Whoa-man: 2013 and the Internet’s War on Rape

From Honey Boo Boo to the House of Commons, Whoa-man explores pop culture and politics from a woman’s perspective. Hey, there’s at least half of us — am I right, ladies?

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Let me give you the bad news first, because there is good news to come, and I think we should get the shitty part over with: 2012 was a heartbreaker of a year.

In August of last year, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted by several high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio — photographs and video of her assault peppering social media like it was nothing more than a YouTube video of a baby cat. The town’s authorities — the very same people charged with protecting the vulnerable — appeared to turn their back on the teen victim, choosing to blame her intoxication rather than the players’ aggression for the crime. And it wasn’t until a lengthy New York Times piece that anyone really paid attention.

Several months later, a young woman in Delhi, India, was viciously gang raped. There are absolutely no words to truly describe the unimaginable horror of the assault. She was beaten, she was repeatedly raped, she was violated with a metal rod so violently that some of her organs were ripped from her body. Then her and a friend were stripped and left for dead on the street, like little more than roadkill. In fact, I believe many animals are more humanely treated in the country.

Those are just two of the brutal cases we’ve heard about — mere ripples in an unfortunate ocean of abuse and assault.

That’s the bad news. The good news? Both of these cases have become catalysts for change in a way we haven’t seen in a very long time. They give us all a reason to be hopeful in 2013.

In Steubenville, a young girl’s acquaintances and classmates did nothing to help her while she was being raped. But an army of strangers has come to her defense in a way that’s unprecedented, though illustrative of our social age.

Anonymous, the hacker activist group best known for their Guy Fawkes masks and the Occupy Wall Street movement, have turned their attention to the case in Steubenville. With the town’s institution of football and perverted value system, the inherent justice in helping an underdog has invigorated the vigilante wing of the online group, inspiring a number of them to descend upon the tiny Midwest town in protest. In the last two weeks, they have released a shocking video depicting a teen present at the scene mocking the rape and spewing a tirade of vitriol towards the unconscious girl, and leaked damning information on the town’s sheriff, prosecutor and the school’s football coach.

Perhaps most importantly, Anonymous has cast a light on Steubenville, which has now moved into the international spotlight. No longer are the twisted ideals of this hero-worshiping haven in the shadows. While the sheriff is unwilling to charge more students in the crime — even though Anonymous claims many others were involved — the student featured in the mocking video has dropped out of university, forfeiting his scholarship. Other officials in Steubenville have gone on the defensive, clearly aware of the turning tides.

With all eyes on this picture of small-town America, it’s clear to me a fundamental change is on its way. Through the internet we have connected on a deeper set of values, found a way to supercede the status quo and drawn the line between our demi-gods and ourselves. As we ask this town to choose what it really values — a young girl’s life or their Friday Night Lights — we ask ourselves the very same thing. What is important to us, and at what cost?

In India, where a rape is reported every 20 minutes (and rape is drastically underreported there), an even more monumental shift is at play. An incredible outcry has engulfed the country as its citizens demand a dramatic change in culture and attitude towards its females. They are asking for more than just equality; they’re asking for humanity — a humanity that has not been afforded to its women in decades. This crime that has devastated those of us watching from a distance, has more than galvanized India’s own population — a population already on the brink of change well on their way to becoming a global economic power player.

The protests that have risen up throughout India have been littered with men and women both challenging their leaders to finally act. They want to bring about not just justice for the victim of this particular crime, but for all the women who exist as second-class citizens in their own country. And this time we’re all listening. We are saying to Delhi, to Steubenville and to every corner in between that we hear, we understand and we care. Their voices have become our own, and its through the deafening chorus we create together that 2013 will be different, and these stories will not have been told in vain.

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Amil Niazi is a writer, producer, dreamer and schemer currently based in Toronto. Laugh with her on Tumblr and get to know her on Twitter.