It's a story that's now all too familiar: A young girl is violently gang-raped by a group of boys she knows. People stand by. They don't stop it. One of the offenders snaps a picture of the victim and aggressively disseminates it. It goes viral. And people stand by. They don’t stop it. In fact, they spread it like wildfire. Not by accident. On purpose. The rapist wants to share the trophy of his crime. He holds it like a shining beacon of malevolence for the world to see.
"Look what I did. Look what I took."
And other people want to see it. And they want it to be seen. Not to shame the assailant but to humiliate the survivor.
There's always a motivation for sharing a picture. There are experts that are exclusively invested in understanding the psychology of image sharing. People use pictures to communicate important moments, transmit crucial elements of their identity, and express who they are. More importantly, people share photos because of the prospect of expected rewards.
Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide after being raped, photographed by her rapists, and bullied out of school.
In the case of viral rape, perpetrators want to disseminate the evidence of their crime, a photograph of their prey, because it elevates their status. The benefits of the glory are so alluring that rapists — overwhelmingly teen boys in this category — are deliberately spreading evidence of their criminality at the cost of potential legal repercussions. The impetus: these boys want to prove to their friends that they are men. That they conquer, that they pillage, that they are the sexual dominators (no matter how passed-out and unavailable their victims were). That is their sad version of manhood.
Boys are taught that they don't prove their masculinity through their appreciation for women, but through their callous conquering of them. Rape becomes a method to assert masculinity, and sharing the photo of your triumph becomes a way to document your place in the social order.
The fact that rapists want others to know that they have raped suggests that violating women is a rite passage, a legitimate method to climb the social ladder of masculinity — or at least the bastardized toxic masculinity that they covet). Forcefully penetrating an unconscious girl is not a source of shame, but a badge of honor in the march of toxic masculinity, passed on through cultural narrative and weak "boys will be boys" punishments. Instead of guilt, the rapists feel pride. They get to rape their victims all over again, with ever share and every nasty comment, with every "LOL" and every "what a slut."
It isn’t fair, and it needs to stop. A lot of people in this forum take issue with the concept of victim blaming. Too bad. Instead of finding compassion in others, the survivor of these traumas receive contempt. It's time to start blaming those that deserve the blame: these boys. And I know this will piss a lot of people off too, but also society for not only permitting, but maintaining these toxic masculinities.
Audrie Pott died this weekend after commiting suicide following a brutal gang-rape which also photographed.
Viral rape is a trend. It's systemic. It's petrifying. It's spreading. It happened to Jane Doe in Steubenville. It happened to Rehtaeh Parsons in Halifax. It happened to Audrie Pott in California. Who will it happen to next? Whose daughter, cousin, sister or friend will it happen to before we all take responsibility to stop it?
Want to get involved? Start by signing the change.org petition demanding an independant inquiry into Rehtaeh Parsons' police investigation.
Contact me on Twitter: @feminstabulous