Social media has a huge role in how society reacts to events in our history. Twitter has always played a constant part in reaching all platforms of politics, celebrities, professionals, college students, high school students, etc. One tweet can go viral instantly, either with agreement or disagreement. In the midst of a pandemic, the age of technology has shifted where people publicly receive information and share experiences.
During the past couple of months, there has been an increase in the discussion about sexual assault. Starting with a “trend” of survivors stating their first experiences of sexual assault, Twitter has moved the conversation from “this happens” to “this happens to more people than you think.” Whether it is the isolation from the pandemic or the exhaustion of keeping silent, victims all over the social media platform revealed the age(s) they had an experience of sexual assault. Some were even brave enough to write out their stories. This Tweet format was all over my timeline. With each tweet came apologetic and comforting responses.
From then, the platform turned into a safer space empowering people, mostly women, to come forward with their stories. Men on the platform began publicly stating they needed “to hold homies accountable.” For a moment, it seemed as if this trend had made a change for good.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, one particular name stood out amongst victims of sexual assault. Oluwatoyin (Toyin) Salau was a young woman whose story made the world stop. Videos of the young activist spread across Twitter for her powerful statements against state-sanctioned violence. During this time, she also detailed her experiences with sexual assault by naming and describing her assaulters on Twitter.
A couple of days after her disappearance, she was found dead. The brave 19-year old, may she rest in power, had come forward about her traumatic experiences in her last tweets. Whether or not this led to her death, this spiked a national conversation of what we are actually doing as a society to protect young girls, women, and especially Black women, from these types of instances. What does justice from sexual violence mean when breaking the silence leads to more violence?
The term “cancel culture” comes up when a name trends on Twitter. But for many victims, releasing the name of their assaulter is justice enough. The knowledge of someone being a pedophile, a rapist, or frequent assaulter moves the conversation from “Am I the only one?” to “This happens too often.”
In terms of celebrities being ousted as assaulters, young women have recently revealed Chris D’elia and Ansel Elgort as so. People began attacking the victims by claiming they were chasing internet clout. Fans of D’elia claimed that the young women who came forward just wanted to ruin the comedian’s career. Fans of Elgort invalidated the victims’ experiences by claiming they wished they had the chance to be in that proximity. Despite the number of women coming forward, the internet continues to be unsafe.
It is performative to believe women only when you don’t know who their assaulter is. Twitter transitioned from supporting victims to demanding that victims provide evidence and explain themselves.
From viral tweets to local ones, high school and college students across the nation began using Twitter to out assaulters in their communities. Though I will not go in-depth of the experiences of victims I personally know, my high school went through the same cycle of revealing assaulters. Starting with one girl sharing her experience, many other girls came forward – one of them being me. With a list of names being released and a threat of a lawsuit for defamation, it was hard for us to stay silent when there was truth to the first girl’s story.
My timeline switched from strangers having to defend themselves against internet trolls to former schoolmates arguing with each other. Knowing I shared the same assaulter as multiple girls from my high school had made me sick to my stomach. It was even more disgusting to see people I used to sit next to in class defend perpetrators and ridicule victims. Even with every story published on Twitter, people still refused to acknowledge their roles in harboring assaulters.
So what is the power of Twitter?
Whether or not people believe victims, their stories are out there. Twitter’s ability to bring attention to instances of sexual assault is powerful enough to make headlines. It adds to the ongoing conversation of what sexual assault is. When victims speak out on Twitter, the response reveals how society views what constitutes justice for sexual assault. Brave women, who were willing to relive their traumas in order to share their experiences, are subject to criticism and invalidation – but they are willing to sacrifice their silence in hopes to finally find peace. With Twitter’s features of retweeting and quoting, it becomes a lot easier to share and add to a discussion. Survivors are able to empower themselves, and others, through this platform. Not only to expose their assaulters but to bring light to these experiences.
Whether you have spoken out or even thought about breaking the silence, privately or publicly, you are brave and your story is valid.