Tech + Health

07.10.14

Jada, Steubenville, And How America Is Failing Our Teen Girls

How many kids must be raped on film—from Jada to Steubenville—before people change their laissez-faire attitudes towards sexual assault on social media?

After last year’s infamous Steubenville case, it seemed like lessons about exploiting rape culture over the Internet had been learnt. But, after (yet another) teenager’s sexual assault has turned into some kind of vile blockbuster for the selfie generation, it’s clear that we have a very, very long way to go.

16-year-old Jada from Houston was at a fellow high-schooler’s party when she got drugged and raped. She lost consciousness after being handed a drink from a friend—which she believes was spiked—and had no recollection of any other events from that evening.

But then photos started spreading online. Videos made their way into the public sphere. Memes mocking Jada’s unconscious, assaulted body peppered social media. The rape of a 16-year-old girl had gone viral—and she only found out the reality of what had happened to her after it did.

“I had no control,” the high school junior says of that night. “I didn’t tell anyone to take off my clothes and do what they did to me.”

The details of what had happened to Jada emerged after friends saw images of her at the party being posted online, and began contacting her to see how she was doing. “Everybody knows,” she told KHOU 11 News, a local station in Houston. “And everybody’s texting me, ‘Are you okay? You’re going to be okay.’”

Jada has reported the attack to police, but the assault she is facing at the hands of the Internet rolls on. After the video began to surface, keyboard warriors managed to dig themselves a new low by posting photos on Twitter mocking the positions her body had been forced into using the hashtag #jadapose.

That’s right: a minor gets roofied, raped and recorded—and people see fit to use that as fodder for a spot of online entertainment. One of those posting under the hashtag described the decision process behind his actions as a remedy for being  “bored at 1 a.m,” and wanting to “wake up my Twitter timeline.”

Everything about this case is disturbing in the extreme. How many kids need to be raped on film before people sit up and pay attention to what’s going on here? We have a duty to offer protection to those who need it, but society’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude to this dark strand of sexual assault is becoming a grave problem.

Memes mocking Jada’s unconscious, assaulted body peppered social media.

We all know the number of rape convictions remains infinitesimally small, and that, coupled with the harrowing ordeal people are put through in the pursuit for justice, ensures that number will never be big enough to make a real change. And Steubenville was a prime example of our crummy attitude when it comes to bringing attackers to account. It showed the world that twisted kids who see fit to sexually abuse an unwitting teenager in their midst are excused from the law’s wrath for no reason at all—in their case, being good at football. Because sure, your behavior mirrors that of a deranged sex offender—but you can throw a ball? Minimum sentences all round.

Steubenville really set the precedent for crimes like these, and the total mockery it’s made of bringing perpetrators to justice is evident when it comes to Jada. Until the devastating consequences of these actions are truly realized, there’s nothing to say that there won’t be another Jada—another 10, 15, 1,500 Jadas—all struggling to piece their lives back together through no fault of their own. If teenage girls are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, there should be a collective sense of embarrassment at how badly we’re allowing ourselves to fail them.

The world knows Jada’s name now, and while it’s not customary for minors in such cases to be identified, she didn’t want to hold her identity back. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am,” she said. In spite of the unbelievable bravery she has shown in coming forward and speaking out for victims of sexual assault, she now wants to be homeschooled—away from the reminders, and the chatter, and the lack of action taken to bring her attackers to justice. “I’m just angry,” she concluded.

There are the teensiest, tiniest glimmers of light in the aftermath of this horror. The hashtag #jadacounterpose has picked up as the total antithesis to the rape culture-enabling ethos of its forebear, with pictures of support being posted for the 16-year-old who has become the new face of sex abuse activism. ‘Teach boys that they are not entitled to women’s bodies,’ reads one. ‘Self control is your job, not hers,’ reads another. This is what we need: this, more of it, and fast.

For now, though, the alleged perpetrator remains at large, tweeting (until his account just got shut down) that Jada is a “hoe” and “fiend” who “snitched.” Houston police have made no arrests as yet, but she is hopeful that something will be done. Until then, it remains another in a long line of assaults on girls that look as though they’ll avoid justice forever.

“No one’s daughter deserved this,” Jada’s mother said of the teenager’s torment.

“No human being deserved this.”