Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Amanda Todd, Take Two

*administrative note: I'll be tackling Trudeaumania and the awful events in Boston over the next four days.

I don't think Margaret Wente gets it.

In response to the question "what to do about Rehtaeh?" -- a question many Canadians are asking themselves -- she opines,

"The first thing to do is to resist the urge to vigilante justice[...] Rehtaeh could be your daughter--but those boys could be your sons. Let's not ruin more lives with a rush to judgment."

Really. Margaret? You, a conservative who champions the notion of personal responsibility, are asking us not to "ruin more lives" just because the people whose lives we're thinking of ruining merely gang-raped a 15-year old girl and then plastered her all over the Internet?
Forgive me --no, don't--but wouldn't you say those boys ruined their own lives?  I would. I would say that those boys followed up one illegal act (underage consumption of vodka) with a much, much more serious offense that the police original deemed not to be criminal, despite Rehtaeh being a minor. (The case has since been reopened; unlike Ms. Wente, I hope justice prevails.)

As much as I love the Internet and respect its power for positive change, there are times, quite a few of them in fact, when I want somebody to pull the plug and shut it down for good. I wrote in my most linked post...

no matter how far or how fast the Internet evolves, it's important to remember: even though it has its sharp edges (or perhaps because it does), the 'Net is merely a tool.

...but sometimes I confess I want to take the tool out of the tool box.

The problem is the anonymity that hiding behind a screen provides. It allows a girl, as Wente notes, to become a 'triple victim'. First the rape, traumatic enough; then the sharing of the lurid images; then the inevitable cyber-catcalls of 'slut' and demands for sex. There's nothing about this case that isn't sickening. And I assure you it's more common than you know. Right now, there are girls all over the country going through the same thing Rehtaeh did. Hell, just look at Amanda Todd...who wasn't gang-raped, but suffered the full force of cyberbullying for years just because she bared her breasts online.

I don't know the answer. I wish I did. Part of me wants to question where the parents were, the ones who allowed children access to vodka and who weren't around to stop the ensuing horror before it could begin. But even I, sheltered boy that I was and sheltered man that I am, recognize the naivete in that sentiment: boys will find places to party and -- as much as I hate it -- they'll also find a way to get drunk. Put a girl in that situation...

Which isn't to say "boys will be boys", a phrase I cordially detest. You can't dismiss gang rape with that kind of petty nonchalance. You just can't. I want consequences, meaningful consequences that show the disgust society holds for rape. Spiritually, I know I'm supposed to tell you that the young rapists deserve forgiveness and a chance to make some good out of the lives they've ruined for themselves...and in my higher moments I'm willing to concede this is possible...but only after the magnitude of their wrongdoing has been expressed. Repeatedly, so as there's no question in their minds.

The rape, as repugnant as it is, isn't what has horrified me most about the Rehtaeh Parsons case. The online sharing of the photo and subsequent ugliness makes me question the sanity of the perpetrators, and the non-reaction of the world at large makes me question my own sanity. Does nobody else wonder about the kind of people who would not only rape a girl, but would brag about it, with photographic proof? Does it not strike anyone else as utterly monstrous to treat a victim of rape as a potential sex toy?

I mean, to me, rape is worse than murder, in the sense that there are (a very few) defences for murder. I can't think of any possible justification for rape, in any circumstance, ever. To first perpetrate and then perpetuate that rape is...words fail me.

I was talking to a colleague at work the other day, a father with young children in school. He tells the me school environment has changed beyond all recognition since we were in it. The word 'faggot', once a schoolyard staple, is all but unheard of. People's hateful attitudes towards difference of all kinds have been taught out of them, for the most part, he alleged. I thought  yeah, sure, they just wait until their targets are home alone and online.

Which is probably true, but it just shifts the onus on to the parents. What's unacceptable face to face should be just as unacceptable online. Perhaps more unacceptable: online, after all, you don't have to have the courage of your convictions. You can hide behind a screen and be as vicious as you like.

I'm not sure there's a way to remove the essentially anonymity of the Internet, but only on a case-by-case basis. If there is, that's obviously the route you want to take. But in the meantime, education is the best way to go. That and making an example of the occasional monster. That part's critical.

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