Silenced by social media

Evergreen editorial board

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Well no means yes and yes means anal, right?” This chilling attempt at a joke one Daily Evergreen editor heard from an acquaintance elicited a laugh from the other person in the car.

Welcome to rape culture, where violent, insidious acts are fair game for comedic fodder.

In addition to in-person insensitivity, rape culture is also prevalent on social media. Protected by a screen, social media can be a breeding ground for the lowest common denominator of thinking and responses. When it comes to sexual assault, this arena can become a hostile, harmful place.

One in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college, adding up to millions of people across the country every year, according to a 2015 study from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Ninety percent go unreported.

The editorial board and other Evergreen editors and staff have seen rape culture play out in comments and tweets on social media. In light of these statistics, it believes responses, especially from WSU students, should be used to exercise empathy and cultivate constructive conversation. As it is, what is ideally a forum for educated discussion more often than not deteriorates into victim blaming, unproductive assumptions and crude jokes.

In a recent example of problematic comments, on an April 5 article about two rape reports, five Facebook comments and a tweet were critical about The Daily Evergreen’s lack of the word “allegedly” in its Facebook post headline in reference to two reported rapes. Only two comments directly expressed concern about the victim who reported the rape.

One commenter pointed out this irony, writing in response to another commenter, “While saying allegedly is legally proper, in the example (the commenter) gave, it seems that you’re far more concerned about the alleged perpetrator’s lacrosse season than the actual survivors. While you seem to be well-versed in the struggles of alleged rapists, I challenge you to educate yourself on what the rape survivors have to go through and maybe ask yourself why this is such a problem on college campuses.”

We appreciate our readers’ responses, for an unresponsive student paper deaf to criticism or concerns does its community little good. We also acknowledge that the use of the word alleged is necessary until there is a conviction; however, it is not necessary when a rape is reported with no named suspect or specific location, as was the case for this incident. If a woman reports she has been raped, there is nothing alleged about that situation.

The comments section missed an important opportunity to discuss the fact that two sexual assaults were reported in one weekend. Instead, time and energy was spent squabbling over whether the student paper knows how to correctly write a rape report.

In the comments section of the Facebook post “Phi Delta Theta fraternity has been suspended for undisclosed reasons” on April 11, one commenter said, “Well, I guess we know which house the rapes occurred at the other week. Lovely culture we got here,” despite there being no indication that the reasons for the fraternity’s suspension were connected to the rapes reports published April 5.

This kind of conjecture is equally harmful. Instead of pumping the brakes on assigning any blame, it rushes to a potentially libelous conclusion. It creates a hostile campus and community environment and shifts blame without any evidence.

While our commenters are entitled to their opinions, when it comes to a sensitive topic like sexual assault, we believe our readers are smart enough to consider the potential ramifications their comments could have on someone who has been sexually assaulted.

Social media bleeds into reality. We are surrounded by messages from our peers. When our online environment reacts to sexual assault issues in a hostile or unhelpful manner, it creates an incubator of toxicity. Survivors can hardly be expected to speak up when they see their classmates reacting negatively to the struggles of other victims.

We always hope the visibility that comes with publishing rape reports encourages men and women who are sexually assaulted to report their situation as well. We hope it indicates solidarity and represents hope, if one person is daring to report they were raped at a fraternity, despite the scrutiny and relentless criticism that comes with it, they will feel empowered to step forward.

From the editorial board’s perspective, much more needs to be done and much more can be done when The Daily Evergreen publishes reports of sexual assault. We hope the comments section is a reflection of WSU students’ worst reactions and that constructive conversation is happening elsewhere.

We are thankful for the readers who support victims and voice concern for trends of rape in the community. Remember that victims and people that could be victims in the future read comments and are gauging a community’s zeitgeist.