It happened yet again, as we knew it would. Photos of an unconscious girl go viral – like a virus, indeed – and this is how the victim learns that she was sexually assaulted at a party. The mocking spreads, and the meme follows – #jadapose – pictures of people, mostly young men but women, too, posing, sprawled unconscious on the ground, in abhorrent imitation. This was, as one participant explained to the Houston Press, a good way to “wake up” his Twitter feed, when he was bored at 1 a.m. The backlash comes more swiftly than ever (our reaction time is improving), and #jadacounterpose gathers speed. A growing crowd shouts back via Twitter and Facebook their support for Jada and their condemnation for her alleged rapist, who complained openly, as he would be expected to these days, that she is a “ho” who “snitched.”
The story is so familiar, a repeat of what happened in Steubenville, Ohio, when two high school football players were charged with raping an unconscious girl at a party. This time, though, in the midst of it, upsetting the narrative because the Internet thrives on anonymity, Jada herself boldly comes forward, and speaks on her own behalf, over the rabble: She explains that she was at a party with other kids from her high school, and someone put something in her drink, and raped her.
“There’s no point in hiding,” she tells a local TV-station in Houston. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.” Some of the comments within her social circle have been so brutal, she explains, that she is asking to be home-schooled. “I’m just angry.”
The mass of strangers typing furiously at their computer, trying to hurl the wittiest slags, or compose the most poignant sympathies, lift their heads, as if noticing there is a real person behind this virtual tale. And then the river of tweets and posts, and reactions to those tweets and posts rush on, dragging our view farther away from actual violence that occurred on the real-world bank behind us.
This is not a problem a tweet can solve, not on a web of so many words, where if someone has a shocking picture they are more likely than not to post it, where we might think we helped because we retweeted in support. Good for you! But what’s it worth?
Not much, if we lose the real thread of this conversation, which should be less about being offended by what happens online, and more about being vigilant about what is happening in reality.
How will the police investigate the pictures taken of Jada, and their subsequent sharing? How will Jada’s dignity – and that of other victims – be protected in the future? If someone is convicted what will be the penalty? (Admit it, do you actually know what happened to the accused in Stuebenville, once the Twitter-frenzy died down?
Meanwhile, what is being done to reach out to the other students involved, as bystanders, in person or online? In sex-ed classes, what is being taught about rape – not just with polite language such as consent – so that the definition and the penalties are crystal clear? How are parents sharing Jada’s story with their own teenagers?
Certainly, rape – and rape culture – have never been so prominent in public conversation. But too often, it feels like we’re just making a lot of noise, well-meaning but quick to fade, from hidden sidelines. As Jada has so bravely made clear, there’s no point in that.