Enough is Enough: Zero Tolerance for Rape Culture on Facebook. {Trigger Warning: Disturbing Material}

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Actual Meme posted to Rapebook Facebook page

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.

Update: “Facebook Says It Failed to Bar Posts With Hate Speech” (NY Times)


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.”

Rape meme that was posted on Facebook.

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.

Desmond Tutu recently asked, “Why shouldn’t rape be dinner table conversation? I agree with him. We need to have open conversations with both our daughters and our sons about rape.

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.

Gulabi Gangs: photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Please join the #FBRape campaign on Twitter and follow here for upcoming global protests.

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.


Like elephant Enlightened Society on Facebook.


This article is adapted via: Our Stories Untold.



Ed: Brianna Bemel, Waylon Lewis

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Trista Hendren

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God. The second book in this series, Mother Earth, will be published in December. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirlgod.com.

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anonymous Feb 10, 2016 1:27pm

I came across this article a few days ago, I haven’t slept much since. This hit home. But upon arriving there, something felt unusually strange. Like something had been forgotten. In so many words this article Explained that at some point in time perpetrators decide that rape is okay. That way of thinking is a subtle foe. The vast majority of offenders are victims themselves. Most of which, never being granted that which is required to heal (acknowledgement, safety, compassion, acceptance etc.). For the rest, it’s clear as day that the media is drowning our society in poison, further pushing people away from there hearts into a star of complete mindlessness, which brings me to my final point: not only must we empower our women, we must empower our people. Change will only come when our dividing lines diminish, when we see that we’re all in this together.

anonymous Mar 15, 2014 12:58am

When I wrote A Prison of Lies – A Journey Through Madness, I was documenting my path into mental illness, beginning from social maladjustment, alienation, sexual misguidance, and trauma. I wanted to open a discussion about how things can go haywire for a young man that could potentially find expression in heinous acts. I have come to believe that there is a dire need for orienting young men in terms of understanding and managing sexuality. I think that tragic mental health outcomes such as rape are symptomatic of our failure to grapple with issues around sexuality on a societal level.

anonymous Nov 28, 2013 10:02pm

The first pic is SOOO Funnii… XD

anonymous Oct 23, 2013 6:19am

Oh would you look at that – 553 likes, 107 shares, and plenty of people (but mostly women) guffawing at a man being raped. But no need to contact Facebook about this one: it doesn't include strong themes of violence against WOMEN. Nope, no outrage here, move along, folks!

anonymous Jun 10, 2013 8:06pm

The photo, as stated, was one of many posted to Rapebook as a direct threat against the administrators. It is unfortunate that the majority of them – most of which included white males, were too pornographic and abhorrent to post and/or included young children.

I wish we had the same picture to post with a white male in it, but we did not. And being that I am not an expert in Photoshop, and that I do not wish to create a Rape meme, that is the picture we used. If anyone else has those skills, and would like to change the picture, I will happily change it.

anonymous Jun 8, 2013 9:51am

The first picture of a young black male as a perpetrator is dangerous in our culture just watch the Wilding Documentary recently on Independent Lens. Americas race history is directly related to the spawning of violence against women/people under systems like the slavery system and the Jim Crow system lets be clear children(boys and Girls) were raped (murdered) and controlled by those in power. I think to say the choice of this photo was a simple mistake avoids the complication of violence and how we all knowingly or unknowingly engage in abusive cultural thought. Even well minded folks do not like dive into the complexity of white supremacy in our culture. Everyone wants to hold the hero object but not hold onto their inner perpetrator.

anonymous Jun 7, 2013 8:27am

Yeah, the choice of showing that meme prominently at the very top of the article before any explanation is a poor one. Also, Femen is some white libfem bullshit that steps all over women of color and flagrantly disrespects other cultures and belief systems, so linking them in this article is also a very poor choice in my opinion.

    anonymous Jun 10, 2013 8:07pm

    Please see my response regarding the meme below. As for Femen, I have mixed feelings as a Muslim woman. But I suppose that is for another article.

anonymous Jun 7, 2013 8:06am

I will never understand why people think it is ok to censor me, I don't care if it is a rape joke or a deep and thoughtful conversation on religion or politics. Where do you get off telling me how it is ok to express myself? How about we take away your freedom of speech and then you won't be able to post this dribble on the internet. For the record I am against rape I think it is one of the most horrible things you could do to another person. I am more against you trying to control me.

    anonymous Jun 7, 2013 7:35pm

    'Free speech' never has and never will be limitless. If we can explicitly define those limits as being the crossing of the line into hate speech or threats of violence, so much the better. If you think minimising the perpetuation of rapist culture should be subservient to someone's desire to tell a rape joke, I would quite honestly question your priorities.

    anonymous Jun 10, 2013 8:10pm

    You are more against someone trying to "control" you via not allowing you to post rape jokes than someone actually raping you? I'm guessing you have never been raped.

anonymous May 30, 2013 9:20am

I am offended by the choice of meme. The perpetrators mentioned in this article are white men. It is a miss representation of the demographic of male rapists to set up your article with a meme that depicts a black man as a villain.

anonymous May 29, 2013 10:58pm

I think people should shun Facebook. I have. Rape is disgusting. Joking about it is disgusting.

anonymous May 29, 2013 6:41am

Well, if rape culture should ever be discussed seriously, it has to focus on the most prominent and widely supported act of
men and women support rape of male prisoners, especially when they are sex offenders. It is so common to hear a woman tell you, that she wishes a sex offender to be castrated or a least raped many times in prison, but nobody recognizes this as part of a wide accepted rape culture only affecting men. I have never heard "I hope she gets raped in prison". Never.
This has gone so far, that advertisement against piracy of movies in Germany had openly threatened with the probability of rape in prison!

You cannot wish a prisoner to be raped and be disgusted by other forms of rape. And you cannot discuss rape culture with the many other male victims and their often (yes, they exist) female offenders. So, please, broaden your effort to all victims or be a member of rape culture.

anonymous May 28, 2013 12:55pm

Wow. This was powerful. It makes my heart ache to read things like: "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."

I appreciate your courage and commitment in bringing this to our collective attention. FaceBook really needs to get its priorities straight. I just got scolded for sending a friend invite to someone who did not remember me. Seems like they issue parking tickets at the drop of a hat, while being wholly inadequate in their policing of major crime.

Thank you for your work here.


    anonymous May 28, 2013 1:58pm

    Yes, well said. Thank you Mick.

    anonymous Jan 29, 2015 10:39pm

    And the easiest way to destroy a man is to set up "evidence" (spending time alone in an office together, or something) and then charge him with rape. Proof of innocence doesn't get his reputation back, or lack of evidence that he did anything in the first place (*cough* Cosby *cough*).

    Sure, living with abuse would be horrible, and it cuts your self-esteem and often will impair sexual pleasure with those who actually love you. But living with the label racist, on the PUBLIC sex-offender records for life, and other rights no longer available depending on state – innocent men DO go through this, it is not a myth.

    Yes, women get raped and ignored, maybe they're brushed off because of stories of women taking advantage of the system to get back at boyfriends. Maybe it's sexism – that is certainly alive and well, against BOTH men and women. A woman can claim a man hit her, and get him locked in a cell for a night, and he has to pay pay bond to get out (I know, I've heard stories). Where there is no evidence there is skepticism, because men suffer concerning this topic, AS WELL AS WOMEN.

    Maybe if we balanced the discussion, stop demanding censorship and instead acknowledge that some women falsely accuse, in addition to men being let off the hook, then maybe it would propel the issue in a more positive direction. Hate speech (on the level of what men post) by women is almost never brought up and discussed. And those who actually have their eyes open to the whole picture are not going to take an article that is SOOO one sided seriously, because it's not a one-side issue.

    That's all I have to say.

anonymous May 28, 2013 11:39am

This is such an important and, of course, deeply disturbing article. So much violence against women and children is protected under the rubric of "free speech" – available in much larger doses to perpetrators. One comment about this article: I would not want the message to be diluted by shifting focus to a racial stereotype which is depicted by the first FB photo shown – that of an angry black man with his apparent "victim" in the background, a white woman. The reality warrants either another photo or just the heading of the meme without the photo. Just my 2 cents.

    anonymous May 28, 2013 1:58pm

    Completely agree on that Christine and it was not my intent at all to enforce that sort of stereotype – I just used one that was posted to our Rapebook wall. Interesting to think about that now because nearly all the trolls attacking us (99%) were white males.

      anonymous May 28, 2013 11:18pm

      Definitely did not think that was your intent, Trista. Thank you for the work you do.

anonymous May 28, 2013 5:46am

Posted this onto facebook. thank you

    anonymous May 28, 2013 1:59pm

    🙂 Thank you for sharing!