Yesterday, I wrote a short rant on my Facebook wall:
I really can't say this loudly or aggressively enough: people who take photographs of children who have been beaten and raped, and post them as sappy little calls to action that just happen to link back to their facebook pages, are doing nothing more than perpetuating the violence and exploitation of the child whose privacy they are invading. These photos are tasteless, obscene, invasive, exploitative, rude, disgusting, and serve absolutely no purpose other than to make people feel like they're "doing something." Yeah, you're doing something - you're hurting that kid all over again, and it's f*****g sick. Stop it.
I’ve included with this article the picture (I’ve edited it to remove as much detail as possible while still making it identifiable if you run across it) that inspired my little rant yesterday. As it turns out, my co-admin at Being American, Lee Golden, found the legitimate provenance of the photo.
The photo isn't of a twelve year old. The photo IS however of a young woman in the UK who was brutally beaten. She has a name: Lynn McGall, of Ballymena, Ireland, UK.
The administrator of the Facebook group We The People decided to take her photo, make up a story, and exploit her, her horrific injuries, and public sentiment to "make a point." Furthermore, they clearly refuse to listen to reason when confronted about it, as evidenced by the photo caption:
We The People
(Please note: This graphic is intended for informational purposes only. This is not a photo of a twelve year old child that was raped and we are not exploiting her tragedy. But please read the stories posted here by real victims.)
Now that we know who this person is and what the photo really shows, I'm sharing it...because the truth needs telling, and these so-called "liberal" and "progressive" page owners who make up lies and exploit victims of horrific crime to drive sensationalist traffic to their pages have GOT to be told in no uncertain terms that this kind of behavior - ALL aspects of it - MUST stop, immediately.
Let us not mince words: regardless of the assertion above, the creator of this graphic is exploiting the tragedy of the victim of a brutal, horrible crime.
Not only are they exploiting a crime victim, they are, without question, undermining the very point they’re trying to make. You can hear the responses from the “forcible rape/legitimate rape” idiots now: “This just proves you can’t find a photo of a real victim.” “See, liberals always lie, they can’t be trusted.”
Furthermore, they’ve illicitly used this photo to make a point about a crime that the photo does not, so far as is known, actually depict.
The worst, to me, is the comments:
“This is the face of Rape!”
“Americans apparently need to be shocked from their delusions of Exceptionalism…”
“This girl’s story is horrible and my heart goes out to her”
The problem is that it’s not “real.” It’s not the “face of rape.” It’s not “American.” It’s not “this girl’s story.” The whole thing is a fabrication, and that is truly evil because there are plenty of real stories out there and plenty of legitimate arguments to be made against the idiocy of “legitimate rape” and forcing rape victims to bear the children of their attackers.
The person who made this graphic has not only trivialized all those real stories, they have also trivialized the actual story of the actual girl in the photo, who wasn’t raped (so far as we know) but was brutally beaten. Isn’t that enough to be angry about by itself? Making up a fantasy story to go with her picture suggests that the facts aren’t “good enough.” How do you think this young woman feels, knowing that having her base beaten beyond recognition not only isn’t “good enough” for some misguided crusader’s pet cause, but that she’s being used and exploited as a pawn in another country’s political arguments based on a story that isn’t even about her?
If you read the source article linked above, you’ll notice some things are missing: there’s no mention of rape. There’s no mention or suggestion that the victim became pregnant from her rape. There’s nothing political about it, nothing “republican” or “democratic” or “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or anything to do with anyone’s definition, no matter how misinformed and convoluted, of rape.
That is not what ethical activists and journalists do. That is what asshats like Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe do. It's sensationalist, it's exploitative, it's unethical, and it really, really pisses me off.
If you think lying and exploiting victims is the way to "make a point," you need to get the hell out of the pool and let competent, principled, and ethical activists and journalists do the work. Furthermore, even if the description of the photo *was* accurate, it would constitute a brazen and soulless invasion of the victim's privacy to turn it into a traffic-generating meme wrapped in the saccharine packaging of "making a point."
If you have to lie and exploit crime victims to "make your point," YOU have no point to make, even if the point you're making is a valid one. Step aside and let competent, ethical journalists handle the spadework. This is the kind of "journalism" engaged in by the worst of the worst, and we do not want this kind of advocacy on the left. Rather than “making a point,” this kind of behavior undermines whatever point is at issue, in multiple ways.
The currently topical radical right-wing stupidity about “forcible/legitimate rape” and suggesting that women’s bodies have a magical duct that secretes anti-pregnancy hormones when they’re raped is disgusting and needs all the aggressive refutation that can be brought to bear against it.
It does not need manufactured outrage, victim exploitation, and lies. That is not “liberal,” or “progressive,” or “journalism,” or “advocacy.” It is opportunist exploitative lying, and it is a stark offense against every principle of good journalism, good activism, social conscience, ethics, and decency. Stop making excuses because you want the page hits and attention. Stop making up lies which imply that legitimate stories of rape and being forced to give birth to the child of your rapist isn’t a big enough problem on its own.
And for crying out loud stop making images like this unless you either are the person in the picture, or you personally have their written consent to do so.
The page administrator apparently took notice of this article...and continues attempting to defend this behavior. they posted this message:
To address some of the outrage and anger over the post we put up referencing the rape of a twelve year old child, I feel it is necessary to expound a bit on our intentions and purpose.
1- This is not a 12 year old child that was raped. It is, however, an 18 year old victim of violence. We were not exploiting her injuries in any way. We were trying, instead, to get some of the closed minded individuals out there to think about their daughters and granddaughters, sisters and cousins.
2- We are using this graphic in hopes that people can change their closed minded attitude toward a ban on abortions. Abortions are a medical procedure that should be directed and decided between a woman and her doctor. No more. No less.
3- For anyone that thought this was an actual victim, we apologize. We put the disclaimer on top in hopes it would be obvious, but we obviously did not do a good enough job with that.
4- For anyone that perceives this as taking advantage of a victim and using her injuries to further our cause, we also apologize. That was not our intention. The photo is of a young woman that is 18 years of age and she is not in the United States. We did not expect this to get the kind of exposure it has received and we most definitely hope that this young woman is not harmed in any way from this exposure. We also need to note that we have never put her name or information in here and those that have are the ones that are exposing her further.
5- This lesson will carry us forward toward making decisions that will hopefully raise awareness without simply creating the impression of improper judgement in the future.
We would like to hear from you all and know what you feel about this. It does not seem to be appropriate to simply take it down because the message is so strong and so real. Furthermore, the women that DID share real life stories deserve to have their voices heard as well.
What do you think?
I posted the following response...which they deleted and then blocked me for within a matter of a couple of minutes, along with all other messages that objected, leaving behind only those who mistakenly believe that this criticism is directed at their stories and a bunch of other irrelevant, emotive nonsense, much of which reinforces the myth that this photo has anything to do with any ongoing discussion of rape, abortion, or politics in this country.
>As long as you keep repeating this, I will remain convinced that you simply do not grasp the fundamentals of ethical reporting, ethical activism, or ethical conduct.
Furthermore, I resent your implication that by actually naming the girl involved - and her name was included in the original news report from which you swiped the original picture, which had *nothing* to do with rape, *nothing* to do with abortion, *nothing* to do with left vs. right, and *nothing* to do with American politics* - I have somehow done "more" or committed a greater offense that you have by turning a brutal beating into empty and dishonest propaganda. Quite the opposite; I have returned validation to her and her story, which is plenty horrific all by itself, and hopefully some of the people who have been so outraged by the myth you have created will rightfully turn their outrage against the actual horror depicted in that photo - the horror of *violence against women.* Not of "rape," not of "forced pregnancy," not of arguing what is "real rape," not of ridiculous patrician myths that attempt to legitimize forcing rape victims to give birth, not of "republicans" vs. "democrats" or "liberals" vs. "conservatives."
There are plenty of *legitimate, relevant* stories of *adult* women *in this country* who are *actually* harmed by the stupidity and misogyny emanating from the radical right *in this country.* (And the location is important only because you have used this photo to criticize social attitudes *in this country*.) There are even adult women who have consented to having their images and stories used as illustrative tools to help people understand the terrible damage this behavior causes.
*Ethical journalists don't make up stories. Ethical activists don't lie to make their point.* Such behavior does far more harm than good, for the reasons I've already made clear in my article on the matter and many others. That is why the Washington Post fired Janet Cooke and her Pulitzer Prize was withdrawn.
The fact that you continue to question this, to justify your deceitful and exploitative use of the photo, to attempt to shift blame to those calling you out for doing so, and to argue for the validity of this type of gross manipulation of facts is prima facie evidence that you *are not qualified to be an effective activist or reporter.*
No, that's not a "personal attack." I don't know you "personally." I don't know who you are, what your name is, or what you do on the weekends. You may be a stranger to me, or you may be a friend I've known for thirty years. That is all irrelevant; this is about *principle*, and you have violated every principle of ethical reporting and activism with this graphic. (And incidentally unless the other one related to it is a picture of a convicted rapist, that one is absolutely no better.)
And it's not just the woman in the picture that's hurt by this nonsense. It's every woman whose REAL stories and REAL photos are apparently "not good enough" to use. It's every woman who is "only" brutally beaten but whose story is "not good enough" to be outraged over. It's *every* rape victim whose story is "not good enough" to cry against because she didn't get pregnant.
Those of us who spend our lives and pursue our livelihoods trying to fight against the abuse of women by political and social institutions, trying to hack through the mess of sensationalist, button-pushing media, and trying to drive constructive and meaningful political and social dialogue through the application of fact, logic, and reason to that dialogue are also injured by this kind of tactic. The fact that anyone *would think* that this is okay or acceptable or ethical is proof of the damage that has been done to our thinking and our sense of right and wrong by the Fox-style "say anything as long as it puts asses in seats" media in this country, clear evidence that you don't have to be a conservative or a Fox viewer to have been corrupted by their "journalistic style."
There are many, many ways and means by which one can make a strong statement and a compelling argument against the idiocy of "legitimate rape," forcing women to bear the children of their rapists, or the ridiculous myth that a woman's body will automatically reject a pregnancy resulting from rape. *Lying is not one of them.* That only undermines the entire case, legitimizes criticism from those who hold such odious opinions that the left-wing media is dishonest and unreliable and not credible, and ultimately does far more harm than good.
Since the group admins apparently have no interest in honest, open dialogue that is critical of their behavior and are instead clearly attempting to manufacture an appearance of broad and unopposed popular support for their unethical posting, I would recommend dropping by and letting them know what you think of this.