Locker Room, Shmocker Room

Late last night, I noticed my Twitter timeline lighting up with arguments between people who were in favor of exposing the identities of some people allegedly harassing a young girl, and those who were against it. At first, it seemed to me like just another one of those twitter flare-ups that regularly happen over all the oddest things, but then a couple of key words caught my eye. “UST” and “minor.”

I was like, what the hell’s going on?

The Thread

SO, I dug around, following threads and hopping from one user profile to another until I found the source. It was from a Twitter user who has since deactivated her account due to harassment from people who disagreed with what she did.

famI wasn’t able to screen cap the whole thread – it really didn’t occur to me that I would need to – and this is the only one I have. In fact, I think that only reason I was able to screen cap this just now is that the tweet was already in my aggregator or some such sorcery.

Considering the this person’s decision to deactivate her account – or delete this thread – I decided the decent thing to do was to not spread her image or account name. Hence, the redactions.

Anyway, the story goes this way:

This person’s cousin – call her Belle – was apparently the object of lust for a group of young college boys from various universities. From what I could tell from the screen caps posted on this thread, a good number of these college boys were from UST.

Apparently acting out on their lust the only way they could, these losers started a Facebook Group seemingly dedicated to Belle. On this group, they chatted up a storm talking about Belle and … well, you get the picture. It was vile and graphic, and … to be painfully honest, not entirely unheard of.

But here is where it gets nauseating. Belle, as it turns out, is a high school student from UST. In other words, these pervs were leching over a minor.

The group chat careens on and on, and as these things happen, the vulgarity of their words must have wreaked havoc on their gonads to the point where their brains started losing blood, impairing whatever little powers of good judgement they might have had left. One of the geniuses in the chat suddenly floats the idea of looping Belle into the conversation so she could see that she was being talked about, because y’know, degradation and humiliation ups the lewdness ante? At first, some of the boys from UST balked at the idea, citing worries about repercussions. Clearly, they knew that what they were doing would not fly well. Still, after not a lot of urging, they eventually gave in. Obviously, the power of boners was stronger.

At that point, the screen caps end, and since the Twitter user got those screen capped group chats, I am assuming that the perverts actually went ahead and drew Belle into the conversation. I don’t see how the Twitter user could have seen the private group conversation any other way.

But the thread continues and other enterprising Twitter users started volunteering the twitter handles of the losers involved in the group chat. By the time I saw the thread – past one AM – a lot of those twitter accounts had either been set to private or deactivated.

The Fallout

I don’t know how long it took, but apparently very quickly, some Twitter users took to defending the #GroupChatGoons (as I’ve taken to calling them) using the disingenuous argument that:

“Sure, what they did was despicable but boys will be boys and dragging them through social media will scar them for life!”

What a load of bullshit.

First, I agree that private conversations among consenting adult participants should be considered protected speech, as a general proposition. This, however, is not without limitation. Obviously, if the conversation involved hate speech, incited to criminal acts, and so on, free speech protection falls by the wayside. Unfortunately, sexual crudity, no matter how pornographic, generally does not qualify.

Second, what makes this particular case different is that these #GroupChatGoons apparently DID reach out to the object of their lust and subjected her to their pornography. This stripped their private conversation of whatever free speech and privacy protections it might have had, and potentially made them liable for acts which are, under existing law, considered public crimes.

To be clear, when they were only talking amongst themselves, they could not be held accountable because they were exercising free speech, as disgusting as that use was. This is not to say that what they were doing was acceptable. It absolutely wasn’t. But, again, from the point of view of free speech, it was something they could have gotten away with.

BUT when they willingly involved someone else (Belle) they effectively transformed what was a private conversation into a public conversation – which rendered their entire thread open to scrutiny – and worse, turned it into a smoking gun.

Third, because a crime may have been committed, all arguments of “boys will be boys” and “sayang ang future nila,” become irrelevant. Adults – and all the #GroupChatGoons appear to have been adults – have to be responsible for their acts, just as they are responsible for safeguarding their own futures. Society may forgive and seek their rehabilitation, sure, but society is not obliged to let them off the hook and go scot-free.

People who argue “kawawa” are proceeding on the notion that the offence is innocuous; that it is, somehow harmless. Sexual harassment, inflicting psychological violence on women, is NOT harmless. It is not innocuous. And, as in this case, it is carried out with such glee and prurient delight, it is by no means innocent.

Fourth, the fact that they were doing this to a MINOR is aggravating, and is one more reason why this “kawawa” nonsense cannot be tolerated. A society that does not protect its young in the fiercest, most vehement, way possible is a society that cannot lay claim to any moral high ground under any circumstance. It is a society that has undermined its own right to exist.

And fifth, the way forward is clear. Responsible organisations and agencies must take notice of this and investigate the matter thoroughly. UST, in particular, should consider itself uniquely burdened with this responsibility since some of the alleged perpetrators are UST students, as is the alleged victim.

I say “investigate” and “alleged” because, as as much as this account has made my skin crawl, I cannot accept that people should be lynched on the basis of one side’s version of the story alone. After WWII, when the Allied powers decided to hold the Nuremberg trials, they took upon themselves the burden of proving Nazi war crimes, explicitly accepting that if they failed to prove the crimes, they would have to let the Nazis go free, even if they could smell the blood on their hands. The same standard must hold true here. Especially here, in fact, precisely because the power of social media to rouse anger and passion can also numb our impulse for fairness and objectivity.

So, despite the screen caps, there needs to be an investigation. The people allegedly involved in the group chat need to be given the opportunity to defend themselves. The alleged victim must be heard as well. And, I repeat, UST must take the lead; it must not squander this opportunity to drive home the message that “locker rooms” cannot be used as safe havens for the our basest instincts.

 

UPDATE

Just a quick word on the complicated debate about using the internet to call out sexual harassment and assaults. This clip provides both sides to the argument, and – fair warning – it might leave your head spinning.

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