Sexual Assault and Social Media: What You Need to Tell Your Kids

This white awareness ribbon is worn to raise consciousness of violence against women.

That social media and sex are intertwined is no surprise. What is surprising is how social media has become a weapon in sexual assaults of kids, tweens, and teens.
In Steubenville, Ohio, and in Torrington CT, and who knows how many other unreported places, social media is being used both during and after sexual assaults in shocking and disturbing ways.
In Stuebenville, the rapists (they've been convicted. I see no reason to mince words),not only committed the crime, but were so proud of it they shared it on their social media networks. The crime itself was horrific enough,but the fact that these rapists were so sure that what they were doing was perfectly acceptable behavior that posting it to Instagram seemed neither callous nor repugnant adds to that horror.  How did we get to the point where 17 year old students are so morally bereft that sexually assaulting an unconscious girl seems appropriate fodder for sharing with friends?

Now, in Torrington CT, two 18 year old men stand accused of statutory rape for their sexual assault of thirteen year old girls. The accused's friends and classmates have overwhelmingly supported them, taking their support to Twitter with the hash tag #save Edgar. Others are using social media channels to blame and attack the victims.

Many have argued that the culture of celebrity - the criminals in both cases were high school football stars in supremely football focused towns - gave the young men a sense of invincibility. But that doesn't seem enough to so completely skew everyone's understanding of what rape is.

Of course blaming the victim of a sexual assault is nothing new. When I worked as a rape crisis counselor in an NYC hospital years ago, one of my primary roles was to protect the victim from being further victimized by police and hospital personnel. I would have hoped that some 20 years later, blaming the victim would be over. Instead, a new generation of kids is blaming victims in a very public, self righteous and disturbing way.

Social media has also made victims of child sexual abuse more vulnerable.  As this article in the New York Times Magazine explained, abusers who take photos and videos of their victims (and many do) put them on the internet where they live forever, getting traded and passed along for all eternity. This means that victims re-live their abuse every time a photo of themselves surfaces. The entire paradigm for treating such victims has been turned on its head because of the internet.  The standard treatment for those traumatized by abuse, was to remind them that what happened was in the past.  Now - there is no past.

To me, this connection between social ills and social media is particularly upsetting because I am a great believer in the power of social media to do good.  Social media can find a kidney donor for someone in need,  raise awareness of causes, and even - as in the Arab Spring - make a wholesale change in an entire nation's way of life. But - as in most things -- there is a flip side.   So while I've argued before that cyber-bullying is not as rampant and intense as some think, I do believe that one of the things that makes cyber-bullying worse than pre-social media bullying is its never-ending nature.  SnapChat notwithstanding - once it's out


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