TW: Mentions of kidnapping, rape, sexual violence, suicide and trauma
People on social media were (rightfully) outraged this past week after videos of a tragic incident in India went viral, in which a 20-year-old Sikh woman was kidnapped, gang-raped, had her hair chopped off, her face darkened and then was stripped naked and paraded on the streets.
The violent mob went after her because she had turned down sexual advances from a teenage boy, shortly after which he took his own life.
The shocking and traumatic incident had many on Twitter and Instagram retweeting, liking, resharing and talking about the traumatizing video that was circulating on social media, in an effort to “raise awareness” for the atrocity.
An innocent girl was violently attacked and abused all because she said the word “no.”
For South Asian women, because bodily autonomy is so rarely granted, even denying sexual advances is looked at with shame from outsiders. Even if women and girls are in control of their own sexuality, there is still shame tied to their identity due to cultural stigmas about sex and conforming to gender roles in order to be a “nice brown girl.”
While it is important to draw attention to the ongoing violence against women in India, and to discuss the many complexities of this story, the response to this tragedy should have been dealt with in a healthier and safer way, without retraumatizing the victim or other victims of sexualized violence in the process.
The lack of trigger and content warnings I saw on my feed accompanying the horrific video circulating on social media was upsetting and traumatizing not only for myself, but for others who are victims of violence as well.
Those who did call try to ask people to stop sharing the video were targeted with with sexist, misogynist and sexually inappropriate comments, mainly by men.
Our bodies and sexuality are already constantly policed, shamed and discussed, and turning someone's victimhood into a spectacle and sharing and watching such a traumatizing moment is dehumanizing.
Topics like sexual violence and violence against women deserve to be treated with delicacy and respect, which was something I did not see this past week.
While it was understandable for people to be upset, angry and frustrated when witnessing this incident, many overlooked the fact that there's another audience out there that could be reliving their own trauma through someone else’s experiences.
This is why it is necessary and very much needed to put the correct warnings for graphic content.
Witnessing someone else’s trauma could put other survivors in a position where they could potentially have flashbacks of their own experiences. In this way, trigger warnings could potentially save someone’s life.
Even if your actions are well intentioned, without proper warnings, you are often doing more harm than good by showing a lack of compassion and understanding for sensitive people since they won’t know what to expect and how to control their emotions if they’re blindsighted by graphic content.
However, when you do use trigger warnings, also be clear in labelling what they are for by being specific about the graphic content being shared. For example, if we’re discussing issues like sexual violence, it’s best to specify if it’s sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, etc. instead of using an umbrella term.
Shutting down conversations around bodily autonomy, consent and reacting in an ill-mannered way does absolutely nothing, but further proves the point that these online spaces continue to get harmful and negative.
It’s a common experience for women who do speak out to be met with calls of “proof,” or being called liars in its absence. Women are then obligated to justify and validate their experience.
This further creates a toxic narrative that victims of violence need to share proof or any sort of evidence of their assault in order to be believed, which is alarming and so untrue.
We also reached a tipping point in online spaces regarding this particular situation, where people began to attack those who were not speaking about the incident.
There are multiple reasons for why someone may not be advocating on social media. These reasons can vary from lack of knowledge of what happened, or the need to protect their mental health and boundaries, especially if they are victims and survivors of violence, or if they are dealing with something personal in their life.
Some could be choosing not to participate in this discussion to avoid retraumatizing themselves or others, and social media activism should not be the only way we show up for survivors.
Survivors and victims of violence are often ignored when it comes to dialogues about violence or experience having their voices invalidated, ignored and silenced, or experience victim-blaming or slut-shaming in online spaces.
If we want to create safe spaces for victims and survivors online, and healthy dialogues that deserve to be treated with compassion and delicacy, we can do so without attacking those who have lived-experiences, and centering their voices on how we can better support them.
These conversations cannot take place when we are also not doing our own internal and external work by not including specific trigger and content warnings, further creating toxic and harmful spaces.
The ignorant and dangerous comments and attacks by putting victims' mental health on the line continue to ignore the realities of their own trauma, lived-experiences and safety.
The next time you see graphic content being shared on your feed:
- Don’t watch it. It does nothing for those impacted by violence.
- Don’t share it. By sharing, you are further putting those at harm. There are ways to speak about this without resharing footage of violence against women.
- Speak about the issue, but with delicacy and respect and include specific trigger warnings.
- Check-in on victims and survivors in your life. Chances are that they’ve also seen what’s been circulating and are in need of support.
Here is a resource card for those wanting to seek support.
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