When it comes to poking holes in the stories of rape victims, the Washington Post represents itself as being dedicated to upholding journalism’s high standards. The paper led the charge against the reporting of Rolling Stone editor Sabrina Erdely’s story about campus rape entitled “A Rape On Campus.” Erdely was criticized for for believing the account of a single source, and failing to take the most basic measures to verify its accuracy.

Yesterday, however, the Post wrote another story, a profile of a man called Charles Johnson. Johnson is a self-promoting troll who’d recently publicized the name of “Jackie,” Rolling Stone’s source in their campus rape story. The Post reported that for his role in outing Jackie, Charles Johnson was facing threats against himself and his family. The story, by Terrence McCoy, begins this way: “It’s 7:30 p.m. on Monday night, and the day’s most vilified blogger is driving somewhere in California, though he declines to specify where, and with whom. As he talks into the telephone, he confesses he feels targeted: He’s recording the conversation. Someone has already hacked him that day. He’s deluged with threats. His mom, he said, ‘is worried about me and worried about herself.’”

It goes on in that vein, describing Johnson’s fear, and his efforts to obscure his location from those who’d wish to harm him. The problem with this narrative is that it seems to have been completely manufactured by Johnson, and then reported by McCoy, apparently without any attempt to verify it or contact the people who Johnson claimed were “harassing” him.

I know this because someone I know interacted with Johnson on twitter, and her experience makes it clear that Johnson had no fear of anybody uncovering his location. To the contrary, Johnson tweeted pictures of his own house, along with his address and phone number, and dared detractors (like my source, who was critical but non-threatening in her interactions with him) to make use of his information. Although the tweet in which he told my source “Here’s my information. Use it.” has now been deleted, I saw it with my own eyes the night before the McCoy reported that Johnson had been “hacked” and was in fear of those harassing him. Anyone who was closely following Johnson’s activity could have seen that tweet, and anyone who contacted Johnson’s online detractors would likely have learned that he was publicizing his location, not attempting to conceal it.

Why did a Post reporter go with a story that uncritically repeated the perspective of a single source, with no apparent attempts to verify it? Probably for the same reason that the Rolling Stone did likewise: it was a good story, fact checking costs time and money, and they figured their source was maybe probably trustworthy. Far from being an exception to the journalistic rule, Sabrina Erdely’s reporting of Jackie’s story followed standard procedure in a world where journalism budgets are shrinking while appetites for content grow ever more ravenous.

In the Rolling Stone case every possible resource was used to discredit Jackie, and by extension the project of reducing rapes on college campuses. In the case of the Post piece, interest in journalistic lapses seems to be lacking. I contacted Terrence McCoy via email with my information about Johnson’s duplicity, and have not heard back from him, and the Post has not corrected the story or issued an apology. Nor have I succeeded in selling this story to another news outlet. That’s why I’ve decided to publish it on my own, to get it out there for the record. As a blog post this is incomplete—I don’t have the time or resources to attempt to track down Johnson or McCoy for comment, to verify that the information Johnson posted about his own whereabouts was accurate, or to find out if anyone else who interacted with Johnson on twitter had the same experience my source did. I can speculate that he was giving his contact information out widely, that the instance I saw was not the only instance of his doing so, but I have no clear proof of that.

I’m left with the suspicion that it’s not just The Washington Post and Rolling Stone that fail to thoroughly check out all single-sourced stories, or ask those being accused of wrongdoing to comment before running with them. After all, there’s no reason to think that these two examples are anomalies. In 2014, complaints about poor journalistic practices cannot be taken at face value, because those making the complaints are themselves guilty of the exact same sloppy practices. As far as I’m concerned, this makes the strategic use of such complaints to distract attention away from the problem of rape on college campus highly suspect. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

In the past few weeks, writers whose thinking I’ve always respected (Dan Savage, Emily Bazelon) and those whose thinking I haven’t (Emily Yoffe), have been calling for us to talk about the benefits of teaching young women not to drink too much in the name of rape prevention. The argument, as I understand it, is that it’s not victim blaming, but common sense to tell girls that drinking makes them vulnerable to rape, and that this is a sensible and much needed piece of national or institutional policy that has gone ignored out of an excess of political correctness. These calls are, frankly, bullshit. By pre-emptively defending themselves against charges of victim blaming, these writers and those who support them are missing the entire point of the argument against changing female behavior as a keystone of rape prevention.

If you’re a woman, think for a minute about what you’ve been told since girlhood about rape. (If you’re a man, think about the things you’ve heard from women about being afraid of rape.) Have you been told never to walk home alone at night? Have you been warned against leaving your drinks unattended? Have you been told the sorts of places you shouldn’t go, the sorts of clothing you shouldn’t wear, the sorts of protective measures you should take, and the many, many things that make you vulnerable to rapists? Or have you ever asked your friend to please call a cab, please don’t walk home alone, please text when she gets home so you know she’s safe? Most women I know can talk about the constant low-grade fear of rape that suffuses their existence. Is this ringing any bells with you?

If so, why on Earth would you believe that young women aren’t getting the message that they need to avoid drinking too much??? Perhaps you’re familiar with stories of rape victims who blame themselves; if so, where does this idea that women don’t already know which behaviors made them vulnerable come from? They know. We know. Everybody knows, already! Changing the behavior of women to prevent their being vulnerable to rapists is the original rape prevention strategy. It has existed from time immemorial, and as far as I can tell it’s in no danger of disappearing.

And, sure, let’s just say it: It is sensible. People put locks on their doors, they install car alarms, and they attempt to avoid situations in which they think being rape is likely. If you want to tell your daughter not to get blackout drunk, not to leave her drink unattended at a party, and to stick with a group of friends who agree to all look out for each other when she goes out, more power to you. Maybe there are “feminists” who would seek to prevent you from having this conversation with your daughter, but they are not nearly as common as you seem think they are. If they have daughters, they’re probably telling them the same thing. If you think that parents are empowering their daughters by encouraging drinking, casual sex, partying, and drug use, you better be ready with some sort of scientific study proving it, because I flat out don’t believe you.

So, let’s think for a moment about public policy. Consider things like budgets, and bandwidth. Let’s say you were responsible for a budget to implement rape prevention in some institution. How much money do you think that it would make sense to spend on posters telling girls the same thing about rape which their parents have been drilling into them? How much impact do you think it will have to keep on hammering home the exact same messages girls have always been getting? What evidence do you have that girls are largely ignorant of their own vulnerability, and that if someone would only tell them not to drink so much the rate of rapes would be dramatically diminished? Show me the study. Oh, wait… you don’t have any studies, do you?

Now, think about your own youth, and the dumb things that you did even though a zillion adults had warned you about doing them. Think about Nancy Reagan and her “Just Say No” campaign. You still smoked pot, though, didn’t you? You probably did dumb things and got away with them, and maybe you also did dumb things and reaped the consequences. Hearing your elders telling you about the dangers of these things didn’t always prevent you from trying them, though, did they? I doubt it. Young people will always take dumb risks and experiment with forbidden behavior. Any good prevention strategy will take this into account. That’s why we put teenage girls on birth control, even if we think they’re still too young to be sexually active. That’s why we hand out free condoms.

Focusing too much on preventing young women from making themselves vulnerable to rape is problematic, in some small part, because the overwhelming ubiquity of such messages gives women who have been raped the notion that they ought to have done more to prevent it. But, it’s also problematic because it’s been the strategy of choice for far too long, and so far it’s never succeeded. Not once. Even in Saudi Arabia, where women are forced to cover their hair and faces and prevented from moving freely without male accompaniment, somehow women continue to fall victim to sexual violence. Saudi Arabia is where the logic of prevention-by-controlling-women leads us.

So, it’s perfectly fine to talk with your friends or your daughters about protecting themselves (and even if you don’t, trust me, they’ll hear about it). But telling girls to stop drinking is a rotten candidate for a public education campaign or a national conversation. There are exactly zero girls who haven’t heard that they they’re supposed to keep their bodies safe from rape by behaving in a chaste, appropriate manner. It’s never worked, That’s why people who understand and care about the issue are trying to change the conversation, so that we can finally start to talk about preventing men and boys from raping people.

You’d have to be a pretty rotten person to criticize Lea Delaria, also known as the ONLY famous butch lesbian, ever. Luckily for you though, dear readers, I am just such a rotten person.

The video above, which shows Delaria engaging in a shouting match with a confused sounding elderly Jamaican guy has been celebrated as Delaria showing her “Big Boo attitude” and demonstrating the right way to deal with annoying subway preachers to the rest of us. But when I watch the video, I see something different. I see a rich, famous, powerful woman bullying someone who is poor and powerless. I see a dark skinned foreigner, who may be suffering from mental illness or dementia, being harangued about the bible by someone with an agenda he doesn’t understand. The guy has no response, beyond attempting to continue with his spiel. He is not a theological scholar. He is not the leader of any church or the holder of any political position. He may very well be homeless- the only street preachers I’ve ever met in person were members of the homeless community, whose ranting gave a sense of status and purpose to their otherwise grim existence. When I see one, I feel sorry for him, and try to treat them patiently and with compassion- and I’ve got a hell of a lot less power and influence than Lea Delaria does.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this feeling about a viral video. I’ve felt it every time I’ve watched the ones that show an affluent, attractive white woman confronting, shaming, or publicizing the inept catcalling of poor black men in the name of feminism. I’ve kept quiet because I’ve never experienced any substantial amount of street harassment, and because I don’t want my objections to be taken as pro-catcalling. But those videos give me a sick feeling in my stomach, because the women who make them and the women who share them don’t seem to understand who actually has the power and privilege in our society, and who actually doesn’t.

Racism is real. Sexism is real. So is homophobia. We could argue for days about which out group has it worse, but in the time we spent doing that we’d be pretending that these isms exist in a classless society, (or, worse, using poor people as tools as we deployed our arguments). It should be clear to everyone that a homeless person, of any race, sex, or orientation, has vastly, unimaginably less power than any affluent person. It should be beyond dispute to say that a poor person with mental illness or addiction issues is in the very lowest strata of our society. And yet, somehow, our belief in the power of racism, sexism, and homophobia allows us to cheer when a privilege person berates a poor one. It makes us blind to what is really going on, which is the exact opposite of the thing we think we’re seeing.

People in power are intimidating. It’s HARD to speak against them, or stand up for yourself in the face of them. So, it’s understandable that activists would rather find some poor unemployed schlub and have him stand in for all the Wall Street bankers, all the political leaders, all the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and leaders of religious factions. But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it acceptable. The role of activists is to fight for the weak against the powerful. It’s simply not good enough to go and find a Judas goat among the homeless, make a viral video of somebody haranguing them, and then call that a victory over oppression.

What would you think if there was a hot new show on Netflix with a school shooter as the hero? He’d travel the country, enrolling in a new school every week, uncovering evil plots and conspiracies among high school students and solving them with in a mass shooting that targeted only the real bad apples. Although the police would often come close to catching him, our hero would narrowly escape each time, freeing him to start fresh at a new school which he would, inevitably, shoot up and terrorize while still somehow retaining the viewer’s sympathies.

Does that sound unlikely, maybe even horribly insensitive and tone deaf? Well, that’s pretty much the plot of the popular Showtime series Dexter, only with a good-guy school shooter substituted for Dexter’s titular good-guy serial killer. A show like Dexter could never have been made in the 70s and 80s, when media accounts of serial killers shocked and terrified the American public. Serial killers were national news, and people took them very seriously. Along with the attention came a concurrent rise in numbers. But over time serial killers have been tamed, made funny and even, with Dexter, cuddly. Is it really a coincidence that their numbers have dropped as our obsession with them faded. The mass media attention inflated the numbers of serial killers, and as that obsession has faded, these killers have become less common.

In the meantime, we’re found another group of violent white men to be afraid of: spree shooters. Before the shooting in Columbine, CO in 1999 mass shootings of this type were individual tragedies, terrible for their communities, but rare, and not widely covered in the national media. After Columbine, however, school shootings became something more. Columbine captured our imaginations, coming to be seen as a symbol of something deeper, a black pulse beating within the veins of our suburban idylls. Today, each incident sets off a national media obsession, and we see more and more incidents. This is no coincidence. The media coverage takes root in the imaginations of ordinary people and future killers alike, perpetuating the cycle. The sorts of people who would once have taken on the role of the basement dwelling cannibalistic murderer become the basement dwelling weapon hoarder who will one day explode into immortality by shooting up a mall, a movie theater, or most compelling of all, a school filled with media friendly children.

Human societies have darkness, sickness and evil deep within them. A society without violence and crime has never existed in human history. But, the exact form our darkness takes is largely molded by the fears, beliefs, and obsessions of a culture. We made school shooters our new villains, and more and more villains have complied with our will by becoming school shooters. As unimaginable as it may be today, in a decade or two we may all be watching the cuddly exploits of Gareth, the good-guy spree shooter, while wondering why spree shootings have declined so rapidly and cyborg rapes are becoming an national epidemic.

If you weren’t a socially isolated, disaffected nerd who came of age in the internet era, then you don’t know how to deal with trolls. It’s not your fault- how could you know? You grew up in the real world. You didn’t form the majority of your peer relationships in a two dimensional, text based format. Instead, you learned to navigate sports teams, school buses, dances, and how to walk the halls of a middle school unafraid and unmolested. You know nothing of forums, message boards, chatrooms, and comments sections. So now the internet has gone mainstream, and you’re freaking out, because sometimes people are big ol’ doody heads. It must have come as something of a shock to you, huh fella?

So, here’s a quick primer. Trolls are people online who think it’s funny to make you feel bad. Some of them just want to poke you a little and get a rise, and others want to fuck up your world in any way possible. Many of the first sort are really lovely people who you’d enjoy socially, who are seeking nothing more nefarious than to make you think for a goddamn second before you spew an unconsidered, knee-jerk political position. (And yes, even Democrats like you can be guilty of spewing unconsidered, knee-jerk political positions. I know that may be hard to take on board, but you’re just gonna have to trust me.)

What trolls do is terrible, I know. After all, you’ve never condescended to someone just to make yourself feel big. You’ve never swapped insults because you’re clever and it feels good. You’ve never delighted in acts of mindless destruction, or felt so powerless and frustrated that you stopped caring whether the people you were hurting were the people who deserved it. Not you. You’re a nice person, so these emotions are foreign to you.

But, what you’re going to have to understand is that when you lose your shit, when you stay up all night arguing with strangers, when you complain loudly about the tone of online culture or write articles calling for the end to anonymity, you’re doing a thing that we, the socially maladjusted misfits who grew up online, would call FEEDING the TROLLS. Trolls want attention, disorder, chaos, and strife. When you make a big stinking deal about how horrible they are, and how somebody ought to do something about them, you’re giving them what they want. These are terrorists who hate our freedoms, and you’re playing right into their hands when you seek to curtail the freedoms of the rest of us in the name of stopping a few bad actors. You’re ruining the chance of everyone to have something amazing, and you need to cut it out, already.

Luckily we, your online forebears, came up with a better solution years ago, that doesn’t involve abridging anybody’s freedom of expression. Just STOP FEEDING THE TROLLS. When you realize someone is acting trolly, block them or ignore them. If they up the stakes or come up with creative ways to try to suck you in again, ignore those too. If there’s a place online where you know they like to gather, don’t go there. Go back to Facebook. Go back to Pinterest. Leave the wild west to us cowboys.

Trolls love food, and you are chumming the water. So just cut it out and stop feeding the trolls already.

I’m looking at you, Amanda.



Image  —  Posted: September 10, 2014 in Tiny Butch Adventures
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(Still experimenting with different ways of making multiple panels given my limited options on the ipad)