PITTSBURGH (WOMENSENEWS)– Last school year, Stevie Little began hearing rumors at her Fort Mill, S.C., high school that she had made a sex tape with her boyfriend. She ignored the talk as lies. But two days after the couple broke up, Little said her ex showed a video to his English class from two months earlier of Little “drunkenly and unknowingly” having sex with him.
“I had gone through his phone and never saw anything,” said Little, 18, in an email interview, referring to the sexual assault she hadn’t even realized she had suffered. “He kept the video in an app that looked like a calculator called Vault.”
Once Little found out about the video, she immediately went to the school for help. She turned to her school resource officer and guidance counselor, who in turn contacted the police. Her ex, who was 17 at the time, has been charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, a state felony that carries a punishment of three to 20 years imprisonment. The case is pending and the defense has yet to enter a plea, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
Though her assaulter’s punishment is in the hands of the court, Little feels like she was punished for being a victim from the people in her hometown.
“People in my town would tweet, Instagram or Facebook post about me,” Little said. Shamers would tag her in pictures of her ex’s mugshot, or tweet that she wasn’t assaulted and that she allowed the video to happen.
“People would call me a porn star to my face and I lost the majority of my friends,” said Little, who is now a public relations major transferring to the University of South Carolina.
“Although the assault [by my ex] was traumatizing,” she added, “it was the shaming I received for months on end after that really got to me.”
This behavior is all too familiar to Emily Lindin, founder of The UnSlut Project.
Lindin, now 28, was herself the victim of shaming years ago when she was in sixth grade. She was labeled the “school slut” after a boy she had a “really serious crush on” spread rumors about her.
Lindin decided she had to do something after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old in Nova Scotia, Canada. Parsons was gang raped by four classmates, none of whom were charged for their actions until after she committed suicide six months later. This 2013 case led Lindin to create The UnSlut Project, to offer victims help and protection from the destructive effects of shaming.
The advocacy and awareness group, based entirely online, allows victims to share their experiences and build a community that reminds girls of the damages of blaming the victim.
The root of slut shaming is fear, Lindin said in a phone interview from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. When girls join a chorus of shaming they think they are exempting themselves from such targeting, at least for that day. Rather than sticking up for victimized girls, they join in the shaming, thinking “‘better her than me,'” Lindin said.
Adults join the scapegoating, Lindin added. She’s heard stories of parents turning assaults into cautionary tales for their own daughters. “They say ‘See what happened to her? The same thing could happen to you if you dress like that.'”
The effects of rape can range from post-traumatic stress disorder and flashback triggers to self-harm and depression, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
When the injury of slut shaming is added to the attack, the road to recovery can be much rockier.
“The shaming and the victim blaming effects lasted a lot longer because the bullying continued even as I was trying to move on from the actual incident,” said Brianna Lumb, who says she was gang raped by four classmates seven years ago in Sechelt, British Columbia.
Lumb sought help from school counselors after the attack and resulting blame but her attackers were not punished due to what counselors said was a lack of evidence. School counselors helped her to continue her education when the shaming got so bad she felt the need to leave school, but Lumb said that there “wasn’t a lot they could do” for her to stop the shaming. She said it was a help to know “they believed in me and they cared.”
In an email interview Lumb, 21, recalled the reaction of her peers as the story of her attack circulated. “I couldn’t walk down the halls of my high school without having people yell at me, screaming, ‘Hey slut, how was your orgy?'”
Her friends turned away from her, she said, and she closed herself off from the world for a while. “I was terrified of my peers. I stopped going to school. I couldn’t go out in public without having major anxiety attacks,” she said. Even several years after the incident, she couldn’t socialize or go to parties “without the room going silent and everyone staring me down.”
“I stood in the corner listening to people ask, ‘Why is Brianna Lumb here?'” Lumb added, describing a party some of her friends insisted she join several years after the rape.
The attack made me her feel vulnerable, dirty and bad, she said. Lumb, who still lives in Sechelt, said being shamed made her “uncomfortable in her own skin,” as if she could “never truly be herself.”
When she came across The UnSlut Project, Lumb, who teaches English as a volunteer and is considering a sociology degree, knew she’d found allies.
Through the project, girls are able to raise awareness of the damages that slut shaming can do via an online forum and a Tumblr blog where they can share their own experiences. Sales of T-shirts with “Define Slut” printed across the chest also have the potential to redirect shamers. As do efforts like “SLUT: The Play,” a theater performance created by the Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company that played in New York, Fargo, N.D., and Los Angeles.
“A whole bunch of my friends have ‘Define Slut’ T-shirts, including a lot of guys, which I think is huge,” said Lumb. “The most effective way to prevent slut shaming is by spreading the word that it exists.”
This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.
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