In one of the most horrifying stories I’ve read in a while, a Canadian girl was gang-raped at a rave last weekend by seven men. One of the attackers decided to photograph and videotape the event, and then made an even worse call: he uploaded the photos to Facebook, where they quickly went viral. Now the images are impossible to contain, despite the best attempts of the Canadian police, and the graphic photos of a drugged 16-year-old girl being attacked in a field near a party will probably never be fully removed from the internet. This, needless to say, is not helping the girl recover. The whole incident raises significant questions about whether the internet creates a culture of desensitivity and its own brand of violence.
The one hopeful part of the story has been the reaction from Canadian law enforcement officials, who have made it clear that the attack was a rape, and that anyone who is caught possessing or distributing the photos is threatened by child pornography laws.
“What happened after this incident and continues to happen is beyond disgusting, said Sgt. Jennifer Hyland, who is leading the investigation. “These photos are child pornography. They have been viewed, shared, saved and re-posted numerous times. This is an offence and is so socially corrupt it is sickening. The posting and viewing of the photos is continuing to victimize this young girl and her family and needs to stop.”
Other teens and partygoers, however, are somehow less willing to admit the severity of the crime. One teen said, “We are thinking it’s being over-exaggerated. I don’t think she was as messed up as she’s making it out to be. I don’t think she was raped.” The comments on Facebook were similarly disgusting and victim-blaming; they included sentiments like “straight up WHORE,” a “complete slut,” and “Cmon who’s not down for a gang bang.”
Tracy Clark-Flory has a great piece on Broadsheet, where she investigates the typical “kids these days” reaction to this piece, which she says is not really accurate. Instead, she blames the culture of victim-blaming and the internet itself in creating a society where this kind of viral violence becomes the norm. Clark-Flory writes,
“Technology offers us a sense of privacy, and detachment, even as we’re sharing these things with the entire Web. The online mentality is one of entitlement and total freedom, no one has ownership over anything (just ask record label execs). I would venture to say that it hasn’t even occurred to many of the kids — the ones who are not, you know, patently evil — that they are violating this girl themselves.”
She cites other violent videos, like the drowning of a mother on an Italian beach or the death of Neda Agha-Soltan during Iranian protests in 2009 as viral phenomena that were popular because they were horrifying. I would take this a step further, though – although they were brutal, those videos lacked the participatory element that makes the virality of the gang-rape video so disturbing. People who download these photos do, in a sense, participate in the forceful violation of a 16-year-old girl, and in so doing create a new kind of violence. What we should do to combat that violence is another question.
Photo from Flickr.