Friday, January 11, 2013

The 'Potential Prostitutes' site is repulsive -- but no more repulsive than forums where women are invited to publicly name their 'rapist'

There's a new, especially repulsive, website called Potential Prostitutes that allows anyone to list a supposed potential prostitute online. The website claims that "exposing online prostitute discourages other potential offenders from doing the very same thing."

The FAQ section makes it clear Potential Prostitutes doesn't think it is liable to defamatory comments by readers, so it doesn't care if it is sued. To remove your name from the site, it will cost you $99.95. Why so much? "Removal is a paid service due to the costs associated with altering the content of the site on an individual basis."

Amanda Chatel says: ". . . it’s disgusting, degrading and just another platform for scorned people to try to defame the innocent." Huffington Post says: "the idea behind the site is pretty sick."

We agree. The site is morally grotesque. Inviting unknown readers to make allegations of criminality without affording the accused due process is repugnant to everything we believe in.

We must wonder, however, whether the people condemning this site find equally troubling those efforts that allow innocent men and boys to be defamed as rapists.

▲Over at Jezebel.com (no hyperlink for that, please), Katie J.M. Baker, who claims she is someone who "writes and thinks about rape culture all day" defends the injustices created by the Steubenville Internet vigilantes to battle sexual assault. "Sure," Baker writes," internet vigilantism has some serious drawbacks — [one anonymous vigilante] has 'outed' numerous Steubenville residents whom they believe are involved with the case and deserve to be punished, and we currently have no way of knowing if many of their accusations are true — but . . . ." The "but" is chilling. To Baker, the injustice of outing possibly innocent people is worth it (to her, at least -- certainly not to the innocent who are outed) because it has focused the attention of many people on the rape "atrocity" in Steubenville (actually, it is an alleged rape atrocity -- the two boys charged have not had their day in court yet -- but, hey, why let little things like "due process" get in the way of a good rape harangue?).

▲For 17 years, the University of Maryland Clothesline Project allowed purported rape survivors to publicly display shirts with the full names of men they accused of rape written on them. Jennifer Pollitt-Hill, the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said a sexual assault survivor "can feel empowered by naming the perpetrator . . . ." Many of the women who scrawled names on shirts felt the justice system -- both the courts and the university judicial board -- was too lenient on perpetrators. "Victims feel like these things silence them," Pollitt-Hill said, "and there's no justice . . . ." The public discourse on this issue focused almost exclusively on the value to rape victims of writing names on shirts. Absent was an acknowledgment of even the possibility that there might have been more than one side to the story for at least some of the alleged rape claims. The university-sanctioned practice of branding presumptively innocent men "rapists" without the pretense of due process was only stopped when the school realized that the practice subjected it to civil liability.

▲In Columbus, Ohio, a Web site was set up to give rape victims a forum to post information about their alleged attackers. Flyers were passed out that said "Expose your rapist" and directed people to a Web site where they could list details about their attacker, including their names. The local prosecuting attorney gave this effort his quasi-imprimatur.

▲Feminist icon Germaine Greer is on record advocating something similar: "Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival she said yesterday: 'I wish there were an online rapists' register and that it was kept up to date, because we know the courts can't get it right. When I say that to people, they get so scared, and say 'Oh you can't. What about privacy? Years ago I knew we would never get convictions in a court of law for date rape, so I suggested women kept an online dossier, so if a woman had a date with a guy and he did something to her, or frightened her, and she asked him to stop and he didn't, then instead of going to the police she should put him online. Other women could check this dossier, look up a guy and see that he has form. Then she can say no, or if she does go, goes knowing it's a high risk strategy.'"

▲Women in a feminist art class at the University of Maryland once plastered the campus with fliers last week listing the names of virtually every male student under the heading, "NOTICE: THESE MEN ARE POTENTIAL RAPISTS." The women also set up large posters containing all of the names on the grassy mall at the center of the campus. The project angered some men on campus. Several advocates of the signs, however, declared that the men's anger was the point. "I think it's admirable that men in this school have been saying the word 'rape' and are being angry at the same time," said Jessica True, 23, a freshman from Takoma Park.

▲A group at Oberlin College once posted signs identifying its first "rapist of the month" -- a male freshman -- despite the fact that the targeted youth had not been charged with any crime and was mortified by the signs because, he explained, he was not even sexually active. A female freshman told a reporter that she knew the male and didn't feel he did anything wrong, "but there's a part of me that is questioning him" because of the signs. The New York office of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women declined to comment on the issue.

▲Once at Brown University, a ''rape list'' scrawled on the wall of a library women's room named some 30 ''men who have sexually assaulted me or a woman I know.'' Some women were not happy that university janitors continually erased the names. One woman told a reporter that erasing the names reinforces the idea that ''women are to blame for their rapes. . . . I think the writing on the wall was these women's way of taking control, of taking action and saying what they needed to say.''
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And no doubt there are many more examples of efforts to fight injustice with injustice by inviting women to defame innocent young men as rapists. Some years ago, zealous victim's advocates insisted that women must have the unilateral right to define rape in whatever manner they see fit, regardless of the harm to the person accused. This attitude was manifested in Catherine Comins' quote: "To use the word ['rape'] carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him.'" What Comins didn't bother to consider was the harm to innocent people when the word "rape" is not used carefully.

Given the seriousness of a rape charge, and the attendant reputational, psychological, and even physical harm to persons wrongly accused of rape, the community of the wrongly accused will continue to insist that the word be used carefully.