@StJoesCrushes: Perpetuating sexual harassment in the digital era

By C.J. DeMille 16, Hawk Staff

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The technological developments that have occurred over the last 20 years have changed the way people interact—the way they gossip, spread stories and ideas, bully, and even sexually harass.

“[Sexual harassment] is any behavior that is unwanted and sexual in nature,” according to Mary-Elaine Perry, Ed.D., assistant vice president for student development and Title IX coordinator at Saint Joseph’s University. “It can be verbal, it can be … writing offensive things on someone’s white board all the way to rape.”

With the expansion of social media and the ability to remain anonymous online, people are able to make sexually harassing statements to a wider audience without fear of repercussions.

The best example of this would be the Twitter account @StJoesCrushes. The account tweets confessions sent in anonymously to an ask.fm account. The tweets themselves range from benign compliments to lewd comments and vulgar accusations that cannot be proven.

This use of social media outlets such as Twitter allows people to divorce themselves from the person they gossip about. It is hard to believe most of the comments made on @StJoesCrushes would ever be said to someone’s face. If the identity of the person making the comments was known, most people would be much less vulgar. A basic rule of thumb for utilizing social media should be: if it is not something you could say to someone’s face, you should not be posting it on Twitter anonymously.

What is most disturbing about @StJoesCrushes is how easily people post full names and even room numbers. Being identified in such a personal and detailed fashion can have a devastating effect on some students. When victims are thrust into this environment, they cannot remove themselves from the uncomfortable situation. Instead, it engulfs them without room for escape. They can unfollow the Twitter account, and in some cases have been able to have the posts taken down by the account moderator, but by that point others have read the posts, and victims are left wondering who looks at them differently as a result.

“Now there’s stuff about you that most likely isn’t true [online]. Now it’s out there in the general student’s knowledge. You walk around campus after that thinking, ‘Who knows what this person said about me?’” explained Perry. “There’s no way to say ‘No. Stop it.’ because you don’t know who said it in the first place. So it becomes more insidious for people to have to live with those kind of things.”

The line between playful flirting and sexual harassment becomes increasingly blurry as more and more communication occurs using technology. It may be easier to post a questionable comment anonymously; it saves you from the fear of rejection, but at the risk of putting someone else in an even more uncomfortable position.

Unfortunately, social media has become yet another tool used to perpetuate sexual harassment. With anonymity assured and fear of repercussions removed, many people have abused these platforms to target their peers. But restoring some civility to our digital interactions can begin with a single step: if you can’t gather the courage to say it to someone’s face, you should not be Tweeting it anonymously.

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