Since our discussion about Julian Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace, I’ve had a lot of conflicting thoughts swirling around in my head.
I consider myself somebody that’s passionate about how rape victims are treated by society. The culture surrounding rape and consent at large is archaic, in my opinion, and I feel as though there’s a lot of progress to be made in how victims of sexual assault are viewed by the general public. However, I couldn’t help but disagree with the sentiment that what occurred in Dibbell’s article was rape.
I suppose I’ve always considered rape something that’s physical. While it’s something that most definitely has mental effects, I’ve always thought of rape as a physical act of sexual intercourse where no consent is involved. While forcing someone to read sexually explicit content regarding their online persona is violating and a form of sexual harassment, can it really be considered rape if that lack of physicality is there? Personally, I didn’t think so, which is why I brought up the point of how the difference between what occurred in A Rape in Cyberspace and rape in the physical world is that there’s the option to opt out of what happened in Dibbell’s article as it was happening. The victims of Mr. Bungle had the opportunity to exit their virtual world, to simply turn the computer off and resume everyday life. Rape victims in the physical world are not given that opportunity.
I think the way I worded my point came across a bit flippant, because it was met with a counter argument that was perfectly valid. Someone mentioned that leaving a situation online by logging out isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Logging out is not necessarily a longterm solution, because there’s no guarantee that exiting the situation will prevent that situation from still being there when somebody logs back on. Harassment can continue for an incredibly long time if the person harassing is persistent, so simply pressing the power button on one’s computer is not exactly a method of eliminating all forms of sexual harassment online.
As I thought about this response, I wanted to counter it by saying that regardless of whether or not logging out is actually useful in the long run, the fact that it’s an option is what distinguishes cyber rape from rape that occurs in the physical world. However, when i started thinking about it, it felt almost as if I was implying that sexual harassment online is something that can be avoided. That wasn’t an implication I wanted to make, because it felt almost as though I was saying the situation that the victims were put in was something with an easy solution. There’s no easy solution to sexual harassment, online or off, from the victim’s perspective.
I think something clicked in my head that made me realize that debating whether or not what happened in Dibbell’s can be considered rape is ultimately not the hill I want to die on. Whether or not cyber rape and physical world rape are the same is not what I wanted to take from the article, because at the end of the day, the article was about a lot more than semantics. I would rather focus on how a community can come together and take action when something horrible happens, or how people feel that there are no consequences for their actions online than determining the “severity” of someone’s sexual harassment.