It's hardly breaking news that Reddit, the gigantic, decentralized, self-proclaimed "front page" of the internet, is frequented by both intelligent users and complete assholes. A minority of the latter group have found a home in misogynist reddit subgroups, from the more ideological r/mensrights to the full-out disgusting r/rapingwomen and r/chokeabitch. Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian once told Jezebel that this type of content is "awful" but that "every communication platform has been occasionally used for content we find offensive — we at reddit think very carefully about how to encourage and promote the positive content that makes up the vast majority of what people post." That may be true, but it seems like the site's hateful subgroups — which Reddit's CEO has publicly defended — filter into the rest of the community more than just "occasionally," sometimes with disastrous consequences, particularly for the youngest redditors who depend on the site for advice.
Last weekend, a 14-year-old girl posted on /r/Askreddit about a drug-induced sexual assault on 4/20:
so i'm posting this on a throwaway because the details are still a little hazy, but i'm pretty sure i was raped on friday. i don't know what to do?
i went to a party at a friends house and we got really, really high (i must have been at like an 8). all of a sudden this guy, who had been eyeing me since i first walked in sits next to me on the couch and he starts talking about different kinds of weed. i don't know much about weed, so i think it's pretty cool for him to teach a complete stranger.
eventually, the party moves to the basement where a few of us start passing a bong around. the guy (i never even learned his name, and i'm afraid to ask my friends because i know they'll want to protect him) turns to me and says "wanna go upstairs for a bit?" It was getting kinda loud downstairs so i agreed.
we finally get upstairs and we start making out for a bit. i'm also really shy and quiet when i'm high but i go with it. things start to get a bit heavy and i tell him i'm unsure about this. he just tells me not to worry and i say ok, even though in my mind i'm saying no. i'm just really scared the whole time and eventually he passes out next to me. and that's when it really hit me that this guy just took advantage of me. i started crying and left without my friends.
so, basically that's it, i havent' told anybody about this (they'll probably end up calling me a slut) it's just that i've never had this happen to me before and i don't know what to do? do i call the police? do i talk to my friends? what if they don't believe me?
The teenager was immediately attacked by commenters who told her that she wasn't raped and was, in fact, a horrible person for thinking so, and the situation escalated when someone cross posted the link to the men's rights subreddit under the title, "Gentlemen, I don't know where else to turn. A girl posted this in askreddit and she is about to probably falsely accuse a boy of raping her." Various gentlemen then took turns lecturing the teenager, making up a bunch of details she never disclosed: that she had enthusiastically taken off her clothes and spread her legs, that she couldn't have been affected by the weed, and that she had never spoken up. (Even though she said she told her attacker that she "wasn't sure" about going further.) For example:
"You had every chance to get out of that situation and yet you chose to still participate. If you didn't want it, speak up. SAY NO IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO HAVE SEX!!!!! Rape is serious. You are taking advantage of a serious thing and it saddens me that their are people like you in the world. The guy sounds like a sleeze [sic] ball, but their is no excuse for what you are doing. He didn't rape you because you CONSENTED"
The poster eventually felt compelled to add these heartbreaking edits:
edit: why do you say it wasn't rape? i clearly didn't want it
edit2: i dont know if should have posted this here, it's like all you guys are on his side
edit3: ok so, somebody has been pming some private advice and i decided im gonna press charges tomorrow. i don't know if i could keep living knowing he might do this to other girls
edit4: please please stop messaging me if all you want to call me is a slut or tell me its my fault i got raped
Still, she continued to receive comments such as "Dude can not read your mind" and "I don't see where he did anything wrong except in some archaic quasi-Victorian code which demands that a gentleman straight-arm any lady who appears intoxicated or "addled" to any degree." Ugh.
Thankfully, a good amount of commenters on the main thread told the girl to ignore the trolls and get help from the police or a rape crisis center. The redditor who tipped us off to this thread said in an email that she hopes "the message spreads so people know not to post their stories on Reddit and hopefully the people posting those comments realize what the hell they've done." But neither of those outcomes are very likely. It's hard for people of all ages to ignore the siren call of virtual know-it-alls who are just dying to tell you what they think; unlike a therapist, friend, or family member, the collective internet has no personal stake in your well-being and gains nothing from lying to make you feel better. For minors, the temptation to anonymously ask for advice is even stronger because all you want when you're young is to know that you're normal, especially when you're dealing with complicated issues such as sexual assault and drug use.
Perhaps the most depressing part of this whole thread — and that's saying a lot — is that a fair number of redditors were convinced that the poster herself was a troll and spent time breaking down the reasons why her story was "skeptical." (For example, she didn't say she was 14 until later on, because, obviously, any teenager who has recently been raped would be in a totally calm, rational state of mind while posting on Reddit.) Let's say she was faking it; that means there's one less rape victim out there. It doesn't mean that other people who have been in similar situations won't read the thread and think about all of the different reasons why they deserved to be raped.
Reddit's leaders shouldn't keep dismissing the importance of the site's subgroups if they continue to infiltrate large, default subreddits, such as r/AskReddit, to downvote, ridicule and shame posters trying to open up about sexual assault.