(The Root) — Heads are still reeling after it was discovered that three teenage boys raped a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint and put footage of the attack on Facebook. That this happened to begin with speaks volumes about the things people think they can get away with on and offline — and that this case is not unique says even more about how widespread such ignorance is.
Pictures and videos of sexual attacks go viral in startling frequency, and the cases often gain national attention, as with the Steubenville, Ohio, and Rehtaeh Parsons cases. In one case, a young woman’s life was upended and she had to bear the trauma of a trial; and in the other, a young woman’s life was ended by her own hand. It is painful enough that such things happen, but when the attacks are shared online, victims are effectively forced to relive them every time someone presses play or downloads an attachment in an email.
There seems to be a disconnect between what the real offenses are in these cases. Kat Stoeffel of New York magazine recounts the apology paid to the victim of the Steubenville case by Trent Mays, who said, “No pictures should have been sent around, let alone taken” — not “You shouldn’t have been raped.”
But if there is a silver lining, it is that the digital footprints left in the wake of posting sexual attacks online often make cases easier for prosecuting teams to prove wrongdoing. Rape trials are traumatic and ruthless, often boiling down to a volley of he said, she said. But footage of a woman being assaulted as she vomits after a night of drinking is clear, startling proof of her inability to consent.
Sexual assault should never happen; nor should footage of the attacks be made or put online. But when it does happen, the Internet — which never forgets — becomes a priceless tool in seeing justice served.
Read more at New York magazine.