the leading causes of death for women around the world, it is not possible to sit on the fence. We call on Facebook to make the only responsible decision and take swift, clear action on this issue, to bring your policy on rape and domestic violence into line with your own moderation goals and guidelines.”
Too many of us have experienced sexual trauma during our lifetime. We are at a tipping point where violence against women can either massively increase or decrease. Our actions during these next weeks of protest are critically important.
Facebook does not have to be a platform for rapists and men who abuse women. By removing images that promote violence against women, we are sending a bigger message to our culture at large. Rape and violence against women are unacceptable, and will no longer be tolerated in any form.
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This article is adapted via: Our Stories Untold.
Ed: Brianna Bemel, Waylon Lewis
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