By now you may have heard about Jada, the 16 year old Houston girl who was drugged at a party and raped by her peers. Jada became aware of the sexual assault the way so many teenage girls seem to these days - because it was filmed and photographed and then uploaded to social media.
Yes, this is the world we live in now.
Talking to US TV Network KHOU, Jada says she discovered the images after her friends texted her to find out if she was okay. Waiving her right to anonymity, she bravely stated, “There’s no point in hiding. Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.” The case is now being investigated by the Houston Police Department’s juvenile sex crimes division.
But the point of this isn’t really that such abhorrent examples of sexual assault and ritualised peer group humiliation via social media are becoming common enough that our eyebrows raise just that little bit less on hearing about them. It’s not that, predictably, there are some people invoking age old victim blaming narratives to shift the responsibility for assault onto Jada, as if the more serious crime being ignored here is that a 16 year old girl went to a party. It’s not even that her alleged rapist’s Twitter feed is filled with retweets of girls expressing solidarity with him, saying that ‘she knew what she was doing’ and ‘she wanted the dick just didn’t think she wuld get it lik how she did should of stayed her ass at home” [sic]. Women’s internalised misogyny no longer surprises me, even if it still thoroughly depresses me.
No, the truly horrifying thing about this case is that it’s earned its own admission onto the website Know Your Meme. For those who don’t know, an internet meme is an “activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet.” And ‘Jada’s Sexual Assault Case’ is one of the latest examples.
After Jada’s interview aired with KHOU, some social media users began uploading photographs of themselves imitating images of the half naked 16 year old. Hashtagged with #jadapose, they very quickly began making the rounds on Twitter and Instagram. One user said that he participated in the ‘prank’ because it was 1am, he was bored and he wanted to get something happening on Twitter. Because there’s nothing funnier than joking about rape especially when it involves an unconscious 16 year old girl, and we should definitely be exploiting these situations to satisfy the cavernously empty holes in our own sad, pathetic lives.
This is what rape culture looks like. It doesn’t involve Evil Monsters or poorly thought out expeditions down dark alleyways. It involves otherwise average people - children, siblings, parents, friends - with (at least some) redeeming features who are able to simultaneously justify the dehumanisation of another person’s body for their own gratification, entitlement and - increasingly, it seems - amusement. Despite recent sentencing remarks from a UK judge that the sexual assault of an unconscious woman at a party did not form the narrative of the ‘classic rapist’, this kind of attack is actually more in line with the crime’s day to day execution.
If we want to be truthful, ‘classic rapists’ are the people who are enabled to disconnect their actions from those of sexual assault. It’s difficult to forget the sympathetic way Steubenville’s Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were treated by some editorialising reporters, or how Daisy Coleman’s community rallied against her in support of her alleged rapists. The parents of one of Coleman’s alleged rapists, Matthew Barnett - whose grandfather served four terms as a Republican State Representative of Missouri - have even claimed their son is the real victim here while Barnett’s father referred to it as simply the work of ‘incorrigible teenagers’.
Similarly, scores of people have flocked to defend the boy Jada alleges raped her, Innel Yahia. Alongside tweets in which he calls Jada a ‘hoe’ and a liar are retweeted messages of support, many of them hashtagged #JusticeforInnel. Jada is accused of ‘wanting it’ and then lying when it ‘didn’t turn out like she planned’ - a sentiment which betrays the worrying underlying belief that rape isn’t really rape if her vagina has been forward enough to turn up to a party.
It would be easy to fall into a pit of desperation over Jada’s situation and the humiliating abuse she has been subjected to online. Being confronted with the ongoing evidence of rape culture is exhausting and upsetting in equal measures. That rape has managed to become celebratised on the internet seems to me just more evidence that humanity should have died out long ago.
Yet there is reason to have hope, too. After the #jadapose trend was reported on by media outlets, supporters of Jada took to Twitter to defend her. Women and men have flooded the #jadapose hashtag with messages of solidarity, and used it to declare a unified stance against rape culture. The hashtags #istandwithjada and #jadacounterpose have also been trending.
Bit by little bit, the groundswell of support for victims of sexual assault is growing. As more people become aware of the subtleties of rape culture, and adept at identifying it in their own lives, they are more willing to pushback. And this is the beautiful, reaffirming flipside to those horrendous parts of the internet. In cyberspace, there have always been dark alleys that it we have been advised not to walk down - but with enough of us, perhaps it is possible even there to band together in force and take back the night.