They called the Steubenville Rape the Abu Ghraib moment of rape culture- where inconsiderate voyeurism and obscene cruelty did inconceivable damage to a girl who did not deserve the trauma, the slander or of the pain. And it was spread far and wide through the internet for everyone to see. The Slane Castle incident is the Steubenville or Abu Ghraib equivalent of the slanderous and unpleasant culture known as slut-shaming.
A 17 year old girl at an Eminem concert on the grounds of the Slane Castle in Ireland was caught on camera going down on a guy. The story spread through the internet like an STD at a Roman Orgy, swifly, and in graphically horrific detail. The girl had been filmed against her consent, but that was only the tip of the iceberg.
What followed ought not to surprise those of us who followed the Steubenville case closely, or any other rape/assault. The online social media erupted with slur after poisonous slur against the girl, while the boy remained largely untouched by cyber-shame’s monstrous machinery. The video and photographs were retweeted feverishly and the infamous hashtag #slanegirl became short hand for slut.
After facebook, twitter and instagram started removing any material related to the Slane Girl incident (because she was 17), people started expressing their frustration and hatred towards her for getting their accounts blocked. The facelessness of cyber space gave people the license to heap unjustified humiliation on this girl.
Why is it that the only time we’re willing to grant sexual agency to girls is when we want to hold them accountable for what we consider to be crimes against decency? Never is the sexual agency of the woman taken seriously, otherwise. They’re always treated as objects that don’t have their own sexual desires or identities but somehow always have to be held responsible whenever we don’t like what we see (sometimes what we know). What sort of ugly double standard are we fomenting when we allow sexual agency, autonomy, identity, and desire to reside within a man, and expect shame, modesty and accountability to reside within the woman?
Slut-shaming is a serious problem with far reaching consequences, and the relevant authorities seem to have responded well to this incident. The Gardai in Ireland have begun investigating the issue- to ascertain whether charges of child pornography would hold. Newspapers like The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror etc ran sympathetic, fair, and responsible reports on the issue, refusing to jump on the slanderous band-wagon of the social media. And most crucially, the social media networks removed videos and photos of the incident, in the hope of protecting whatever remained of the girl’s privacy. This sympathetic and purposeful response comes in the wake of the death-by-suicide of an English teen Hannah Smith, who’d become the latest victim of sexist cyber-bullying.
These are positive signs, because the authorities, the media, and the social networks in the UK & Ireland have shown a sensitivity to this issue and might have potentially prevented it from escalating to fatal proportions for the girl (hopefully I’m not speaking too soon).
In the context of greater sexual activity, greater internet freedom, and greater power to the desktop-confrontationist, it is absolutely vital to harness this sensitivity and sympathy to seriously change the way girls are treated in forums online and offline.
The frenzy around Slane Castle, and the sympathy for the girl in reaction to the initial humiliation is making one thing ever more clear- that slut shaming and cyber-bullying is a crime, promiscuity is not. These positive signs will hopefully lead to the sort of campaigns and awareness programs required to ensure that we don’t need the Gardai, or the social networks, or the newspapers to protect the most vulnerable girls who just wanted to enjoy a concert. The key to stopping people from using their words in hurtful and intolerant ways is to make it socially unacceptable for them to do so. Hopefully we will look back at Slane Castle as the point at which the change began.