"I am a post-colleged age male who raped several girls through use of coercion, alcohol, and other tactics over a course of 3 years."
Thus begins the comment of an anonymous Reddit user submitted three days ago as part of a massive Reddit thread dealing with sexual assault, born out of one Redditor's question: "Reddit's had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations?" the user asked, "Do you regret it?"
The response was instant, and instantly controversial. While the subject matter of the posts may be problematic for some readers, the question of whether or not such "dialogue" can actually contribute to the discourse of how to deal with and prevent rape in America is just as debated by experts and advocates.
While the posters on Reddit -- the vast, largely unregulated, decentralized and self-described "front page of the Internet" -- can shelter behind a shield of anonymity, rapists are often all too familiar to their victims. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger.
It's a fact to which the Reddit thread attests again and again, as both victims and victimizers recount their stories. While the self-professed rapist quoted above states he is now married, that he's a "good looking guy" who can "get girls pretty daily." Bored by consensual sex, he said he would seek out "attractive girls that were self-conscious about their looks. Girls who were pretty in their own unique way, but not the outgoing sort, mostly introverts ... Hopefully a girl who was a bit damaged."
Then he'd show interest, flatter them, take them for a first date to a coffee shop or the library, gain their trust. Later, in his apartment, he'd start to make a move. The girls who were into it, those nights were "consensual" and "boring." The "great nights were the ones who squirmed, ones who didn't want to give in. I'd have to shush them down, and try to work on them slowly."
For "the post-college male," it was all about the chase. Other posters recalled peer pressure, or (perceived) mixed messages. Redditor "Best_Use_A_Throwaway" recalled a high school peer, Sue, who had "always been quite flirty," whom he eventually pressured into performing oral sex. Some cited bad influences for their behavior, some attributed their behavior to coming from a broken home. Katie J.M. Baker, who follows Reddit closely for Jezebel, analyzed the types of reasons cited by the perpetrators in a post on the thread.
Reddit is a notoriously male-dominated forum. According to Google's DoubleClick Ad Planner, Reddit users in the U.S. are 72 percent male. Reddit subgroups include r/mensrights and the misogynistic r/chokeabitch, perhaps in part prompting another popular thread that asked recently, "Why is Reddit so anti-women?" In April, a confused 14-year-old user took to the site in a desperate attempt to seek advice after she had been sexually assaulted. Jezebel chronicled the backlash, as commenters attacked the young victim for overreacting.
Given its reputation, the site may seem less than appropriate as a forum for effective dialogue.
Alexis Moore is a cyberstalking expert, crime victim advocate and founder of Survivors In Action, Inc. In an email, Moore told The Huffington Post that this type of thread "will have a chilling effect on victims reporting instances of rape out of fear of having their rapist write about it."
In the worst-case scenario, such threads could even provide a forum for continuing victimization. "This will perhaps be another method that will be utilized by cyberstalkers for what we call cybervengence to harass, intimidate and torture victims," she said.
Other advocates disagree, however, arguing that any opportunity for honest conversation should be looked upon as a good thing.
Attorney Gloria Allred has made a career out of representing and advocating for the rights of women. Allred said that after reading through some of the posts on the Reddit thread, she feels everyone, including rapists, needs to play a part in addressing the problem.
"The conversation should be with anyone and everyone who has a perspective on it," Allred told The Huffington Post. "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."
A survivor of rape herself, Allred said she does not give much credence to the argument that the thread should be shut down because it hurts victims, or that some posts glorify the perpetrators.
"Nobody as far as I know is being forced to read these," Allred told HuffPost, "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."
The most current statistics from the last census recorded 81,280 total reported rapes in the U.S. in 2009. But most experts, from rape crisis centers to the Justice Department, suggest that sexual assault is chronically underreported, with the number of actual rape survivors each year numbering closer to 300,000 women and 90,000 men. (Men rarely report assaults.)
Most of the alleged crimes detailed in the Reddit thread don't mention prosecution. This raises the question of whether or not law enforcement should get involved. Allred said she thought that would be a great idea, but Moore from Survivors in Action noted that "law enforcement and FBI are hardly able to address the existing case load."
Private investigator Harold Copus, who is a retired FBI agent, told The Huffington Post that the Internet has become a vital tool in the investigation and prosecution of criminals in the digital age.
"It's not that law enforcement is that smart," Copus said to HuffPost, "It's just that bad guys are sometimes dumb. It's almost as if people think they're anonymous with the Internet, but it's actually the reverse."
Copus said the he would recommend agencies mine the website to see if they can dig up or subpoena the IP addresses of posters who have admitted to sexual assault. But it would still be an uphill battle.
"What you have to look at here is how you take [the conversation] to the next step, to bring it to that conclusion of a prosecution, and somebody going to jail," Copus said. "And I think that would be very difficult. If [the incident] was reported, you have a chance, but a non-reported crime would make it almost impossible."
Copus, the father of three daughters, added that if one of his children were ever victimized, he'd be the first person to log on to Reddit to hunt down and "find that lowlife."
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