Social Silencing Is Destroying Our Humanity

Music concert and crowd. Shot at 1600 iso, grainy…. still print very nicely
Music concert and crowd. Shot at 1600 iso, grainy…. still print very nicely

"Larkin Grimm's so ugly she'd be lucky if someone raped her."

"It's very simple. If it's true, she would have gone to the police. End of story."

"Not a single person will care about her in 10 years, but he will still have fans."

These are just some of the posts I read about my friend and fellow musician Larkin Grimm after she alleged that she had been raped by the owner of her former record label.

Seeing messages like these and talking with Larkin about her public disclosure brought up the following childhood memory:

My mom was glued to the T.V. in a way I had never seen before and saying these words over and over right at the TV like she was talking to it. "She is so brave. So Brave."

"Mom, why is she so brave?" I asked.

My mom answered, "Because this kind of thing happens all the time and no one ever says anything."

She was watching Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas. It gave me the shivers then, as it still does now.

My mom was a journalist in the 1960's and early 1970's working at some of the biggest newspapers in the country where she encountered the kind of behavior that Anita Hill detailed, with men in business and government. That time in my mom's life had long passed by the time of Hill's testimony, but I was gripped by the feeling that maybe I would be stepping into a world where this kind of thing could happen. What would I do if that ever happened? All I had was the image of my mom being overwhelmed at this one woman's bravery.

Recently I found Monica Lewinsky's TED talk in which she recalled the day that Tyler Clementi committed suicide. She said that her mother called her that day to see if she'd heard. The image of Monica Lewinsky and her mother mourning the death of Tyler Clementi is with me as I write this now.

It seems like there is a vast divide between the time of Lewinsky -- the late 90's, before the spark of social media hit mainstream culture -- and the present. Clementi's story is an unspeakable tragedy and it is clear why Monica holds him close to her heart and why she might understand some of his ordeal. I am getting an inside view into how it feels to be publicly shamed because of my close friend and fellow artist.

The reason people tend to not come forward is because they fear the intimidation and shaming that will follow. In Larkin's case, she had to face a vast fan base and network of support within the music industry who might rush to the support of her alleged rapist. She had to face this at the very start of her career and its no wonder it took her ten years to be able to come out. And no sooner had she done it than the eruption of insults on social media began.

When someone types a message half-distractedly into a phone while waiting for the light to change, they enter a conversation on social media not thinking that it really matters. But each one of these messages matters. It is easier now than ever to reinforce the powerful and degrade those less powerful.

Whether or not you agree with her's or anyone's story is not the point. The point is to support those who have the courage to speak out against someone more powerful. The Anita Hills among us are sacrificing themselves for our greater good.

Those among us who come forward do not just share their stories; they defy a structure that tells them not to share their stories. They announce that something greater must change and that all of us must face the problem.

If we don't stand up to authority when we are victimized, those in power (be it individuals, corporations, governments, record labels) gain even more control by feeling that they can get away with it. Shaming those who come forward just reinforces the existing order of the powerful against the powerless.

We have an opportunity with social media to not just fall back into behavior patterns of taking sides and degrading people. But it means fighting the basic impulse to stay within our small circles and reinforce the positions within it.

There is no overstating the courage it takes to come forward against someone or something that is bigger than you -- a job, a boss, a company, a religious organization. When someone has the courage to be a whistleblower, we must listen with compassion, if only for one reason, so that we end the pattern of social intimidation which keeps all of us from reporting abuse.

The fact is there are far more people who have never spoken out about their abuse, and may not be able to, ever. Social media isn't making it any easier. It is making it harder. None of us can know when we will have to publicly disclose something. And we all need to be able to share our stories without feeling like we will immediately be denounced.

By shaming any one person who comes forward with a story of abuse, we degrade ourselves and the cycle of violence and suppression of other voices continues.