By Hania Ahmed
Image courtesy of cascade_of_rant via Flikr.
The message of the video is clear: don’t rape.
Although only 26 seconds long, Samantha Stendal’s YouTube video A Needed Response has gone viral in just two weeks, with over 2 million views and lots of attention on social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter.
Stendal, a 19-year-old student film major at the University of Oregon, created the video along with three fellow students – all members of their school’s University Film Organization. After hearing mainstream news sites like CNN spout sympathy for convicted teen rapists during the Stuebenville rape trial, the four felt frustrated with the media.
“I wanted to put something positive out on the internet that pushed the conversation away from victim blaming and towards how we should be treating one another when in a vulnerable state,” says Stendal in an email.
The video is only one of many pieces of media that are now hitting the internet in the wake of the verdict of two young rapists from Steubenville, as well as the sympathy they received from mainstream media.
Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 – both big football stars in their small town – were convicted of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl after a series of parties last August in Steubenville, Ohio and sentenced to at least one year at a juvenile detention centre. Some believe the sentencing should have been harsher.
People are also upset with the media’s response. Many large news corporations in America sympathized with the teens, mentioning again and again how their promising futures are now ruined. Issues are also being raised from the fact that the two teens didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.
Pictures and videos of the rape and the victim were posted on social media after the event. Many of these were taken by peers of the convicted, who looked on and, along with their friends, thought what was happening wasn’t wrong.
In her article called “Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment” Laurie Penny, a columnist for the New Statesman, writes, “What makes these men so sure of their inviolable right to stick their fingers and cocks into any part of any female they can hold down that they actually make and distribute images of each other doing so? Rape culture. That’s what rape culture is. The cultural acceptance of rape.”
This acceptance of rape culture, one commonly discussed and rejected on sites such as Tumblr, is what is driving people to use social media to speak out.
Posters, tweets and conversations are forming, all based around the idea that sexual assault is taken too lightly by society, and that the focus must shift from accepting rape as a part of life and blaming the victim for allowing themselves to get raped, to educating people about consent and how rape – in any form – is wrong.
Some include posters on Tumblr, from Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton, promote consent by saying, “It’s not sex when she’s passed out” or “Just because she isn’t saying no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes”.
Others are satirical tweets meant to mock an old trending topic, #safetytipsforladies including :
Michael Petit, a lecturer in new media at University of Toronto Scarborough and author of many books on pop culture, says social media’s ability to respond to injustice is what makes it so powerful.
“Social media is a force for the positive,” he says.
Norma Coates, an associate professor in Information and Media Studies at Western University, agrees that the ability for social media to provide perspectives different from the mainstream is a good thing.
“It’s nice that people can get on social media and say to the mainstream, ‘that’s wrong,’” says Coates.
But she also believes that social media is a “double-edged sword”.
After Fox News released (and later retracted) the name of the Steubenville victim, a Tumblr account went up using her name, created to embarrass, insult and blame the 16-year-old for being raped and for calling out her rapists. She and her family received death threats from multiple people and two teenaged girls, ages 15 and 16, were charged for threatening the victim through social media.
And sadly, there were tweets in support of the sex offenders:
Tweets went out supporting the two sex offenders.
Royal Mayo, a former president of the Steubenville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke out as well, saying in an interview by the International Business Times that the 16-year-old knew what was happening around her and is an “alleged victim”.
But even with so much conversation, social media may not be able to get rid of rape culture by itself.
“On its own, social media can’t fully accomplish what it wants to do,” says Petit.
“It shows how far we’ve yet to come,” agrees Coates. M