media · social media · systemic violence · women

Restorative Justice and Social Media: More Thoughts on Recent Events

Did you see the homepage of Huffington Post yesterday? Here is a screenshot of the first third of it:

These are just a few of the Tweets that use the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported. They are gathered on Huffington Post without naming the names of the aggressor, or naming the identity of the Tweeter. They stand together on the homepage as a chorus of voices speaking to experiences that, while individual, attest to a common experience of gendered and sexualized violence.

The editors at HuffPo contextualize the page like this:

Today, we at The Huffington Post Canada have no words. Today, they’re yours. 
Countless women and men have shared this week their stories of rape and sexual assault with a powerful Twitter hashtag, #BeenRapedNeverReported. 

The #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag and the Huffington Post curatorial project have me thinking about rape culture, and about restorative justice on the Internet. Specifically, it has me thinking about the risks of speaking about gendered and sexualized violence in public. 

Last week I wrote: 

I’ve written elsewhere that I fear that restorative justice and social media are incompatible. I want to return to that thought here, by way of opening up conversation. How are we–by which I mean (for the purposes of readers of this blog) women working in the Canadian academic sphere–working to sustain slow thinking about these pressing issues in a public way. “Public” here is key, I think. Publicness is not a failsafe, often for women it is the opposite, but it does keep attention on a topic maybe–just maybe–long enough to shake the systemic conditions that sustain inequity.

Since last week I have had numerous discussions about the efficacy of anonymity as a public intervention. Some people I have spoken with feel strongly that anonymity is an absolutely necessary in initial steps to making public declarations about experiences of abuse. Other people who, I hasten to underscore, are equally passionate and invested in eradicating misogyny, have expressed their deep ambivalence–even concern–with anonymity. Doesn’t it reify silence? Doesn’t it allow abuse to continue? Do anonymous statements of experience in actuality perpetuate cycles of violence? 

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have concrete answer to these massive and crucial questions. But I am deeply invested in talking about them in public, and because I have a platform through this blog, I feel responsible to try and do that. Here goes.

How might we employ the message and tenets of restorative justice in the medium of social media? 

If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘restorative justice’ is a theory of justice that puts emphasis on repairing the harms caused by criminal behaviour. And here’s the catch: restorative justice is best achieved through cooperation between all stakeholders involved in the injustice. It is predicated on the following principles:

1. Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured
2. Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
3. Government’s role is to preserve a just public order, and the community’s role is to build and maintain a just peace. 

As information and narratives about rape culture and misogyny in Canada–and indeed, globally–circulate in particularly public ways right not I find myself thinking about the medium and the message. Social media is incredibly important for circulating information and topics quickly. It is less useful, I think (as have others), for facilitating sustainable change over the long-term. I am heartened that conversations about rape culture and misogyny in Canada are trending on Twitter and on the front pages of newspapers and websites, though I am acutely aware that we have great distances to go before these are holistic and encompassing conversations. Where, for example, is the sustained public outrage over the more than 1,200 documented Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women? Where are the sustained conversations about the ways in which risk of gendered and sexualized violence increase when you are a person of colour or of a lower socioeconomic group? Don’t get me wrong, as these conversations are happening, have ben happening, but they fall out of the media spotlight. And then what? 

When hashtags and trending topics fall out of media attention, what do we do to keep the conversations and focus and energy on these necessary issues? 

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