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Mon Feb 4, 2013, 07:54 AM

Sexual violence and the paradox of anonymity in the digital age

"I never had sympathy for 'blue dot', because I couldn't see her eyes," one viewer told the LA Times in a letter reflecting public sentiment at the time. Smith became sympathetic, his every emotion played to the camera. He was acquitted that December.

Today, in the internet era, it is difficult for an alleged rape victim's identity to be fully concealed. This is true not only in high profile cases, but also in the cases of ordinary women and girls. The internet allows those close to the crime - whether the accused, the alleged victim, or bystanders - to speak without a media intermediary.

Sometimes, it is the woman who chooses to tell her story. But sometimes it is not. The violation of rape can be accompanied by a violation of privacy, in which the crime is publicised through photos and play-by-play commentary. Today, you can see not only the rape victim, but footage of the actual rape.

Writing about the Smith case in Newsweek in 1991, journalist David A Kaplan criticised the enforced anonymity of women. "Concealing identity casts the journalist as judge, long before any verdict is in: somehow the stigma suffered by an alleged rape victim is greater than that of the alleged rapist," he wrote.


On December 23, the online collective Anonymous released a video condemning the rape of a 15-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, and vowed to fight for justice.

"The girl was sexually assaulted, molested, raped and drugged unconscious from party to party. This is a warning shot to the school faculty, the parents of those involved and those involved especially. A preliminary dox is being released on some of those involved, while a full size dox of everyone …is being compiled as you watch this video."

They threatened to release the dox - a revelation of public identity - unless the guilty parties apologised.

The men and women behind Anonymous heard about the Steubenville rape the same way people in the town of Steubenville did - it was broadcast by the alleged rapists online. On August 11, 2012, two young men carried an unconscious girl from party to party, where witnesses say she was raped, groped and urinated on.


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