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Sexual Assaults Increasingly Posted On Social Media

Illinois State University

In an incident that shocked the nation, the apparent gang rape of a 15-year-old Chicago girl was broadcast live on Facebook  last month. Dozens viewed the assault before it was taken down. No one apparently notified authorities.

The incident is part of a growing phenomenon in which assailants brazenly post video or images of sexual assaults on social media sites. 

Last month, a group of U.S. Marines was accused of placing nude photographs of female soldiers, without the women's knowledge or consent , on a the site of a closed Facebook group.

Illinois State University Criminal Justice Sciences Professor Shelly Clevenger said monitoring of social media sites by companies like Facebook and Google is so weak, that assailants believe they won't be caught.

"People don't necessarily think there will be any ramifications for their actions, especially  if it is being broadcast live and  people are watching it and not reporting it to the police," Clevenger said on GLT's Sound Ideas.

Some who post these videos may view the incident as consensual sex, "hard as that is for us to believe," Clevenger said, 0r see it as a chance to brag or exhibit their sexual conquests.

Clevenger said young people in particular are "immersed in social media, and so everything seems like a good idea to put on line."

When more than one assailant is involved "group think" can become a factor.

Such incidents, she added, reflect "a general culture of rape" in which "we don't think these things are that serious."

Clevenger, an expert in victimology who has studied cyber-crime, said companies like Facebook and Google have a "duty" to better monitor content.

The high volume of material posted and live-streamed on the Internet, however, makes it challenging to prevent criminal or offensive material from getting on, she added. 

Even when images or videos are swiftly taken down, Clevenger said that if the name of a sexual assault survivor is attached to the post, the survivor's name may crop up in Internet searches for years to come, leading to repeated victimization.

n connection with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, ISU's Milner Library is hosting an exhibit through April 20th created by Clevenger's students, using children's toys to draw attention to sexual assault, abuse and domestic partner violence.