Gawker: Where Empathy Means Re-victimizing Survivors

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[trigger warning: discussion of childhood sexual abuse and rape] I used to be a pretty faithful reader of Gawker and other connected blogs, particularly Jezebel. When I started reading them last year, I enjoyed the snark and especially enjoyed the conversations that happened in the comments.

But then, earlier this year, Jezebel posted screencaps from a video in which a woman was being raped. Not only were the images – of a RAPE, mind – posted without any kind of trigger warning, and splashed over the front page, but there was no blurring of the victim’s face. They were posted entirely without her consent. That type of “journalism” is tabloid level trash, and downright anti-woman and anti-survivors of abuse. No woman has anything to gain from posting such images without the consent of the victim, and the response from Jezebel (which was essentially a “fuck you we’re journalists”) signaled that they and the rest of the Gawker network are untrustworthy.

So when I started hearing buzz on Twitter about a truly horrific piece on Gawker about pedophiles, it didn’t surprise me all that much (and I'm not linking to it because I'm not giving them the traffic directly). Gawker is a site designed to get as many clicks as possible, and that frequently involves scraping the bottom of the barrel for sensationalist tripe – they are the Devil’s Advocate of liberal journalism, putting forth crappy, illogical arguments in sensationalized rhetoric, hoping to get more and more clicks (to make more and more money from ads!).

But even for Gawker, this article is beyond the pale of human decency. It is horrific, disgusting, sensationalized, and functions to victimize survivors of childhood sexual abuse and rape over again through the language it uses and the stories it tells.

I couldn’t even finish reading the whole thing in one sitting. The article is wrong from the title: “Born This Way: Sympathy and Science for Those Who Want to Have Sex with Children.”

This is the first of many elisions of what pedophilia is and what it does to victims of those who act on pedophiliac ideas. One does not “have sex” with a child. One rapes a child. There is no other acceptable way to describe what a child rapist does to children. None. Absolutely none.

Here’s why: just like I've told you before, qualifying rape in ANY way, shape, or form, takes away the power of naming the thing for what it is. By saying that pedophiles “have sex” with children, rather than rape them, we purposefully build sympathy for the perpetrator and not the victim. We purposefully dismiss the victim’s pain by making the act sound consensual. It allows the abuser’s narrative of the situation to reign supreme, when we need to andshouldprize the victim’s narrative over and above all else.

This is not a mistake in language that Gawker made. Do not let them tell you differently, as they surely will (if this creates the outrage it should, Gawker will likely issue a fake, ridiculous apology attached to an illogical and fallacious defense of their piece). Every instance where “rape” should have been said in the piece, it is replaced by “have sex with" or even "molest," which downplays the abuse and rape. Even in describing Sandusky’s lifetime of grooming, assaulting, and, yes, raping children, the abuse is elided as merely “molesting.”

Gawker knows exactly what they are doing, and what they are doing is revictimizing survivors.

And that’s just the title.

The opening sequence of the article is even worse. It describes a man who groomed and then assaulted his seven year old niece. In excruciating, awful, detail.

I don’t know how it doesn’t violate child pornography laws. At best, the description – purposefully written to be a “hook” into the article – is unnecessary. At worst, it legitimizes and blurs the line between mere descriptive journalism and actual pornography. There is enough there that a child rapist could probably, well…let’s not go there.

Not only that, but I cannot emphasize it enough: the story of the victimization of a child is not the rapist’s story to tell. He doesn’t get to delight in the gory details of his crime again. Giving him such an audience is sick and twisted. Despite his victim not being named, the rapist is, and it gives enough details to know the current age of the person in question. It is not his story to tell, but hers. Telling someone’s story like that – especially the story of an assault as a child– without consent or comment from the victim is WRONG.

Cord Jefferson, I don’t give a rat’s ass if you think it’s “catchy journalism.” Your lede is fundamentally wrong.

I understand the desire to write such an article. What happens to pedophiles in the prison system can often be horrific (the prevalence of rape within the prison system itself is highly, highly disturbing). Yes, the prison system is broken. We can and should talk about the ways in which the prison system fails to rehabilitate and protect the lives of its prisoners. I get that. I understand that this is probably what Jefferson was going for.

But that is not the article he produced.

Instead, he wrote an article that minimizes the crimes of child rapists, erases their victims almost entirely, and produces utterly fallacious analogies ( a pedophile is not like an alcoholic – if an alcoholic relapses, he doesn’t RAPE CHILDREN). It proposes that child rapists face an intolerance for their “sexual orientation,” and that having a “taboo” on their thoughts is part of the problem.

There’s a reason some things are taboo and should remain so - the urge to rape children is not one that needs to be legitimized.

Jefferson closes his article by not only horrifically creating a false equivalency by invoking current civil rights battles (“The old adage is that the true mark of a society is how it treats the weakest in its ranks. Blacks, women, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and others are still in no way on wholly equal footing in America. But they're also not nearly as lowly and cursed as men attracted to children.”) but he also manages to offend me as a Christian by invoking Jesus (“One imagines that if Jesus ever came to Earth, he'd embrace the poor, the blind, the lepers, and, yes, the pedophiles.”).

Mr. Jefferson: Jesus always and forever prized the victims of violence over its perpetrators. Yes, love your enemies. But that doesn’t mean enabling them by erasing their victims, legitimizing their crimes, and giving them a platform in which to gloat and relive their worst.

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No Gawker images courtesy of Kristin Craig Lai. Thanks much, Kristin!

UPDATE:

The terrible defenses of their language choice and actions have already started. Jefferson's response to this question clarifies for us that the victims/survivors were not even a thought in his mind while writing, except as minor characters in a narrative.