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Reading the Comments…

The amount of technology at our fingertips is both a blessing and a curse.  With the creation of the laptop, tablet, and Smartphone, we no longer have to be connected to an outlet to get online.  Over my lifetime, general access to the Internet has gone from nonexistent to the palm of our hand.  On the one hand, we have all this information, news, cute animal videos, research, social networking, and the ability to communicate at the blink of an eye.  We can look up anything at the drop of a hat and then share it with friends via FB, Twitter, YouTube or an assortment of other social networking websites.  We can seek or give advice anonymously, find companionship, and express our innermost thoughts in a way that could be less intimidating.

On the other hand, the amount of information on the web can be overwhelming.  It can be impossible to verify the credibility of some of the sites we utilize.  However, visiting sites like WebMD is so much simpler than calling our primary care physician or going to the emergency room.  Not to mention it can often turn symptoms such as stomach or head pain into such life-threatening conditions that we can justify staying home from work or school for the day.  Google-ing for a translation of a paragraph from English to Spanish is much easier than consulting a translator or native speaker.  However, we can’t be sure if the information we get is accurate.  While we post information and stories as a way to connect with others it can easily be stolen or used against us.  Additionally, so many recent stories of bullying have started online or incorporated an online component as the anonymity of many sites makes it easy to target someone without fear of repercussion.

Despite the potential risks, many of us continue to use online chat rooms and forums to seek the advice of others on personal situations.  One such site, Reddit, is a social news website where registered users can submit content which is then voted up or down in popularity.  Its status will determine its placement on the page.  Users are also able to comment on the postings of others with advice, recommendations, or links.  The vast majority of responses are not by experts or trained professionals.  They are people sharing opinions based in what could be valid knowledge or good intentions but could also be based in stereotypes, fear, and ignorance.

One girl, who identifies herself as a teenager in one of the comments, utilizes Reddit as a forum to seek advice about what to do after she has been raped and how to talk to her friends.  Technology allows this teen the ability to seek resources and advice anonymously on a topic that could be impossible to talk about elsewhere.  It would be wonderful if only professionals or trained and well-intentioned individuals would respond to her post.  This way she is able to learn what resources are available to her and how to reach out for support and help.  Unfortunately, this is never the case as technology allows for anyone and everyone to find and comment on her post.  And, unfortunately, the users who called her a ‘slut’, told her ‘she wasn’t raped’, or commented ‘she was going to ruin the guy’s life’ brought their friends. 

The girl was immediately attacked for posting her story and questions.  People chastised her for being 14 and using pot.  From my read of the post, she was not asking people’s opinion on whether or not she should smoke pot or what they thought of that particular behavior.   She was asking about a rape and for her to disclose that she was using drugs that night is extremely courageous because of the backlash that can and did ensue.  The use of drugs or alcohol is not an invitation for rape nor is it an excuse for the perpetrator’s behavior.  We can’t tell people that they shouldn’t drink or use drugs if they want to avoid rape or sexual assault.  If people want to avoid hangovers, the munchies, or wearing sunglasses to class then advising them not to abuse substances is appropriate advice as those are the consequences one can expect.  However, asserting that rape or sexual assault is a consequence of drinking is completely false and creates a culture where it is okay to focus on the actions of the victim rather than those of the perpetrator. 

Other users told the girl that the boy could not read her mind and therefore it was her fault for not communicating clearly enough that she does not want to have sex.  In actuality, we all say or do one thing and think another all the time.  The majority of our communication is based on gestures, posture, body language, tone, and inflection rather than the actual words coming out of our mouths.  Somehow people can understand this when it pertains to other topics but when it comes to sexual violence, it is unfathomable to consider the body language of the survivor. 

This year, I attended Marathon Monday with my partner and several other friends and was so excited to watch the Boston Marathon.  I should clarify that I am a marathon runner myself and I can literally stand and cheer other runners on for hours.  After about three hours, I noticed that my friends weren’t quite as enthusiastic as I was.  But honestly, I was having a really good time and wanted to stay so I tried to engage them in conversation in the hopes that they would forget about the heat and the seemingly endless rows of runners.  After about five hours, my friends were sitting/napping in the shade but yet said they were fine with staying.  Can I honestly say that I had no idea that they wanted to go home and get out of the heat?  Absolutely not.  I noticed a steady decline in their behavior and participation as the day went on.  I simply chose to ignore it. 

There are probably some people who will read that story and think that I was able to figure out what my friends were thinking because I’ve known them for years.  While it’s true I’ve known them for a long time, my ability to read their body language has little to do with that.  Three years ago I was on the bus going from my Disney hotel to the theme park.  Three teenagers were sitting in the back of the bus swearing excessively and talking so loudly that I could hear them at the front of the bus.  The majority of people were extremely uncomfortable on the bus, which was evident by the way they looked at each other, their body posture, and continuously glancing at their watches as if that would make the bus move faster.  When we got to the park,  I told the teens how their behavior made everyone uncomfortable and that it wasn’t appropriate for the setting.  They first rebutted that they had no idea that their language and discussion was making anyone feel uncomfortable however they did eventually apologize.  They were on the same bus and witnessed the same body language and nonverbal cues that I and everyone else saw.  Recognizing those signs had nothing to do with how well you knew the other people on the bus; I didn’t know anyone but I knew they were uncomfortable.

We are capable of reading other people, regardless of whether we have known them for 5 minutes or 5 years.  We are also capable of choosing to listen to those nonverbal cues or ignoring them.  That responsibility lies with us.  The nonverbal cues that people use everyday are the same ones they use to communicate what they want or don’t want sexually. 

It’s also important to remember that these posted responses affect more than this one teen.  In fact the responses, and others like them on various sites, can influence the thoughts and actions of multiple survivors.  Other survivors can stumble across these feeds in their attempt to define what happened to them and get help.  It is dreadful that many survivors have to sift through such hateful and derogatory comments in order to get to the caring and thoughtful posts. This girl and the other survivor deserve the proper attention, help, and resources that are available for those who are impacted by sexual violence.

Written by: Stacey

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Posted by stacey

Stacey formerly served BARCC as the coordinator for Community Awareness and Outreach. Prior to BARCC, she worked for the Navy as a sexual assault response coordinator and volunteered for the DC Rape Crisis Center. She got involved with anti-rape work during college and has enjoyed doing both direct services and educational work.

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