Members of 'hacktivist' group Anonymous- seen wearing their trademark masks- have taken on the Steubenville case.
The brutal gang-rape and death of a 23-year old physiotherapy student in New Dehli last month left the world aghast. The visceral and frenzied attack was horrifying for the lack of humanity shown in what we consider civilised society. In the days, cases and protests that followed, it highlighted a rape culture that many are standing against with passion and conviction.
Over in America, another case has grabbed headlines – the alleged rape of an unconscious teen in Steubenville, Ohio. The 16 year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged, gang-raped, photographed and shamed via social media by members of a local High School football team and their friends. Added to this are claims of inaction by the local police force.
Anonymous (the 'hacktivist' group known for their work against Internet censorhip and Scientology, among others) and their associates have become involved. The group posted videos to YouTube showing team mates shaming the victim to the uproarious reaction of others. They have also gathered information on people they believed watched and recorded the attack or those who shared information and images from it online. Last Saturday in a rally organised by Anonymous, more than 1,000 people stood outside the courthouse to demand charges against others they feel are also responsible for letting the attack occur.
People show their anger through a series of paintings and slogans during a protest at Jantar Mantar. Photo: Hindustan Times
Both attacks show how the frenzied mentality of the pack can manifest itself - not only in the eye of the storm but in the power structures of law enforcement and legal and government systems.
It’s natural, when confronted with something that is truly atrocious, to want it solved, quickly and decisively. It’s a gut reaction that may potentially originate so we don’t have to dwell on the senseless cruelty that occurred. Fix it, we demand, fix it and give me the relief of a civilised society. Social media is awash with “give them the death penalty”, “charge them all” with unspecified charges or, the perennial cry of bilious consolation, the inevitable promise of prison rape.
But here is where the problem lies: in fighting against the horror of one pack, we are creating yet another pack mentality. In the grief and shock, the pack defies the logic and compassion it’s trying to salvage. The demands for justice, the cries of outrage and frailty in the cracks of order, just create another frenzied pack who throw reason and order to the wind in the chaotic scramble to make life return to normal.
Releasing dossiers of information that identify the alleged perpetrators - as Anonymous has - while concealing their own identity smacks of the very hypocrisy they’re fighting against. Calling for the death of people who have already denied humane treatment to others does nothing but bring forward more dead bodies.
And what happens to the establishment that acquiesces to this? Will the quick changes that shuffle through – the promises of quick trials to give closure – give lasting relief and justice? Will the actions of Anonymous bring forward more witnesses for the trial? Or will their dossier and predilection for identifying and shaming others frighten people away?
So where does this leave us? What can we do with our stock responses to violent crime? What can we say to others in the face of such tragedy apart from invoking death penalties and prison rapes?
If you argue that the cost of maintaining a prisoner is expensive and an unreasonable burden on law-abiding tax payers:
Consider the price of living in a society where we kill people. According to an Assessment of Costs by Judge Arthur Alarcon and Professor Paula Mitchell in California (2011), they concluded that “if the Government commmuted the sentences of those remaining on death row to life without parole, it would result in an immediate savings of $170 million per year, with a savings of $5 billion over the next 20 years”.
What to do instead: campaign for better laws and sentencing options.
If you call for the death penalty to be applied for any case that upsets you:
Consider that in the US scientific studies repeatedly suggest the death penalty does not deter people from committing attacks, that the Innocence Project’s DNA testing is exonerating 301 of jailed people (18 on death row) around the US and that people with low IQ and intellectual disability are often at risk from not understanding their rights, confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.
If you are the sort who wants to flood the public with information relating to the crime or people involved or name others you believe should be charged.
You are denying the victim their one painful chance at justice in a system that is often already skewed against them. By releasing this information publicly, you’re not only polluting due process of a potential trial, you’re also potentially scaring away witnesses who could give vital evidence.
If you console yourself and others with the thought the attackers will no doubt be raped in prison and that this will teach them a lesson.
Justice is not served by a penis (or anything else) and you are simply enforcing a culture that suspects somehow some people deserve to be raped. No person’s behaviour is corrected by being raped.
What to do instead? Go to Just Detention International and learn that prison rape is a human rights violation and not a corrective measure that accompanies a verdict of guilty like a particularly cruel gift with purchase.
There are options for online activism that can prevent and protect victims without the need to become part of a pack mentality and help work towards real, lasting change.