rape

Marina Lanina

We Did It For The Likes

“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.

We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.

But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:

The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.

[…]

On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.

A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.

Bullshit.

Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.

You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.

Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?

Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.

There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.

But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.

Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.

So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.

More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.

I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?

But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.

After all, it’s a world where our fond memories of a television character outweigh the voices of dozens of women.

It’s a world where our admiration of an athlete’s performance has us dismissing the pain they inflicted.

It’s a world where our love of a man’s musical contributions has us propping up conspiracy theories so we don’t have to face the suffering they’ve created.

It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.

It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.

It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.

It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.

It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.

Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.

It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.

She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.

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International Megan’s Law: A Pretty Terrible Idea

In 1994, 7 year old Megan Kanka was brutally raped and murdered by her 43 year old neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas. The news sent shockwaves across their community and the nation as a whole, not just because the crime was stomach churning, but because Timmendequas was a registered sex offender. The event spawned a series of laws across the nation — often referred to as Megan’s Law — requiring law enforcement to inform the public when a sex offender relocates to their community. On the federal level, Megan’s Law was woven into legislation requiring sex offenders to register with the state and inform the state of any moves for a determined or even infinite amount of time. The whole initiative was an effort to allow the public to protect themselves from known sex offenders.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, sex offenders frequently found themselves hard up for work or even housing as people recoiled at their designation, which ironically exacerbated the likeliness of recidivism. That’s quite a feat, given that recidivism among convicted sex offenders is statistically quite low. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of groups who argue that this practice violates the eighth amendment by punishing an individual in perpetuity for one crime. Instead of public safety, there was a rise in public vigilantes. Stephen Marshall, for instance, sought out two men on the registry and murdered them in cold blood. Michael Dodele was murdered by a local father “in protection of his son” after he discovered Dodele’s conviction, though Dodele’s crime had nothing to do with children.

And there’s another problem here: what we classify as sex crimes. There are some crimes that fit neatly in this category: rape, sexual assault, molestation. But some crimes that classify might be as simple, innocuous and stupid as urinating in public or streaking at a football game. In some cases, even the labels we recognize as legitimately heinous don’t make a ton of sense in context. A 30 year old man who forces himself on a 16 year old girl in an alley, for instance, is not the same as an 18 year old senior in high school having consensual sex with his 16 year old sophomore girlfriend, but on the registry, there often won’t be a distinction.

The sex offender registry is not an inherently terrible idea. Even the Association for Treatment of Sexual Offenders concedes that sexual offenders should be carefully reintegrated into society upon release with ample legal oversight. But until laws and the registration process are reformed, the current process is doing no one any favors.

Which brings us to today, as Congress sends President Obama what is known as an “International Megan’s Law.” This law would require that the State Department conspicuously mark the passports of anyone involved in a sex crime that involved a minor to inform other nations of their risk upon entry.

There are a lot of problems with this. We’ve already talked about how the registry conflates crimes by ignoring crimes; this is worse. Teens sexting each other would end up on this list if convicted. But beyond the fact that its application could end up being unjustly applied, there’s absolutely no evidence this would thwart the human trafficking it claims to target. And if people are being discriminated against with their names listed online, imagine what happens to those who use a passport as a form of identification. To add insult to injury, their supposed purpose is redundant. As Reason explains:

[W]hen it comes to those who have committed the most heinous crimes or are the most likely to reoffend, we already have a mechanisms in place to either prevent them from getting passports or notify foreign governments when they’re traveling abroad. The Secretary of State can deny passports to people convicted of certain sex crimes, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Operation Angel Watch” already notifies foreign officials when Americans convicted of certain sex crimes are traveling there.

And the reason ICE knows the travel habits of these sex offenders? Because all people on state sex offender registries—regardless of why they’re there or how long ago their crimes were committed—are required under federal law to “inform his or her residence jurisdiction of any intended travel outside of the United States at least 21 days prior to that travel.”

In other words, the only thing this law would do is exacerbate the harms that already exist in the flawed framework of sex offender registry related laws. Nice, right?

But as the legislation crosses President Obama’s desk, it seems unlikely that it would be vetoed, largely because of optics. How would it look for him to reject legislation that’s supposed to protect children from being raped?

That doesn’t mean we should accept its passage. Sexual violence survivors deserve our support, and if anything, the flaws in the current legal regime trivialize their experience. That a person having sex with someone they’re in high school with is put on the level with a brutal rape is unconscionable. That that same kid be treated with the same disdain reserved for violent rapists for potentially the rest of their natural lives is revolting. We can do better, and should.

Until then, let’s hope Obama’s constitutional law background triumphs over PR inclinations.

 

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Those Drugs Were for Rape, Not Sex

The bombshell news rocking social media on Monday afternoon was the revelation that Bill Cosby himself had admitted to drugging young women before sexually assaulting them. The news, unearthed in court documents from 2005, set off a loud cry of public condemnation. Putting aside the incredibly messed up fact that more than 40 women have accused him of just such attacks over the course of several decades and people still continued to defend him until today, even this collective outrage is stomach turning. Why? Check out these headlines:

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Have you spotted the problem yet? No? Tell me – where do you see the word “rape” in any of those headlines?

As the story broke, news outlets pounced, each wanting to get a hot take up. In their haste, they relied on Cosby’s characterization of his intent: he wanted to have sex. But he didn’t have sex with those women. He drugged them, taking away their ability to enthusiastically consent. That’s not sex. That’s rape. Calling it by any other name is an insult to the courageous women who came forward with their stories, not to mention every other person out there who has endured a similar attack.

Language matters. It frames our understanding of the world around us. And as long as we allow ourselves to deride the significance of consent by referring to sexual violence as sex, we’re never going to get to a place where the crime is treated as it should be. We will provide cover to those who seek to find excuses for the inexcusable. We will allow for the shaming of survivors who were never to blame for what happened to them but are continuously forced to defend themselves against such disparagement. We will foster an environment where those who have been assaulted don’t feel safe seeking out justice.

This is rape culture. And most people won’t bat an eye.