It was through social media that 16-year-old Jada of Houston learned of her rape, and it has been through social media that Jada has taken back control.
After a mocking hashtag, #JadaPose, went viral on Instagram, Jada learned that her alleged attackers—and their supporters—had taken photos of her, unconscious, after the attack, meaning that Jada was assaulted twice: once physically and then again online. And over the course of the last two weeks, the details of the assault—and her response—have made national news.
But she’s been able to flip the script on the people who abused her and regain control of her image through the use of social media.
Survivors are often silenced after coming out as survivors—perpetuating a culture of silence surrounding sexual assault. In Jada’s case, her decision to come forward and speak out has broken that cycle. And while we’re used to social media being used as a tool to give voice to many different causes, it’s been more rare for black women—especially black teenage girls—to successfully use social media to defend themselves and regain control of their images. Jada’s decision to go public, in addition to helping her take control of her story, is one of the factors that prompted the Houston police to investigate the case.
“The pictures that are posted are not who I am,” Jada told Ronan Farrow on his MSNBC show. She came up with the hashtag #IAmJada before appearing on the network. Online, people are still expressing outrage by using that hashtag as well as #JusticeforJada, #StandWithJada and #JadaCounterPose. Even #JadaPose, the original hashtag used by her cyberbullies, has been revamped by Jada’s supporters as a tag for solidarity.
“The whole hashtag #IAmJada is helping me get my name back,” Jada told Huffington Post Live.
#IAmJada, like #YesAllWomen and #SurvivorPrivilege, has worked to give voice to women who have been the victims of sexual assault. What makes #IAmJada different is that it was started by the victim herself and used a direct response to the bullying that she encountered from people online—including from the individuals accused of assaulting her.
Wagatwe Wanjuki, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and the creator of #SurvivorPrivilege, thinks that social media is a space for victims to reclaim themselves.
“Social media,” she told The Root, “has become a place where people like survivors have found their voices, community with others, and find a sense of empowerment that [they] may not have been able to find offline. I personally was able to use social media to find my voice after a series of disempowering events in my life, and I can tell you that finding spaces where I could speak my truth and get the unwavering support of others was invaluable.”
As for the importance of black women using social media to defend themselves, Wanjuki says, “It’s possible for black women to flip the script on social media; it is often the only place where we may feel that we’re able to do it. We black women are often silenced and ignored, and social media gives space to improve our visibility in a positive way. We can reassert our value and humanity while also having others publicly affirm their solidarity with black women.”
Currently, none of Jada’s alleged attackers has been arrested. When asked whether her case would have been treated differently had she been white, Jada told Huffington Post Live, “He would have been arrested already.” Jada’s legal representation has reported that the alleged rapists have posted images of other young girls they have assaulted. There is also another girl involved in Jada’s case who is expected to come forward soon.
Since going public, Jada has also written a letter to President Barack Obama about cyberbullying.
Now, because of Jada’s bravery, other young black survivors have an example to follow in how to use social media to take control of their own stories. Jada has given them a way to fight back.
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Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.