The Little Tweets of Misogyny tumblr carries a number of high-profile 'trigger warnings' for survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence before it allows you to read its contents, and not without good cause. It's simply a collection of Twitter posts that have appeared since the sentencing of Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans last Friday to five years in jail for rape but it is appalling both in the volume and violence of the misogynistic abuse it contains. When I idly clicked on the link this morning, despite the eight years I've spent working the Rape Crisis movement, I was moved to tears of shock and of rage.
One of the most deeply disturbing aspects of this 'Twitter Storm' is the repeated naming of Evans' victim. Rape complainants have the legal right to lifelong anonymity and the breaching of that right is a criminal offence. Whoever first revealed the victim's identity is guilty of contempt of court, and every person who's re-Tweeted it since is implicated, and yet users of the site continue to bandy her name around as if they were having a (particularly unpleasant) chat with mates down the pub.
The implications for the individual woman's safety and emotional well-being are of course enormous and incredibly concerning. At the same time, the questions this whole episode raises about the ability of the criminal justice system to deal with offences committed on the internet are potentially immense. This is why Rape Crisis, and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) of which it's a member, are calling for an urgent review into legal systems and practices in the light of this.
The other issue that the aftermath of Evans' conviction and sentencing sadly highlights is one which those within the Rape Crisis movement have been all too aware of for decades: that harmful myths about sexual violence, about those who experience and perpetrate it, are still deeply ingrained within our society.
Contrary to the ignorant and misogynistic bile pouring forth across cyber-world in the name of so-called 'justice' for a convicted rapist, rape is not something women routinely lie about after having consensual sex they later regret, and a woman's behaviour, from drinking alcohol to flirting to dressing in a particular way, is never an excuse or mitigation. Rape is a terrifying, violent and humiliating experience, which can have long-term impacts on the lives of its victims, and responsibility for it lies solely with its perpetrators.
Currently, only around 10% of women and girls who are raped or experience other forms of sexual violence report to the police, and many tell no-one what has happened to them, often for fear of not being believed. This case and ones like it do nothing to improve this situation.
This is one of the reasons Rape Crisis is committed to raising awareness and understanding of rape and sexual violence and dispelling the myths that create an environment in which it is so difficult for women and girls to access the support they need and deserve. We would welcome the backing of Government, the criminal justice system and the sporting world in these efforts, as these are issues that affect us all.
We encourage any woman or girl who has experienced sexual violence of any kind at any time in her life to approach her local Rape Crisis Centre, where she'll receive services that are specialised, independent and confidential.