Sex crimes and social media

Just when you thought sex crimes in our society couldn’t get any more shameful or disgusting, rapists are now partaking in a new appalling trend: sharing pictures and videos of their victims, pre- and post-crime, via social media sites.

What’s perhaps even more horrifying is that the accused perpetrators are young teenage boys, most between the ages of 14 and 17. Most acting in groups.

Their victims? Girls as young as 11, 12 and 13 years old. Children.

And there are pictures and videos of these children being raped and abused, being passed around like trophies and souvenirs.

This article outlines the most recent cases, and tragically, there are quite a few.

But how and why is this happening in the first place?

This article sheds some light on the deeply troubling statistics surrounding the issue:

The rate of sexual assaults is alarmingly high among adolescents. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice finds that 30% to 35% of female sexual assault survivors were first raped between the ages of 11 to 17. Many of these assaults occur when victims are under the influence of alcohol, and a surprising number of adolescent rapes involve multiple perpetrators. A recent study found that 12.4% of sexual assaults committed against 13- to 17-year-old teens were gang rapes.

Then, there’s this:

Rape is a crime of power and dominance, and social media provide new ways of asserting that power to hurt victims over and over again. Gang rape takes on a whole new meaning when images and slurs are posted and forwarded and spread endlessly. Adolescent sexual assaults are particularly likely to go viral (more so than instances of adult rape) because of the “everyone knows everything about everyone” culture of middle and high school. The ubiquity of cell phones with cameras and the power of the Internet make for faster, farther-reaching gossip, name-calling, character assassination and ultimately despair for the victim.

And most disturbingly:

What was once a horrible incident that the victim remembers and suffers in private agony has now become an all-you-can-watch public humiliation event.

Bragging about sex crimes on social media is a new fold in the cyber bullying phenomenon and it needs to be actively combatted. But it’s also a new way for police to investigate crimes and prosecute criminals. These boys are cruel and careless, and the very evidence they flaunt should secure them a very long time behind bars.

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Are colleges protecting their students from sexual assault?

Some of the nations top colleges and universities–Swarthmore, Dartmouth, Occidental, University of Southern California, and University of California, Berkeley–are under investigation for underreporting sexual assault and harassment on their campuses. Current and former students have filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department, alleging that the institutions’ handling of incidents failed to comply with the Clergy Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

The Clergy Act requires that colleges report violent acts on campus, including sexual assault, and publicly disclose safety and crime data. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination on campus.

These complaints are the newest in a series of reports from students who claim that their school’s policies or procedures violated these acts. Last month, Yale was ordered to pay a fine of $165,000 for not reporting four cases of sex crimes almost a decade ago. UNC, Chapel Hill, Amherst, and Wesleyan have also been investigated over the last two years.

Yale

Yale

While it’s certainly a huge problem that both men and women are facing sexual assault on their campuses–places that are supposed to be safe and supportive for young people–it’s just as alarming that schools are reluctant to honestly report it.

Yale is currently disputing the fine, on the basis that the it is “unfair.”

I’d think “unfair” would feel little bit more like this student’s experience:

“For the entirety of my last year in college, I continued to live every day in fear,” Kenda Woolfson, a recent graduate, said at the news conference. “In May, I watched as my rapist shook the hand of our college’s president and received his diploma, and I wished I had not been discouraged by a dean from reporting the rape.”

Colleges that care about their students’ safety and wellbeing–not to mention their reputation–should take note. But if they don’t, I certainly hope prospective students and parents will.

Mexico’s “invisible women”

This week, a horribly graphic video of a woman being beheaded in Mexico made its way onto the Internet and was eventually posted on Facebook. The woman, bound and kneeling, is decapitated by a masked man with a knife before a group of observers.

The poster’s intentions? To let Facebook users know what’s really going on in the world–a right that, until now, Facebook supported. The site received numerous complaints about the video–as they have about other graphically violent videos–and it was eventually removed.

But not before it got 2,500 likes.

Beyond the ethics of Facebook and the question of whether or not users should be exposed to such material, the bigger story, of course, is about the video itself, and the murdered victim. Reports are that the woman was killed by her husband, a gang member in the Mexican drug cartel, for allegedly cheating on him.

As horrible as this video is, it’s far from the first recorded incident of gender-based violence. Violence against women in Mexico so common that it’s almost unremarkable. Femicido–femicide, or the killing of women because they are women–is a widespread phenomenon. Everyday, women simply disappear.

Ciudad-Juarez

Why is this happening? According to Women Under Siege, it’s largely due to a culture of allowed violence, also known as impunity:

“It is a horrible concept that is reduced to this: You want to beat up a stranger, your wife or girlfriend, murder her, torture her, kidnap her, slice her up or sell her. You can do it, and chances are nothing will ever happen to you. Sick minds, macho minds, have free rein because the government does little to stop the violence against women.”

Most women who find the strength to speak frequently disappear, their tortured bodies found stabbed, decapitated, or hung off bridges or in trees. The government does nothing: “The women who speak up are dismissed, told they are locas, told that all of their daughters were part of the narcotics business or wanted to run away.”

To everyone except their families, these women are invisible. They are erased as though they never existed.

But just like the videos, these women are real. Their suffering is real. Their deaths are real. We may not want to watch the videos on Facebook, we may not even want to read about them in the news. It’s a lot to handle, and after all, what can we really do?

niunamas

For one, we can talk about it. We can write about it. We can raise awareness and make their stories known. We can stop worrying about the kinds of things we do and do not want to hear about on the Internet and start having real discussions about serious problems. We can express respect, empathy, and sadness–for the dead and for the families that lost their mothers, sisters, and daughters.

We can acknowledge–at the very least–that to us, they are indeed visible.

Waiting to be heard, in her own words

On Tuesday, ABC aired Diane’s Sawyer interview with Amanda Knox, the American exchange student who was accused of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy. Although she was initially convicted of the crime–and served 4 years in prison for it–a second appeals trial revealed a striking lack of evidence in the case. In 2011, she was acquitted and released to return home.

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Amanda Knox

Almost six years later, Knox’s nightmare is still not over. Prosecutors appealed the latest verdict, meaning Knox will be on trial for murder again, likely sometime next year (in Italy, double jeopardy doesn’t apply). In the interview, Knox talks about the new book she wrote detailing her perspective on the entire ordeal, a memoir titled Waiting to Be Heard. In particular, she addresses the Italian media’s unfair (I say ridiculous) fabrications about her life during the trial, and how these lies affected the first conviction.

Simply put, the media tried Knox before the courts ever did. The then twenty-year-old was portrayed as a manipulative seductress who, along with her Italian boyfriend at the time,  killed Kercher in a violent “sex game gone wrong.” Some stories even described the murder as some sort of Satanic ritual. Her behavior after the murder also picked apart. Every move she made was construed to portray her as cold, uncaring deviant. The papers dubbed her as “Foxy Knoxy”–a childhood name that she earned for her stealth on her soccer team–and wrote stories about her fictionalized sex life. They obsessed about how she didn’t seem “remorseful.”

So why all this fascination with Knox? Why this fixation with her personal life, her reactions, her looks? Because the prosecution had a story and a scapegoat that they knew they could sell. Who cared if she was innocent? To them, she was another easy victim. The prosecutors would look like heroes for putting this hated slut away. And indeed, the public fell for it–it seems we still can’t resist the sick hysteria of a witch trial.

Meredith Kercher aged 19 pictured at her Surrey home-796144

Meredith Kercher

Knox’s original sentence was 26 years in prison, despite having no DNA evidence to connect her to the crime scene. Another man’s DNA, however–a drifter and convicted criminal named Rudy Guede–was all over the victim’s body, including inside her. He also left bloody hand and footprints on the walls and floor of the apartment–clear signs that he was the actual murderer.

Guede’s lawyers worked a plea deal that got him a mere 16 years in prison–a sentence less than Knox’s. He’ll be eligible for work release next year.

Even though he’s the convicted killer, I had to search to find his name.

Surprisingly, after everything, Knox still says that she encourages young people to study abroad. Her advice?

“Be careful,” especially if you’re a young woman. Kercher lost her life, but in a way, Knox almost did, too.

Could the modeling industry get any worse?

In the world of high fashion, models with skeletal frames are, well, the norm. In fact, the acceptable body weight of runway models is so low that models in the size 4-8 range are often considered plus-size. Healthy bodies are viewed as heavy. It should go without saying that this is really, really wrong.

plus-size-models-17

But apparently a lot still needs to be said. Last week, Swedish news source The Local reported that modeling scouts have a history of approaching patients at eating disorder clinics.  According to a doctor at the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, “People have stood outside our clinic and tried to pick up our girls because they know they are very thin.”

One of the patients approached was so ill that she was bound to a wheelchair. Another was only 14.

When the scouts were confronted about what they were doing, they explained that they look for “healthy, normally slim young people and that they never urge anyone to lose weight.”

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Right. They look for healthy models at a medical clinic for severely ill and emaciated young women (not to mention psychologically fragile). And how convenient that they wouldn’t need to encourage them to lose weight, since they’re already weighing in at near-death numbers.

This is not really about weight though, or about sizes. Most women know what a healthy size is for their particular body type, and it’s usually a range. On a spectrum of sizes, “healthy,” of course, can be found at both ends.

That said, no argument or opinion about what is and isn’t beautiful, natural, or even admittedly preferred makes this remotely okay. These young women are trying to recover from something devastating. But to the modeling industry, they’re up for grabs.

If nothing else, their actions should makes us question our own roles in this sick game. What magazines do we read, what designers and brands do we wear? And perhaps most importantly, what do we think about ourselves when we step on the scale? It’s time to stop feeding into an industry that is willing to pay women to keep killing themselves.