Last night, Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Rob Tarzwell wrote a Reddit post about Friday's rapist tell-all thread asking the website if it realized how "dangerous" it was to ask rapists and would-be rapists to share their stories. This was the crux of his argument:
...when Reddit invites rapists to retell their stories, they offer an audience of thousands. The possibility that individuals reading these stories will be horrified afresh is very appealing to some rapists. It's neurobiologically very much like anticipating drug use.
Note: the audience doesn't actually need to be horrified. In the mind of the rapist, the possibility of horrifying an audience is what is appealing.
Ever wonder what makes addicts keep using? A major factor is the craving that comes from recalling the feelings associated with the pleasurable activity or drug. Cocaine addicts, active or in recovery, who are asked to think about using cocaine have measurable brain changes precisely when they report cravings.
We haven't actually measured this in rapists, but we suspect it's highly analogous.
Thus, the Reddit rape forum is very likely triggering rape cravings in rapists.
It is also teaching rapists how to rape better via shared stories, the same way we teach new participants to improve in any field, by sharing our experiences.
Tarzwell didn't respond to our requests for comment, but we have some questions: Is it Reddit's responsibility not to trigger rapists? (We don't think so.) Is it wrong for newspapers to cover sexual assault crimes for the same reasons? (We don't think so.) Why hasn't anyone measured the "craving" factor in rapists, and if they haven't, is it really worth noting? It's a little odd to come on so strongly about "rape cravings" just on a hypothesis.
The responses on Tarzwell's extremely popular thread (it made Reddit's front page) were varied; some people thanked him for voicing concern, while other self-described rape victims said they were happy the original post existed. "As another victim I cannot describe how beneficial it was to get in the mind of a rapist, to be able to better understand why he did it," one person wrote. "It made my experience feel more legitimate and this is the kind of help I have been craving, not the stuff that is purely focused on other victims."
Gloria Allred, a survivor of rape herself, told the Huffington Post in an interview that she was glad the thread existed.
"The conversation should be with anyone and everyone who has a perspective on it," Allred said. "If we can understand those who have committed sexual assault, then perhaps we can help to engage them, the victimizers, in a conversation about the harm that it does to the victims and why they should never engage in another sexual assault again."
She added that she doesn't buy the argument that the thread revictimizes survivors or extols rapists. "Nobody as far as I know is being forced to read these," Allred said. "If they don't want to engage in it, they don't have to. Maybe they do want to talk about it. If they want to talk about it, victims can talk back, or family members or strangers even. And maybe if the victimizers are open to discussing it, they could hear a point of view they might never have heard before — from the victims."
We stand by our belief that it's imperative to understand where rapists are coming from in order to combat rape culture.
Reddit, are you aware how dangerous the ask-a-rapist thread is? [Reddit]
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