Impromptu rant: Sexual abuse & social media [TRIGGER WARNING]

Firstly, please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors, I am writing this very late at night and I’ll admit I’m basically rage-typing. Something that only tonight I realise I feel very strongly about, is the relationship between social media and sexual abuse.

To give some background, the catalyst for this post were comments I saw on a video that was shared on Facebook and one comment in particular. The video depicted a princess party actress dressed as Elsa from Frozen talking to the camera as she drove back from a party she had just been at. At this party the high schooler who was playing Ana (Elsa is the owner of the princess party company and therefore Ana was a young employee of hers), was kissed by an old man for a picture without her consent. In the video Elsa describes the man as doing it for a joke but turning his head as the picture was taken so that he was actually kissing her. Elsa was-rightly so-fuming, and said that she had taken the man aside and told him that his behaviour was unacceptable.

Thankfully, many of the comments were from (women) supporting the video and agreeing that it was an awful thing for Ana to go through. Unfortunately, as always, you get the comments (unfortunately all from men on this thread at the time I was reading it) saying things along the lines of “Get over it, it’s a greeting, that’s all. You don’t know his intent so you can’t say it was assault.”

Not only is there so much wrong with that in itself, but it got me thinking about how social media has allowed for these kinds of attitudes to be spread. There’s always the “just trolling” argument, but that’s never an excuse. There are other ways to provoke response from people without saying potentially dangerous things, that if read by the wrong person could be taken out of context very quickly.

I personally believe that social media is an incredibly powerful tool that people take very lightly-I feel the same way about vehicles. Things that we are so used to in our every day life and that at some point in their lives everyone has the opportunity to use and be in control of, that we don’t realise just how dangerous they could be in the wrong hands.

One of the biggest blessings and curses of social media is that it brings people from all over the world together. This can be wonderful if it is used in the right way, unfortunately, this also means that people with dangerous views such as ‘it’s natural for men to want to kiss women’ and ‘you don’t know the intent so you can’t prove anything’ (both comments on the thread that have now been deleted) will always manage to reach at least one individual who agrees with them.

This is the curse. No matter how awful and damaging your views, and regardless of your reason for them, there will always be someone who agrees with you; and the internet and social media especially provide excellent tools for allowing those individuals to meet.

This is where it can get extremely dangerous. Maybe you didn’t phrase your comment correctly, maybe you felt you were just trolling, but I can promise you, there will be someone out there who will read it in a different context to what you had intended and it could end very badly.

If someone who has malicious intent when it comes to sexual contact with other people sees a comment with a number of ‘likes’ and responses of agreement, they may feel justified in their intended behaviour. As a Psychologist who is training to work in Forensic/Investigative Psychology (and therefore with both perpetrators and victims), I can tell you that the only thing more dangerous than someone with cognitive distortions that make them think that sexual assault (usually entitlement-a typically psychopathic trait) is okay; is someone who thinks like that and sees people who they deem to be supportive of their behaviour.

Some people may argue that the glorious thing about the internet is free speech. Although there have been a lot of controversies around internet regulation in western countries lately, it’s generally accepted that you can express whatever opinion you wish on the internet, and this is true.

However, there’s a very important thing to recognise here, and that (and this is very important) is that

there is a difference between free speech and consequence-free speech.

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Read that. Now read it again. Got it? Committed it to memory? Good. Let’s continue.

I haven’t even begun to speak about the potential consequences of a sexual assault survivor reading these types of comments. You know what the most commonly reported phrase that extremely traumatised individuals use when talking about their experiences with their therapists? “…but other people have it worse”. They minimise their feelings, they have been made, or taught themselves to feel that their experience is insignificant (see where I’m going with this?).

Imagine someone who has (incredibly bravely) begun speaking for the first time about their experiences, reading those kinds of comments. Someone who already convinced themselves that they are overreacting (and in some cases deserved it because of context incl. what they were wearing/flirting/things they’d said/being inebriated etc.) reading a comment that says “It’s normal,” and “get over it.”

I really can’t begin to suggest any measures that can realistically be taken other than more moderators around with the powers to suspend or delete comments (although Facebook does have a report function), pending appeal by the poster. I would just really, really urge people to take just a second to consider the consequences of what they post online.

Thank you. Rant over.