Outing Rapists on Facebook.

After hearing about recent rapes on her campus, American University student Chloe
Rubenstein
(a sexual assault survivor herself) posted the following message to Facebook:

"ATTENTION WOMEN," she wrote, before identifying two
American university students by name and calling them rapists. She went
on: "we should all be aware! Stay away at all costs. They are predators
and will show no remorse for anyone. If you have been effected by
either one of these sickos please feel free to talk to me. With enough
help we can take them down!"

I'll say up front that Rubenstein's story, which Amanda Hess describes
in more detail, is kind of confusing. I don't get whether she saw an
assault in progress, or she just heard about it. I also definitely don't condone the last line of
Rubenstein's posting -- "[t]ake them down!!" -- because it seems to advocate violence against these men.

Setting aside her specific case, though, I do think the hypothetical is interesting: Let's say you know (for sure)
the identity of a person who raped your friend. You know your school's
sexual assault policy is terrible, and you know your friend is
unwilling to go through the additional trauma of filing charges with
police. You also know that this rapist is hanging out and going to
parties on campus, and will have many opportunities to do to other
women what he did to your friend. What would you do?

There some are compelling reasons for doing what Rubenstein did:

1. The system fails women. Again and again. Campus and law-enforcement response to sexual assault is often inadequate at best, traumatic at worst. And schools are reluctant to treat acquaintance rapes (aka the majority of
rapes) as crimes worthy of
alerting all students about. These system failures essentially give offenders license to
rape again.

2. Women already share this type of information informally -- and have since long
before Facebook. Women in a particular industry warn each other about which bosses are
sexist and which coworkers are harassers. We discuss previous relationship violence we
have experienced and caution friends against dating those men. We are often each other's best support and resource.

3. Rapists are likely to be repeat offenders.
This was Rubenstein's primary motivation for making the Facebook posting: "I felt like
I needed to warn everyone else about these guys," she said. The comments
at Jezebel (where Amanda's post was reposted) are full of women's
stories of being raped by an acquaintance who went on to rape other
women.

I
believe these arguments make a strong case for alerting your friends
and spreading the word in private settings, but not for making public
statements accusing rapists. Facebook, though it may feel like a space
for you and your closest friends, is very much a public venue,
especially given its recent privacy changes and glitches.
There are obviously legal considerations. In posting the accused
rapists' names to her nearly 1,000 Facebook friends, Rubenstein is
jeopardizing any potential criminal investigation and reducing the
chance that these men could be brought to justice.

Rubenstein eventually took the posting down:

"I don't clear my status because I'm scared," she wrote on
Facebook. "I clear it for legal reasons and because my message reached
968 people. If you or someone you know has been raped or sexually
assaulted and needs a safe place to talk about how they feel or what
can be done, please contact me. No Fear. No Secrets. 2010."

Indeed, women sharing information in safe places is a key way we
respond to the failure of campus policies and the justice system. But
Facebook is definitely not one of those safe places.

--Ann Friedman

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