COUNTERPOINT: Changing times demand evolution of rape definition
Rape is most commonly defined as being forced to participate in sexual acts against one's will. A less common definition is to treat something or someone in a violent, destructive or abusive way. This is what is happening to women all over the country. The newly coined term “cyber rape” is not an exaggeration, it is very real.
Revenge porn is the newest way to get back at an ex-girlfriend by posting sexually explicit pictures sent to the partner in confidence during a relationship. Pictures that were meant to be private are now featured publicly on porn sites that specialize in revenge porn. It is disgustingly easy. The photos are displayed for everyone who visits the site and are soon spread to other sites, downloaded to computers around the world, saved on hard drives and used by thousands to gain sexual gratification. A woman's world is changed forever after a few clicks.
Women consequently lose their jobs, friends, self-esteem and reputation. Thousands of victims have felt shameful, guilty and depressed after finding their intimate pictures had gone viral and there was not a way to fight back. Rape victims are able to go to the police and seek justice for the crime. Revenge porn victims cannot. Even though no one was physically forced to have sex with another individual, these women are being treated destructively and abusively. They are rape victims.
As the world around us changes, so must our ideas. Thirty years ago, no one would have thought rape could happen over the computer. Society must acknowledge that technology created new opportunities for sexual assault. Judging by the number of women who are fighting against revenge porn, we can assume there was no consent given to post the inappropriate pictures.
I reached out to that founder of EndRevengePorn.com, who wished to be identified as Sarah. I asked how she responds to those who maintain the victim is at fault for revenge rape postings, because he or she either sent the pictures or allowed the pictures to be taken.
“The way I see it, revenge porn is history repeating itself. Just as a women who first started speaking out against physical rape were, and still are, told she was asking for it, revenge porn victims are getting blamed for taking the pictures in the first place. Saying that the victim is at fault for taking the pictures is exactly the same as telling a rape victim that they shouldn’t have been wearing what they were wearing, shouldn’t have gotten drunk, or shouldn’t have been walking home alone at night,” Sarah said.
Not only is “rape” appropriate to describe the public posting of these intimate photos, it also accurately encapsulates the intent of the photos each time the photos are viewed. Every time someone logs on to a revenge porn website and gawks at the thousands of scantily clad or naked women, that Internet user is violating her. They are looking at her and engaging in lewd behaviors without her permission. They are using her as an object, they are taking away her agency as a woman and they are violating the female sex and the relationships those photos stemmed from — as if they are something to be used and then disposed of.
The worst part is she does not even know until it is too late. She will hear about it from a friend, a family member or a co-worker. Not only is there shame from the fact that her body is now strewn across the Internet, but also from the fact people who know her have seen the pictures. The overwhelming feelings of humiliation, shame and judgment have driven many cyber rape victims into counseling.
This is not only rape in the sense these women are being treated in an abusive and destructive way. It is also an act of rape against their identity, their life. They are forever affected and will never be the same person. They will live in fear a future employer, friend or partner will come across them. There will be trust issues in every future relationship. This horrible infringement on their personhood will haunt them for the rest of their lives. If that is not rape, then I don’t know what is.
How can women protect themselves against cyber rape? For now the best way, “is to not take nude pictures or videos of [yourself] until revenge porn is criminalized,” said Sarah.
You can sign Sarah’s petition to end revenge porn at EndRevengePorn.com. If you or someone you know has been a victim of cyber rape, Sarah suggests that you email her via the contact form on her website.
Sarah also offered a website for those who are not sure where to turn after being a victim of cyber rape.
Sarah Sullivan is a professional writing junior.