May 16, 2008

Victims of Sexual Assault Seeking Support Online

CNN had a piece yesterday about survivors of sexual assault turning to the web to share their stories and seek help, including one young woman, Crystal, who posted a video asking for help on YouTube.

Counselors the reporters spoke to for the article noted that it’s good for women to reach out after an assault, but that posting too much personal information on sites such as YouTube and MySpace may make them vulnerable to retribution from the perpetrator. The piece also includes the statement, “a rape survivor must consider how they would feel if that information were dredged up in the future.”

Although it is important to be careful online (as in “real” life), I wonder if this is terribly realistic advice given the large proportion of rapes that are committed by people the victims know. In Crystal’s case, she had known her alleged rapist for some time. Does this simply reflect old offline attitudes that women who report rape will be judged and should avoid coming forward to avoid embarrassment or other retribution? Is asking rape survivors to consider the far-off potential future consequences over their current need to speak out and connect just another instance of victim-shaming?

I was able to locate the video in question, and was appalled by many of the comments. Several people don’t seem to believe that statutory rape is a valid concern, others accuse the poster of lying to get attention, and some suggest that if an ongoing sexual relationship is present, rape is not possible. One commenter began by calling the piece “fake” and “bad acting,” then went on to offer the discordant, “if it’s true then sorry.” Unfortunately, these kinds of comments increase the suffering of real victims and feed the notion that victims should simply keep quiet or risk having the worst assumed about their motives and truthfulness.

The article also reveals that RAINN’s new secure online sexual assault hotline has served 10,000 people since it was launched in April of this year. I think this is a great new service (especially with declining public/pay phone availability), but I was floored that so many people had needed it in such a short time.

Note: If you’re curious about Crystal’s video, I do not recommend searching YouTube for the keyword “raped.”


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