In Defense of Internet Vigilantism: The Steubenville Rape Case


I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m a bit of a fan of vigilante justice. Some might even call me an advocate. You see, it’s just that I’m so very, very tired of a criminal justice system that is rooted in institutional misogyny, racism, sexism, and homophobia. I’m tired of marginalized groups getting thrown to the wolves so we can continue to place these patriarchal, racist groups on pedestals, far above significant popular criticism or ridicule. I’m tired of valuing masculinity over justice and human rights, and that’s why I’m really loving the latest Anonymous-affiliated stunt.

An aerial view of Steubenville, Ohio
Steubenville, Ohio.

Last year, a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio, was allegedly drugged and brutally assaulted by members of Steubenville High School’s star football team. She was repeatedly raped, dragged to multiple parties and venues, raped some more, and then dumped at her parents’ house. The men accused of the crime, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, took to social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to brag about their crime, recruiting their friends to get in on the fun of degrading a raped girl as well. True to small town form, Steubenville is rallying not around the accuser, but the accused. Such nice boys couldn’t do a thing like that! They play football, you know! Always those drunk sluts lying to keep from getting in trouble. There have been various connections between the famed football team and local justice authorities; I mean, these people just love their team so much! Damn you, Halo Effect. Earlier this week, hacking group Knight Sec (who is affiliated with Anonymous), made good on a threat to reveal information about those surrounding the crime and investigation by leaking a lot of really, really vicious stuff [TW for a graphic picture at the link], including information about the team’s coach and a video by former student Michael Nodianos praising the crime. It’s sickening information, but it needs to be revealed.

I know everyone knows I’m firmly on the radical side of things. Radicals know that asking politely doesn’t work. Hell, standing outside the Capitol screaming and being pepper sprayed doesn’t even work. Demanding works a bit better. I’m not advocating for anyone to go out and commit some vigilante justice, but I’m not upset when people do. After getting shit on day after day by policemen telling you not to bother making a report, school officials convincing you not to go to the police,”friends” invalidating your experiences, counselors telling you to move on, and everyone else calling you a crazy liar, it’s no surprise that we turn to instances like this to get our validation and our justice.

Rapists deserve to be called out. You don’t get to sexually assault a person and then whine that you don’t deserve to be dragged into the public spotlight for it. You don’t get to defend rapists, to apologize for their crimes, and then raise hell because someone has dared say something about it. Yes, I’m aware that our cherished First Amendment also comes with our libel and slander laws. That’s great; take it to court and hash it out there. In this case, it’s something I’d love to see.

Keeping quiet doesn’t keep us safe. While I will always remind everyone only to speak our when it is safe for them to do so, it is necessary to step out of our comfort zones and call offenders out. Who are we protecting? Rapists, abusers, gay bashers. Why are we protecting them? Misogyny, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, kyriarchy, internalized or not. I know we don’t want to perpetuate this. I also know that the current line in the social justice sphere is that vigilantism of any kind, is badbadbad and gets us nowhere. Work within the system and work to change the system, they say. But I don’t see that going anywhere, and the truth is that some sorts of vigilantism embolden people. It gives them courage, helps them to speak out. Most people won’t go out and hack their rapists’s computer or commit some act of violence (heavens forbid), but at least they know that someone is on their side. In a world where we are so frequently victims, that’s a comforting thought.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

7 replies on “In Defense of Internet Vigilantism: The Steubenville Rape Case”

This whole case disgusts me. If people don’t want to be publicly called out for raping someone or cheering on others who rape someone, they shouldn’t fucking do those things in the first place. They deserve every last bit of infamy they get; I hope this haunts them for the rest of their lives.

I have no problem admitting I fucking cheer when a marginalized groups gets some vigilante justice. I wish there was more, to be quite honest.

I love that there are so many tumblr/social media accounts springing up with the sole purpose of naming and shaming rapists and racists and misogynists. Nothing else is working, maybe dragging them into the bright light will make them all shrivel up and die.

“I’m not advocating for anyone to go out and commit some vigilante justice, but I’m not upset when people do.” Word.

Also, vigilante violence and vigilante blasting the names of “alleged” rapists and those covering it up across the Web are not the same thing. I’m a lot more comfortable with the latter. Personally, I wanted to stand up and cheer for Anonymous as I read through their entire write-up on LocalLeaks.

Nothing will ever get done with sitting on your hands and staying silent. If the legal ways don’t work, other things need to be done.

Right now I’m glad I don’t live near this place because I would smear each and every one of the houses of the rapists with shit. Because they are the shit stains of society.

I only heard about this case this morning on another news outlet! Fucking. sick.
Is it still vigilante justice when Knight Sec is just producing evidence that other people where obviously trying to hide? From what I read earlier, it still sounds like there’s a lot of hemming and hawing by the local justice system. I think vigilante justice is one thing, just so long as it doesn’t make the perpetrators into martyrs instead… which can so easily become the case in a place where football stars are vaunted as the next Grilled Cheesus.

Yes, thank you.

When the system doesn’t serve you, working within the system 9 times out of 10 will not work.

I may not be the sort of person to engage in vigilante justice, but it doesn’t bother me when it done because the system itself systemically fails.

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