There’s a part of me that thinks yes — when the legal system has failed, there are few other options to seek justice, and an internet collective isn’t the worst one. But I’m also incredibly wary of unchecked power and the ethos of spreading information without verifying its authenticity or accuracy, and a movement that feeds on rage and indignation without any real accountability. It’s particularly important to look at these issues when they’re being carried out for a cause we believe in. Does the calculus change if Anonymous’s tactics are leveled at someone we support? And then, are the tactics and ethics bad, or just the issue? I have a feeling this position will be very unpopular with the Feministe commentariat, but here goes:
In certain ways, I’m glad Anonymous is taking up the Maryville case. And so far, their demands are reasonable and their tactics fair. They have an incredible ability to gather and disseminate information, and in situations like this one, a little transparency is vital. They’re a powerful force, and they get the media to stand up and take note: the Kansas City Star article garnered a good amount of attention, but Anonymous’s participation secured even more. They’re sending the message that there are real social consequences to refusing to protect and then ostracizing alleged rape victims.
Plus, rape victims often don’t see justice. Most rape cases are never reported to the police, let alone brought to trial. Cultural biases about what counts as “real” rape, and myths about what a “good” rape victim look like, often result in perpetrators walking free. Americans like to believe our criminal justice system is bias-blind, offering a fair trial to defendants and adequately seeking justice for crime victims. In reality, ours is a justice system run by human beings with all of their attendant flaws, operating in a society that continues to have deep issues with race and gender.
The justice system is not an entity that functions outside of racist and sexist cultural norms and beliefs, and attorneys, judges and jurors do not live in bubbles that allow them to carry out the law walled off from the worst aspects of our world. For all its many benefits, our legal system is wildly flawed and functionally biased in favor of the powerful and privileged.
But here’s the wildly dissatisfying conclusion: vigilante justice is worse. And we should question it even when – especially when – it’s in the service of a cause we believe in.
After all, Anonymous is simply a vast hive of anonymous people with varying perspectives, interests and opinions. It is not a singular entity. Anonymous may not always be on the side of the rape victim.
The hearts of many of the rape-avenging Anonymous folks are in the right place. And there’s a part of me that wants to cheer them on, and to tell them to take down the Maryville suspects, the prosecutor, Daisy’s harassers and the whole “good ol’ boys” network that seems to have influenced the case. That is a normal, human reaction. But that doesn’t make it a laudable one, or one that should have any impact on our criminal justice system.
We offer protections to the criminally accused for good reason. That doesn’t mean that the media or private citizens can’t pass judgment on a case before a jury does, or that our legal system does a particularly good job of securing justice for marginalized people like rape victims. But it means there’s some value in the humility of realizing that you are not, and should not be, judge and jury all yourself. There’s value in realizing that power can be addictive and corrosive, and that we need other people and systematic safeguards to keep our worst impulses at bay.
The full column is here.
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