Thursday, December 16, 2010

Think what you want about WikiLeaks but stop what you're saying about rape

I know that I've been absent from here for a while, but I've been wanting to write something about this and have just been too busy. I was going to let it go, but I read more things today that made me realize I can't not say something. So here I am.

I have friends who have strong feelings on both sides of the WikiLeaks debate. I think it's all interesting, and I'm really not sure how I feel about it. But it's beside the point. What I do have strong feelings about, completely separate from anything related to WikiLeaks, are the things people are saying about the rape charges against Julian Assange.

Whether he raped these women or not is not the point. The things people say because of it are really destructive and seriously not okay. Making jokes about it, making fun of his accusers (Naomi Wolfe, I'm looking at you), dismissing it automatically because you're in love with Julian Assange for creating WikiLeaks... these are severely destructive reactions to a serious topic like rape. Trivializing rape itself, whether it happened at Julian Assange's hand or not, is only going to dissuade people who actually have been raped from reporting it. Yes, it's horrible and destructive when people who have not been raped say they have for fame or attention or whatever the reason they do it, and those people are just as culpable and to blame for all of this, but honestly you or I have no control over that.

What we DO have control over is our reaction to discussions about rape.

I really wish people would stop and THINK about the fact that hello, some people actually HAVE been raped, and mocking or discrediting anyone who says they have been raped, just because the person who may have raped them is someone in a position of power or a celebrity you like, is only serving to discourage people who actually have been raped from ever reporting it. You have no idea how many people around you have been raped/sexually assaulted, and guess what? It's a lot more than you think. There is already a social stigma associated with having been raped, and with reporting rape. Can you imagine what it's like to have been raped and then to be debating whether you should report it because you don't know if anyone will believe you, or if they like the rapist better than you and so they think it couldn't POSSIBLY have happened (hello I'm not just talking about celebrities, this happens on college campuses ALL THE TIME, especially when it involves athletes or frat boys), or because of what they might say about you and about what kind of person you are? It really makes me mad, I'm sorry, but it's unacceptable.

What you say about rape matters, because other people can hear you. I can't bear to read comments online about any of these Julian Assange stories or posts, because it destroys my faith in humanity, and people are saying such disgusting things that it makes me want to cry. If you think sexism is dead, read comments on an article about this and you will see that you're wrong. That's just a fact of life, and again there's not much I can do about that, but I BEG you to please stop and think next time before you say something about a rape case. When it's a celebrity, everyone always assumes it didn't happen, and maybe it did and maybe it didn't, but it DOES happen and could have happened to anyone you're talking to. And it will make them feel horrible. And it could happen in the future to the person you're talking to. Or to their sister. Or their daughter. Or their son. (!) And they will remember what you said. And they will remember other people's reactions to this. And they will probably not report what happened to them. And the person who raped them will probably walk around and, who knows, rape someone else. This happens every day.

Whether or not Julian Assange raped someone, please stop talking about it the way you're talking about it, because not everyone is a powerful celebrity and this is just going to perpetuate the already impossible situation of people you know reporting actual rape. Think you don't know anyone who has been raped? Maybe they never felt comfortable talking with you about it because they heard what you said when someone else had been raped.

People Who Agree And Have Said It Much More Eloquently:
Who Hears You When You Speak About Rape
Talking About Julian Assange Has Become Utterly Terrible
When A Feminist Trivializes Rape
Some Thoughts on 'Sex By Surprise'
Silence Around A Fraternity Sex Assault Case


Chris W. in SF said...

Good perspective Lisa! It makes a huge difference when people actually know someone who has dealt with rape... Having had a close high school friend who was raped gave me perspective early on.

Erik said...

Here's the deal...people are still going to think the things you're upset about. If you ever want to really feel crappy about the human race, read any city's craigslist rants & raves section any day of the week. It sounds like you're really upset that they have an outlet by which to express the thoughts.

"Comments" are a medium where the lowest common denominator of the social ladder is often the most vocal. Because they can't be in real life. So they have a lot to get out there. And they can do it. And no one can punch them in the face when they do.

Couple this with the fact that these can appear on the same page with actual news, and it lends frightening credibility and realism to the "voices" saying it.

The lack of accountability is the enabler here, and possibly even the root of your gripe. With accountability and social consequences (like friends of the now anonymous commenter being offended) you'd see a decrease in the types of commentary you mention, and a weeding out of offensive ideas, because at the end of the day, I think we all really do just want to get along.

The growth of social media, which actually lead us down this road in the first place, could be our way out of it as well.