Thomas MacAuley Millar, “Meet the Predators”
With the advent of new mass media, victims of sexual assault have a novel method of sharing their stories not available to previous generations. Instead of, or in addition to, whispering to a nurse on an examination table or divulging under florescent lights in a police station, survivors have the chance to inform countless others with the click of a mouse. Though it is estimated that only half of sexual assault victims report the crime to the police, some spread news of their ordeals or the names of perpetrators over different avenues: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, mass text, email, etc. Many of these victims are seen as heroes, “’reporting’ the assault directly to the people who need the information most—other women living in these rapists’ communities. And they’re risking their own names and reputations in order to bring their assailants out into the open”.
Yet the ethics of accusing an alleged rapist in a public forum, but not in a court of law, are sketchy at best. The Guardian’s Jill Filipovic counters allegations of vigilante justice with a comparison to similar informal claims of other crimes:
Concerns about the burden of proof and vigilantism are sometimes legitimate, but those same concerns don’t seem to arise when someone says, “my super broke into my apartment and stole my stereo” or “my grandmother’s caretaker has been pilfering money from her purse.” There’s no admonishment to withhold personal judgment or not take action; there’s no suggestion that the accuser is probably lying or that she should keep her mouth shut until a jury of her peers finds the alleged criminal guilty.
While protection for the wrongfully accused is necessary, it would be unfair to force a person to turn over their story to a court of law before anyone is permitted to believe him or her. Libel and defamation laws exist for good reason, and can be pursued by anyone who believes himself to be falsely accused. Yet new mass media presents an important avenue with the potential to lessen the stigma of rape and share information in a less pressured environment. As eloquently stated by KJ Dell’Antonia of the New York Times,“today those things appear on Twitter or other social media — and the single good thing about that public ugliness is that it can no longer be ignored.”