sexual violence

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.

kankajpg-f5ceeb5091c57696

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.

 

Donald-Trump-Hillary-Clinton-Bill-Clinton

Hillary, Rape Culture, and an Uneasy Agreement with Trump

The Trump campaign has, since the beginning, seemed a caricature of what conservative politics has turned into over the past two decades. Instead of hiding behind dog whistles, he’s blatantly, proudly blasted out sexist, racist, classist and xenophobic rhetoric like it’s going out of style. It’s working for him, which is more than a little unnerving.

His sexism, in particular, is beyond question. This is a man who told an employee she’d look pretty on her knees, who disparages women’s appearances instead of engaging with critique, who accuses media members of being on their period when they dare question him, who dismisses fellow conservative competitors for not being pretty enough to win, who — when running out of options — chooses to leap on his female opponent’s use of a bathroom.

He’s a misogynist asshole. Point blank.

Last week, in yet another chapter of absurdity, he claimed that women were yuge fans of his, and that stalwart feminist icon Hillary Clinton was anti-woman. Derision, side eye, and shade came down in an avalanche, and rightfully so. There is no world in which Trump could be considered a greater ally for women.

And yet…

Alright, stay with me for a minute. Set aside your fervent love of Clinton. Simmer your Sanders adoration. Acknowledge your intense fear and loathing of the GOP field, but don’t let it cloud your vision. Put down the pitchforks for a second, and please just listen.

Because I’m about to agree — in part — with Trump. And I might hate myself more for it than you do.

See, Trump’s criticism of Hillary’s record on women wasn’t just a random jab; it was connected to the philandering ways of Bill Clinton.

At first I snorted at the support he provided for the conjecture. Frankly, I don’t care who sleeps with who and who accepts it or doesn’t. The Clintons are ostensibly good with each other despite past dalliances, and since it’s really none of my business, it’s a non issue in my mind.

If that had been the extent of his attack, I’d have gone back to a Netflix binge and chalk it up to another transparent GOP smear attempt. But Trump wasn’t just talking about the consensual extramarital affairs. He was also making reference to the accusations of sexual harassment against Bill that have come to the forefront over the years, and Hillary’s role in those sagas.

Bill has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment or assault since his career began. Some of those accusations wound up in court. Some of them were settled outside of court. Some of them were shouted into obscurity. But they’re there, as are accounts of Hillary’s attempts to bury them with private investigators and bullying.

And this is where I get stuck as someone who tries very hard to be a good ally for survivors of sexual assault and an advocate against rape culture.

On face, I want to holler with the rest of my progressive friends about all the good Hillary’s done in her life for women, about what a positive role model she’s been. I want to say that those allegations were never proven and this is just another desperate Republican attempt to quash Hillary before she gets the nomination.

But I can’t. Because I get angry when people say that Cosby, despite numerous accusers and a record of out of court settlements, doesn’t deserve our disdain. I get frustrated when people say that Woody Allen marrying someone he’s accused of molesting excuses his gross abuse of power. I get sick when people shrug off player after player in the NFL for their assaults because the women accusing them are obviously just seeking attention. I get exasperated when people tell me to stave off judgment until a legal system (that has proven itself woefully inadequate) adjudicates another woman’s trauma, like their decision is the ultimate arbiter of reality.

And to look at Bill Clinton’s tattered history without the same critical lens because I think his wife is better than the horror show in the GOP presidential field would make me a massive hypocrite.

We can say that none of these cases were ever proven in court, but that’s a bullshit dodge. The legal system fails survivors of sexual assault early and often, starting with authorities questioning attire and prior relationships and ending with a he-said-she-said deflection.

We can choose to say fall back on the he-said-she-said excuse in general discussion of the topic, too, but that’s crap, as well. How many allies posted about how absurd it is that we discount the trauma of multiple women in order to defend the acceptance of one man’s denial when the Cosby travesty gained public notoriety once more last year? Bill has had multiple accusers, as well. He also had out of court settlements. Why does he get a pass?

We can roll our eyes and say he’s being targeted because he’s a prominent public figure. He certainly is, but that’s the exact reason why we should be willing to look at the situation critically. It is not easy for survivors to come forward under far less visible circumstances; it is infinitely harder to do so when being put under a public microscope and having your story and person torn to shreds is a certainty. Multiple women have been willing to face that level of scrutiny. That’s not something someone does for fun. And as the data shows, false accusations are exceedingly rare.

We can look the other way when considering Hillary’s behavior involving the accusations. And maybe, to some extent, that’s fair. Yes, there have been reports that she hired private investigators in order to bully accusers into silence, but a lot of those reports have also been circulated by notoriously unreliable conservative pundits and politicos. I’m willing to concede that those reports might not be true.

But those aren’t the only criticisms that can be made of Hillary on this note. Indeed, her response to Trump’s comments was problematic in and of itself. After being pressed on the subject at a New Hampshire event, Hillary replied:

I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.

It was a safe response, of course. Nothing wrong on the surface. But when you look at the history of the allegations against Bill and the way those cases were handled, the dismissal of the accusers was not a function of evidence; it was a function of politics. Hillary knows (or should know) about the infrequency of false allegations and how that information interacts with Bill’s track record, but instead of grappling with that, she’s buying whole hog into the fallacy with this comment.

And yes, we can talk about how she really doesn’t have any other pragmatic response. Evidence shows that her numbers surge during attacks like these; buying into them would be like refusing a gift horse. And the idea of having to grapple with such a disturbing reality in such a personal relationship is overwhelming, to say the least. I absolutely get that. 

But you know what’s even harder to deal with? The trauma of sexual assault. Political convenience is a crass and callous excuse here.

And while Hillary’s record is largely a positive one for women, she’s never been a particularly vocal advocate for sexual assault survivors. She’s apologized to other nations for rapes committed by American troops, but unlike her fellow female Democrats, she’s yet to call for reform in how the military handles rape cases internally. In fact, outside of rather soft rhetoric (as seen above), she’s stayed away from any substantive engagement of sexual violence issues.

Again, probably because it’s not real convenient.

And before it’s said that I’m targeting Hillary, let me make it clear that the Sanders response wasn’t a good one either. When asked about the ongoing feud between Hillary and Trump, Sanders said:

I think, you know, we have enormous problems facing this country and I think we got more things to worry about than Bill Clinton’s sexual life. I think — interestingly enough, maybe Donald Trump might want to focus attention on climate change, understand that climate change is not a hoax, as he believes that it is, that maybe Donald Trump should understand that we should raise the minimum wage in this country, which he opposes, and maybe we should not be giving huge tax breaks to fellow billionaires like Donald Trump.

So I think maybe he should focus on those things.

This is just as bad as Hillary’s deflection, if not worse. We’re not talking about “sex”; we’re talking about assault. And while I’m not going to deny that the other issues he references deserve attention, to argue that sexual assault is somehow unworthy of attention as well is an asshole move. It’s also a common move in positions of privilege to deflect conversations that are uncomfortable or politically perilous.

To be fair, I can’t let this critique discount Hillary or Sanders as candidates. Both have a lot of good to offer, and both are infinitely better candidates for president than anyone the GOP is offering. The stakes are too high to dismiss them out of hand. But being willing to accept the lesser of evils during such a time doesn’t mean we stay quiet about imperfections in the candidates we’re willing to consider. When we prioritize painting candidates as perfect over demanding they do better and be better, nothing changes, and we’re no better than the rabid GOP supporters who refuse to criticize their own party.

Listen, I hate having to give anything Trump says the time of day, but I cannot, in good conscience, just ignore this issue. And if you’re calling yourself an ally of sexual assault survivors, neither should you.

(Waits patiently for the tomatoes to start flying.)