Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're Still Blaming The Victim?

cross posted from my media justice column

There’s been a lot of virtual attention towards a young 14 year-old Black woman from Alabama who was videotaped providing oral sex to her ex-boyfriend at their high school. As a Maryland native, this story being centered in Baltimore, hits home and remains enraging. Before I share more about this event, I want to share that two of the young men who participated in creating this video (which the young woman did NOT consent to) and then posted to the internets, have been arrested and the young woman has reportedly changed schools.

The young woman involved (and I’m purposefully not mentioning her name for many reasons, one she’s a minor, two she doesn’t need do a search and find this post about her, and three, it’s not important at this time) did not consent to having the video of her actions posted on the web. It’s unclear if she even consented to having the encounter videotaped, but what is clear is she is hurting, harassed, threatened, targeted, taunted, and isolated. To my knowledge the video is no longer available where it was originally posted (and I did not go searching for the video), however, some news outlets do have the video and use it when reporting on the story and blur out the images. In addition, one online site asked their readers (about 10,000 responded) if they would watch the video and 75% said they would! Unfortunately, there is still an interest in watching this encounter. Lots of conversations around cyber-bullying child pornography, and even sexting have emerged.

Youth responses
I have a love hate relationship with social media and situations such as this is one of those reasons. This is also a reason why some folks are against Net Neutrality (something I’ve encouraged us to consider and even support). Now, opponents of net neutrality would tell me there must be more of a social responsibility and accountability of some of these online spaces that host user content. I don’t think this is such a negative thing, however, how this is implemented is essential to understand and examine.

What I have seen are many youth responding to this situation in specific ways. There are folks who are clearly in support of the younsg woman and asking folks to stop harassing andbullying her. Then there are youth who are creating media of their own and posting it about the young woman (and no I’m not linking to any of them on purpose). Part of the cyber-bullying this young Black woman is experiencing is videos made of her, people reacting to watching the video, several young men (many of Color) creating raps, her first and last name becoming a verb, songs about the young woman, and even adults blaming her for her actions saying “she knew what would happen” and “she chose to perform this act.”

It troubles me because we still are in a society where people are UNCLEAR about what consent includes, what it means to obtain consent from someone, and what it means to violate someone and not obtain consent. I find it troubling that adults are blaming this young woman for experiencing bullying, threats, isolation because of her choice to perform oral sex. This sends many messages, one which is shaming of young women, women of Color in being sexual. Shaming folks has rarely ever had positive outcomes for all people involved, including especially the person it is targeted towards. People think they may be “helping,” or “just sharing their opinion,” or “stating the facts,” when in fact they are essentially rape apologists claiming “she asked for it” and “it’s her fault she is being treated” poorly. These are the same things we hear from people who blame victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault.

I know that many of you don’t even think of sexting, instead maybe you think of seeing or sending naked pictures to other folks in your cell phone. Well, the legal term for that which older folks (who also participate in this activity) have come up for is sexting. I’ve shared some of the historical background that is connected to the legislation of sexting and how it is a crime before. I want to be clear that if you or someone you know is under 18 years old and things like this come into your cell phone/handheld device this will be considered a crime. If you are the person sending it you are the person who is considered doing the crime, the perpetuator. If you need or want more information on sexting check out my last article on the topic. Don’t think that just because you don’t know the rules/laws that they don’t apply to you, make sure these are clear and be careful! It’s part of the responsibility that comes with this type of technology today.

Speaking of responsibility, what role do our communities have and each of us individually have in these situations? Earlier this week Nicole Clark, MSW a social worker and sexual health activist/consultant for women and girls of color wrote a post called “Call To Action: Teens, Sex Tapes, and Why We’ve Got To Do Better” where she outlines four questions for readers about this current event and reality for the young woman involved. She writes:

What is the solution here? What can we do as adults to decrease the likelihood of incidences like this from occurring in the future? For one, we can stop sending mixed messages to young people about sex and sexuality. We can put the blame all we want on the media, rappers, models, music, videos, pop culture, social media, and magazines all we want, but young people are looking to the adults in their lives on how to behave.
I agree with Nicole’s perspective of ending mixed messages on sexuality and as adults, mentors, parents, educators who have young people in our lives taking some of this responsibility as well. Not just responsibility but accountability. We can blame the outlets and social media like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr that allowed the video, bullying and harassment to continue (and some folks claim the young woman is using Twitter currently, although this has not been confirmed that it is actually her). However, there is a level of user accountability that we must also recognize. How do we talk to youth about how they behave online? Is it the same as how we teach them to behave in 3D? Why are they different? How can we figure out more solid and useful ways to discuss these methods?

Now, this incident is not isolated. Black women and women of Color have been targeted, harassed, threatened, bullied, isolated, shamed, silenced, violated, and victimized for being sexual beings in this country and world. We have not been protected the same way other women have, and even victimized by the same communities and organizations created to provide us some form of protection.

I believe the first things we must do is think about what consent means to us and then have conversations with others on the topic. How do folks have different definitions of consent? How do you obtain consent? What are the challenges to getting consent? What are the pleasures in getting consent? Then follow that up with a conversation with family members, community members, classmates, professors, mentors, and other folks in the communities of practice of which we have membership.

Next, think about what it means to have the privilege of social media, access to the internet, and how that gives us a unique yet important type of power. What are the ways we may practice power with versus power over in social media? How are these connected to our ideas of respect and I’m not saying this is an easy one as I see adults on social media acting out too!

Finally, what may we learn from young people about the uses and necessities of social media? I think it is important to look to young people as those experts who can help with creating solutions and holding their peers accountable. This is NOT just something that adults must do. It is something we ALL must do, it is all of our responsibility to speak out towards injustice, oppression, and isolation of young people because of a choice they made. To think it is up to adults to lead these efforts is a problem already. I’m committed to working with everyone in our community to challenge and find ways to make sure this does not happen again to another young person, young person of Color or community. What are ideas and ways others are working to help end these incidences as well?

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