Do I have to engage with this? Honestly. What decade is this, again?

All the news about rape in the military is just … indescribable. First there are the crazy numbers (there are three rapes every hour, 70 per day) and the fact that the numbers are up by 35% from last year alone. Then there’s the fact that two separate Air Force officers who served as the chiefs in charge of sexual assault prevention and response for their units have, themselves, been charged with sexual harassment.

Humph. Guess the military’s plan to end sexual assault by sending the message, “Hey, ladies, don’t get raped!” isn’t working.

Then there’s the case of the three kidnapped women trapped in sexual slavery in Cleveland, finally discovered after living in the same house for ten years. Christ.

Let’s not forget that it’s not just this week’s news cycle. There’s also the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which has put on trial in the school’s honor court a young woman because she complained about the way the school had handled her rape case. This trial could result in expulsion or other consequences for her. Meanwhile, her accused rapist continues on at the university, still unnamed publicly.

And that’s just some recent stuff in the US. Don’t even get me started on rape in other settings. Like India.

I have had it with rape culture.

Here’s my suggestion: guerrilla warfare oriented to the public shaming of individuals who engage in slut shaming and rape talk following a rape case. Yes: what I’m recommending is that we take a page from Anonymous’ treatment of the Steubenville rape case.

It’s largely due to Anonymous that the Steubenville rapists were brought to justice. The individuals teamed up with an Anonymous subgroup that opposes cyber bullying called #OpAntiBully. Their work was far from perfect — the group ultimately had to retract the name of one boy who hadn’t even been at the party — but they started a campaign to draw attention to the case. It was this group that released a bombshell video of one Steubenville grad “joking,” “They raped her harder than that cop [actually a pawnshop owner] raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction,” he guffawed. “She is so raped right now,” he said at one point.

Bet he’s regretting that now. Likewise, the four Nova Scotia boys who raped 15-yr-old Rateah Parsons and then harassed her until she committed suicide — only to find that Anonymous was after them. Anonymous has not yet released their names, waiting for an appropriate response by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; but they have let it be known that they’re ready to go public.

Even more than exposing people who say offensive things at parties, the web has become the haven of people who believe they can write anything, no matter how outrageous, under the cover of anonymity. When a woman comes forward to accuse a man of rape, she’s immediately bombarded with anonymous harassment — all of which serves to enhance rape culture more broadly.

So here’s my suggestion: that Anonymous start to pursue public shaming and public harassment of individuals who engage in that behavior online, specifically when associated with actual rape cases like Parsons’ and the Steubenville victim’s.

You might get nervous about this and term this an online form of vigilante justice/lynch mob. This scenario requires that we trust the decisions by hacker groups like Anonymous to make the right choices about targets. The problem with lynch mobs, of course, was that they operated outside the actual legal system and that they functioned on a crowd mentality, mobilizing the lowest human sentiments, often against the most socially disenfranchised — classically, a mob of angry whites against at most a handful of African Americans during the first part of the 20th century, to take one prevalent example.

You might also fear that this behavior impinges on First Amendment freedoms. One of the reasons why we have no law forbidding anonymous trolls from sending offensive texts, emails, and web comments to rape victims is because their hate speech counts as protected free speech. I simply propose that an extralegal counter-offensive against hate speech is also free speech.

Hate speech against rape victims seeks to shame and silence them. So does a counter-offensive against these trolls and the perpetrators of actual rape. As much as I found Take Back the Night marches to be empowering when I was an undergrad — and important for giving me the sense of being surrounded by vocal, smart female and male activists against rape — those marches are not helping right now during this period of a surfeit of rape cases in the media.

Let’s try public shaming of rape culture advocates.

Five documentary films were nominated for the Oscar and, as far as I can tell, the worst one won. Don’t get me wrong: I quite liked Searching for Sugar Man. But I’ve now seen 3 of the remaining films and they’re brilliant and important films. Sugar Man is a great story, for what it is.

So why didn’t one of these three films win? I suggest because they’re so hard to watch, so grueling.

The Invisible War

Start with The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, and you’ll see what I mean. I could only watch 20 minutes or less at a time — it took me 6 separate viewings — to make it through this wrenching story about the astronomical rates of rape in the military and the institutional culture of permitting those rapists to continue, unabated. Most of the victims fighting against this institutionalized rape are women, but some men have come forward as well. I could say much more about how this film made me think about how institutions are incapable of policing themselves on all manner of ethical and legal matters.

Despite all the commanders’ own claims that they have instituted a zero tolerance policy, this documentary shows with absolute clarity that sexual assault and trauma in the military is ignored except in a tiny number of cases — not least because the victims’ commanding officers are so often either friends with the perpetrators or the perpetrators themselves.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta saw this film, and two days later he changed the military rule determining who gets to determine whether a rape charge gets prosecuted. Look: this film is impossible to watch — but it calls for action (from the military and from us) to change how these soldiers are treated.


Then you can move on to Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s 5 Broken Cameras, about a self-described “peasant” in a small Palestinian village who begins filming the Israeli encroachments onto the land of his fellow townsmen. Backed up by the Israeli military and allowed no recourse to protection, the settlements continue to come. And when the Palestinians protest, the Israelis burn their olive trees — their sole source of income. And when Burnat shows up to film the actions, they destroy his cameras, one by one.

This film is so heartbreaking because at the same time, Burnat shows his youngest son’s earliest years — a child growing up angry, watching this world closely, asking his father questions about the violence. It took me 2 viewings to finish this one; I just got so angry after the first 45 minutes that I wasn’t sure I could continue, but it gets more compelling and nuanced in its later minutes. An amazing document.

How to Survive a Plague

And finally there’s How to Survive a Plague, David France’s brilliantly curated trove of footage from ACT UP’s early actions and activism during the most grim years of the AIDS crisis, roughly 1987 to 1995. For most of those years, as the bodies of dead AIDS sufferers continued to pile up, the US government and international drug companies acted as if ignoring it might make it go away. “This is a plague!” Larry Kramer booms out during one particularly difficult moment in the film.

You cannot watch this film without thinking about the first time you screamed, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” at a rally — and you really believed it, and you really believed that the officials you were screaming at would believe it too. You can’t watch without remembering the first person you saw with a KS spot on his face, or the first friend who died, or the time you realized how massive the AIDS quilt would be (and hence its impact). The only thing that allowed me to watch this all in one go was the fact that this is a film about fighting back.


So yeah, Sugar Man was a film that was a pleasure to watch; these films are impossible, enraging. I totally get it: something we just want to feel good at the end of a film.

But I’m sorry, members of the Academy: the category of Best Documentary is designed to reward exceptional journalism or storytelling about real-life events. And in comparison, Sugar Man looks like a puff piece — a great central question, with weak journalism surrounding it.

These films are hard to watch. Get over it. One of them should have won for Best Documentary to acknowledge that all is not right with the world.