Prosecutors from Cook County, Ill. have reported that three teenagers who sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl and posted the attacks on Facebook will be charged as adults on one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault, a class two felony which caries a probationable sentence of six to 30 years. This crime is one in a series of teen rapes that have been posted on social media sites, a phenomenon which makes the event even more traumatic for the victim.
The Chicago Sun Times reports that Justin Applewhite, 16, Kenneth Brown, 15, and Scandale Fritz, 16, raped the girl at Fritz’s home. She resisted twice, but seeing that they had a gun she eventually gave in due to the fear that she would otherwise be shot. The boys recorded the rape and the video was posted to Facebook two days later and subsequently shared.
Often, the character assassination caused by social media after such a post is even more devastating for the victim than the assault. Last month we heard about two teenage girls committing suicide after photos of them being sexual assaulted were posted online in separate incidents. As though the assaults were not awful enough, social media aggravates the brutal impact. One of the two girls, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was bulled at school after pictures of her alleged sexual assault surfaced online. The other, 15-year-old Audrie Pott, posted that her life was “ruined” when pictures appeared online.
A day after the picture went online, Pott hanged herself after posting on Facebook that she had the “worst day ever.”
Although conventional wisdom suggests that posting the video makes it easier for the criminal to be caught, gang rapes are often popularized on social media sites in order to continue to victimize women as part of the crime of power and dominance. Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor at Michigan State and an expert on sexual violence, explains that by distributing images of the rape through social media, "it's a way of asserting dominance and power to hurt the victim over and over again."
Rapists also use social media to further the stigma associated with being the victim of rape. Thomas Wold of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explains that social media images of partying, flirting, etc. feed into the strategy of blaming the victim: "[Blaming the victim] is a traditional problem that's being amplified because it's so easy to share and everyone is connected all of the time.”
The three suspects in the Cook County case will appear before a judge June 6.