- Shifting the Rape Script"Coming Out" Online as a Rape Victim
The [rape] survivor needs the help of others who are willing to recognize that a traumatic event has occurred, to suspend their preconceived judgements, and simply bear witness to her tale.
Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
The experience of being raped and the associated trauma is often conceptualized as "unspeakable" in that it cannot be put into a comprehensible language.1 Yet the very notion that rape is something unspeakable serves to normalize rules governing the permissibility of speaking about rape, tacitly enforcing the shame that surrounds sexual violence and maintaining victim-survivors' silence. The unspeakability of rape is also perpetuated by the criminal justice system through its power to define what is and is not rape, thereby denying those whose experience falls outside legal definitions the recognition and permission to claim their experience as rape.
Thus the notion that rape is inherently unspeakable deflects attention away from the power dynamics shaping the discourses that maintain its unspeakability. It is not necessarily the case that rape is unspeakable; rather, it is the parameters of permissible speech within the law, clinical understandings of trauma, and social norms that enforce elements of rape's (un)speakability.2 As Weedon argues, in order to speak one must acquire "a subject position within a discourse," yet in doing so, one "become[s] subjected to the power and regulation of the discourse."3 Accordingly, one who seeks to claim her experience of rape is required to present her testimony within the parameters of permissible [End Page 26] speech within the given discursive setting, if her experience is to be rendered authentic and comprehensible.4
In this sense, there are hegemonic "scripts" governing the ways in which rape and rape trauma can be articulated; yet Marcus argues that these can and should be disrupted through strategic interventions.5 Marcus describes the normative "rape script" as involving one person (a man) auditioning for the role of the rapist while another (a woman) plays the role of the helpless and vulnerable victim.6 The problem with the hegemonic script, which treats rape as a "terrifyingly unnameable and unrepresentable" ever-present danger that "circumscribes" women's lives, is that "it concurs with masculinist culture in its designation of rape as a fate … that can only be feared or legally repaired, not fought."7 Women can subvert this script, according to Marcus, by "intervening in any cultural or linguistic inscription of their bodies as always already rapable." Marcus suggests that by "fighting back," and even treating rape as a farce or something not to be feared, women can not only stand a better chance of avoiding rape; they can also in doing so "subvert the gendered grammars of violence."8 In other words, the rape script can be interrupted by challenging the assumption that women, who are positioned as always already raped or inherently rapable, lack the power or the capacity to resist being raped.
Marcus has been criticized for asserting that women can simply resist being raped by advocating an active and aggressive challenging of the rape script to position women as the "subjects of violence" rather than the "subjects of fear."9 While I see problems with Marcus's "fighting" approach, namely that the onus rests on women to prevent rape, her logic also points to the potential that subverting hegemonic masculinist culture and the "gendered grammars of violence" may have on shifting the normative ways the experience of rape and, by extension, rape trauma is conventionally understood within and outside the criminal justice system. In this sense, shifting the rape script in this paper is not about subverting the gendered grammar of violence in a way that might lead to more women learning to resist rape. Rather, in this essay I explore to what extent online anti-rape activist spaces provide an opportunity to disrupt the rape script through victim-survivors of rape "coming out" and claiming their experiences. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with creators of online campaigns (including bloggers and microbloggers who use Twitter or Tumblr, and state-funded campaigns run by rape crisis services), as well as a...