Assault, Consent, and the Internet

When trying to decide what to write about for this Friday’s post, I went searching through the depths of the internet. What I found was an unnerving reaction to a recent assault report at the University of Missouri.

The report reads as follows:

A woman said she was walking to Ellis Library when a man she didn’t know passed her, then turned around and grabbed her from behind, wrapping his arms around her in a “bear hug,” police said. She said she struggled but could not get away. The man eventually released her when another person approached on the sidewalk; the man let the woman go — saying “I thought you were someone else” — and ran off.

The response I seem to be finding through the dark world of the internet, is the general assumption that this report is an overreaction. There seems to be a general consensus that what this assault report is claiming: nice guy tries to hug a friend but it turns out it’s accidentally a stranger — who’s a crazy bitch for crying assault. And because it’s the era of the internet and all such terrible things, there’s already a meme about it.

There’s even a twitter account now with more than 700 followers. Here are just a select few of some of the less than stellar tweets that are being shared with the world.

There are people out there who might claim that I’m too sensitive or that I too am at fault for overreacting, but when reading that report I don’t seem to see the same things that everyone else does. Let me just highlight the few words and phrases that stick out to me from the report: “she struggled”, “could not get away”, and “released her when another person approached”.

Maybe it is just me. But I see statements like that, and I have a hard time sympathizing with the assailant or seeing anything other than guilt. A man grabs a strange woman, forcibly keeping her in his grasp as she struggles to be free, and only lets go when another person tries to intervene? That seems sketchy to me. And though this instance appears to have been harmless, it could have been worse — and either way, it was terrifying for the woman who was assaulted.

While the assault disturbs me in itself, what has me more bothered is the overall response that the incident seems to have garnered. Whether the bear hug was accidental or not, the condemnation of this girl for reporting an incident in which she felt physically threatened and scared is inexcusable. The meme’s being generated that seem to be glorifying this man as the face for the “Nice Guy” is maddening. And the twitter account that is using this girls assault as the butt of some seriously dangerous and triggering rape jokes has me seeing red. What’s worse is the 700+ individuals who seem to find this all so hysterical that they went ahead and clicked that little follow button.

To me, this all seems to paint a bigger picture for the rape culture that we live in. That her logical fearful reaction is apparently inconsequential or that her consent doesn’t even matter highlights some larger problems at play here. The idea that she was simply in the wrong place and wrong time and that by not simply “letting it go” she’s being vilified as some crazy bitch is frustrating to me. It’s things like this that convince men and women to keep silent over any “minor” sexual harassment they might face. Letting these minor transgressions build up without any repercussions helps shape the rape culture in which we live in.

And it carries on until we reach a point that a woman who was genuinely scared for her own safety is made fun of and depicted as a villain for going to the police who are supposed to protect her.

 

4 thoughts on “Assault, Consent, and the Internet

  1. That twitter account is also terrible. Free hugs shirt so consent is implied? Consent is overrated? It’s spreading things like this as ‘jokes’ and ‘banter’ that exacerbates the problems in our society!

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  2. I think the fact that the action is being termed a “hug” is what throws people off. I was even initally like wtf….But, After looking into it more, I think what you mentioned is important (the fact that she couldn’t get away until someone else came up). For all we know, this could have been something more serious that is being laughed off because the person in question said, “I thought you were someone else.” Maybe I am being out of line too but this is a slippery slope to any potential attacker saying, “I thought you were someone else” or “I was trying to hug you” to evade charges. I don’t know if I am willing to just “let that go.” If in this instance, he was actually triyng to hug her, I say, reluctantly, fine…But, I don’t want this to become precedent.

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  3. This makes me so mad! Thanks for writng about it. You are on point when you say it is an example of the rape culture we live in. In my mind, there is no such thing as “minor” assult – it just doesn’t exist. It’s like the timely warnings we get explaining “simple” assult – what the hell is that!? The timely warning we got the other day, about the girl who had been raped by two minors, and the one last month, where a girl was gang raped at 9:30 pm walking home on MAIN STREET serve as explicit reminder of the cost of living in a “rape culture” that doesn’t take assault seriously.

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  4. I was walking down a street one night with my mom when a man ran up from behind, hooked an arm around my waist, pulled me to him and hugged me while running a hand up and down my back. I was 26 years old. I pushed him off of me and my mom slapped at him and yelled at him and he yelled ‘oh, sorry! I thought you were my girlfriend!’. It was after midnight, I was a grown up, hell I was even with my mother, and still this man felt entitled to come up and touch me. I relate to the woman who was bear hugged. It was absolutely terrifying. I don’t believe that man thought he knew the woman he was hugging and I don’t think my toucher/hugger/assailant/whatever thought he knew me. I think they felt entitled to our bodies by virtue of wanting to touch them and being male and they think ‘i thought I knew you’ is a feasible excise.

    Protip: confirm identity before you touch another person. It isn’t hard, and if you refuse to do that, it’s likely because you want to touch people you don’t know because you think you’re desire to touch them is more important than their right to be left alone.

    I’m still angry about it.

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