Sexual violence knows no race, age, or gender — and yet we continue to ignore it as a pressing issue. Instead, we blame survivors in an attempt to convince them that they could have avoided their attack — or worse, that they somehow caused their own assault. We live in a world that tolerates, normalizes, and even excuses forms of sexual violence; where rape culture is commonplace, and where a rape survivor can become a hashtag.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that rape culture has met the Internet. It was just over a year ago that the small Ohio town of Steubenville was making headlines for a high-profile sexual assault. In that case, too, social media was a key tool, eventually providing evidence that proved a lack of consent and helped in prosecuting the two boys accused of raping a teenage girl. Similar to what happened in Houston, people initially mocked the victim, referring to her as “the dead girl” and tweeting that if they “don’t resist then to me it’s not rape.”
For another example of how rape culture plays out on Twitter, just look at the language around the recent FIFA World Cup. When Brazil lost to Germany 7-1 in the semifinals, it became the most-discussed sports event ever on Twitter, generating 35.6 million tweets. People all over the world were talking about this unprecedented game. But even more unprecedented was the sheer number of tweets that joked about Brazil being “raped” by Germany. Indeed, since last week’s match, over 9,000 tweets have included the terms “rape” and “Brazil” together.