Yesterday, someone going by the name "Jonathan Jno" posted a Vine video of what appears to be an unconscious or barely conscious woman apparently getting raped in a park on the South Side of Chicago; horrified Twitter users were quick to report it to the Chicago police.
According to the Daily Dot, the clip has since been deleted, as have the Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with the "Jno." Because of the swift and vociferous Internet uproar, the police have already identified the man who uploaded the video. The identities of the apparent victim and rapist are still unknown, however.
"Social media stepping in where the justice system refuses to" is a comforting narrative to circulate; looking at this instance optimistically, one can frame it as "righteous crusaders advocate for a black woman who's been publicly assaulted and force the Chicago PD to help her." That's not really accurate, though — troublingly, as is the case with so much Internet vigilante justice, the efficacy and methodology of RT'ing Until Justice Is Served is highly questionable. As Mikki Kendall pointed out on her Twitter:
So if you think this Vine vid is a rape...why are you RT'ing & linking to it? That only harms the victim.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) October 21, 2013
If you are calling CPD to report this Vine? You are not the victim. And no, the vid isn't necessarily proof a crime has been committed.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) October 21, 2013
It would be wiser to talk to the woman in the video. Because even if it is an assault, that doesn't mean she wants to report it.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) October 21, 2013
All these retweets, tweets at CPD & demands for deletion help the woman/women in these Vine vids how?— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) October 21, 2013
After seeing something horrible, wanting justice to be served is a natural response. But when that justice is achieved through broadcasting footage of someone's sexual assault, it's re-victimizing. Every person retweeting — convinced that doing so is helpful and valiant — is participating in her assault. No matter what the intent, to share a graphic clip of a rape victim with all of your followers is never okay. Reporting the video to Vine is good recourse, as is contacting the police privately.
The apparently unconscious woman may have her reasons for not coming forward. Some have argued that there's no real proof that the sex was actually non-consensual because of the clip's brevity — however, a few blog posts and tweets (which it seems Kendall hasn't seen) indicate that there were other deleted Vines in which the woman was "clearly un-functional." But the most important thing to keep in mind is that nothing, nothing justifies hundreds of strangers circulating images of a woman's assault as part of their quest for justice. In addition, the Chicago Police Department is plagued by a long-standing tradition of systemic racism — as Kendall pointed out, helping vulnerable young black women is far from their first priority.
Unthinkingly reducing a rape victim to collateral damage in her own rape case isn't something that should be done, ever. Social media is a powerful tool in combatting sexual assault. It's crucial that it be used responsibly.
"Horrific Vine video captures alleged rape in Chicago" [Daily Dot]
Image via Getty.