Willmette Week has a fascinating, very important and very difficult story to read about the rape of a Lewis & Clark student whose rapist was exposed on Facebook. It’s a multi-layered story and there’s a lot to say, though I’m still kind of processing it myself. I strongly encourage you to read it, but warn you that it includes very graphic descriptions of sexual assault. Though I don’t plan on reproducing those parts of the article here, I will issue a trigger warning for the whole post from this point forward.
Jessica has already reported on one small aspect of the story and absolutely nailed it. Shoving your cock down the throat of someone who does not want it there and telling her to “choke on it” while she gags and tries to get you to stop is not “gray rape.” There’s no such thing as “gray rape,” period — rape is rape and always rape — but this case is also particularly violent. And spreading around terms like this, Cosmo, is incredibly harmful to women who have been assaulted and are already confused about what happened to them.
The woman who Shaw-Fox raped wrote a letter about the assault to the editor of a campus newspaper, but without naming her perpetrator.
She wrote that she had naively believed Lewis&Clark was safe.
“When I first visited Lewis&Clark, I asked Campus Safety how many rapes and sexual assaults had been reported in the last year,” the letter begins. “They told me that they had none on record, and that was a statistic that I admired.”
Another portion of her letter was directed to her assaulter:
“I have been told that the other women you’ve mistreated and I are entitled to pursue your expulsion from LC,” she wrote. “You are damn lucky that, at this moment, I am not. You deserve to have your filthy, disrespectful ass kicked out of this school, you insolent son of a bitch.”
Other students and the Womyn’s Center, though, found out that Shaw-Fox was the rapist.
“We all knew him and we were livid,” Bishop says. “We felt something needed to be said.”
It was around 3 am at the time, and they decided to do something that was both thoroughly modern and rooted in a long history of radical feminist tactics. They decided to warn other women away from Shaw-Fox.
“I didn’t know if he was going to be charged,” Bishop says. “I didn’t know if the school would do anything, but I didn’t care what the law said. I knew that he had committed violent acts. If the law wasn’t going to do anything, I would. There’s a point where you have to take your lives and the lives of others into your own hands and fight for justice.”
That night, the women created the Facebook group. It named Shaw-Fox as the subject of Hunter’s letter, featured a photograph of him without a shirt (taken from his own Facebook page), and carried a message that told women to stay away from him.
Since it was created as a “secret” group on Facebook, students had to be invited to it before they could see the contents online.
What Bishop did not know when she created the secret Facebook group was that its unsubstantiated name, “Morgan Shaw-Fox is a Piece of Shit Rapist,” would pop up elsewhere on Facebook, even with the blocks in place.
Word of the group and Shaw-Fox’s name as an alleged assaulter quickly made its way around campus. Shaw-Fox found out from a friend.
When complaints poured in from students about the appropriateness of naming Shaw-Fox, Bishop deleted the group. “They were lighting a false fire,” Erin Dees, a sophomore, told The Pioneer Log . “Students who only see him in a classroom setting don’t need to know and judge his reputation.”
Whether or not the students should have created the Facebook account is debatable. Honestly, my problem with it isn’t that they named Shaw-Fox; it’s that they didn’t consult the woman who accused him before doing so. I believe that there’s power in naming, but not everyone has the right to be the person who names.
What upsets me most — and I suggest that you do not read the comments on the article, since the comments in the article are bad enough — is the way that everyone is concerned for Shaw-Fox instead of the woman he raped. Really, strangers judge him? I guess he should have thought about that before he started raping women.
In fact, Shaw-Fox’s arrogance is astounding:
On Nov. 19, Bishop created a second Facebook group called “Students who Refuse to Shut the Fuck Up About Sexual Violence,” which she described on Facebook as a “revised edition of a previous group that was created in direct response to a specific person.” It included discussion topics and a link to the original letter to the editor.
Anyone could join, and within days 259 students did.
One of them was Shaw-Fox. “I’m glad it’s a concern on this campus,” he told WW .
. . .
On Dec. 12, Shaw-Fox was on stage at an end-of-year concert on campus that included his a cappella group Momo and the Coop. Shaw-Fox and three other young men sang a song that drew a hearty applause. A portion of the lyrics runs:
I gotta sing and I dance when I glance in my pants,
And the feeling’s like a sunshiny day.
I take a look at my enormous penis,
And everything is going my way.
The next day, in an interview with WW , Shaw-Fox acknowledged he was the subject of the first Facebook group.
But Shaw-Fox, who in person was both polite and charming, denied that anything he had done constituted assault.
“This is a bigger issue,” he says. “And what my friend said is he thought, too, that with some groups of people, I was sort of becoming a fall guy for a lot of, you know, female anger, which is understandable…. Not that I’d be a fall guy, but that they’d have [anger]. I think about it a lot in terms of just what it would be like to be a woman that got hit on all the time….”
“From my point of view, I see there’s points in my life where I’ve made mistakes, obviously. Looking back, especially after this has happened, a lot of friends have sat down with me and asked me really just to reflect on my actions. I can see there’s points in my life, you know, where I’ve maybe deserved some females’ being frustrated with me because I can see where there’s been times where I was maybe too aggressive in my flirtation. Instead of just sort of taking a subtle message…hitting on a woman more than I should have been and made them hold a stronger boundary with me. I can see where there’s a time where I could have made someone uncomfortable. I feel really sorry for that. I’ve learned a lot from it. But in terms of sexual assault or, you know, anything even close to that point, that doesn’t make sense.”
Why, exactly, do we care if Shaw-Fox is polite and charming? Here’s a clue: most rapists are. That’s how they get women into positions where it is easy to rape them. Rude, creepy guys don’t generally get women to go back to their dorms and make out with them. The polite charming guy is the one who does. And sadly, that guy also doesn’t always stop when told that making out is as far as things will go. I don’t know, maybe that was the writer’s point in including such a statement, to show that a rapist doesn’t have to act like a stereotypical rapist to be one. I can see a lot of people failing to read it that way, though. Far too many still seem to think that most rapists are the rude and creepy guys.
I don’t know what exactly Shaw-Fox sees as being “aggressive flirting.” Sounds to me like sexual harassment and intimidation. I also know that when a guy says “I should have . . . made them hold a stronger boundary with me,” he’s not the kind of guy who takes responsibility for his own actions, regardless of what contradictory statements he makes before and after. And talking about all of the things he should “make” women do doesn’t exactly help his case that he is not a rapist, it just further displays his sense of self-entitlement over women’s actions. I don’t believe a word he says for a single second.
The same day as Shaw-Fox’s interview, the woman he raped filed charges, and credits the Facebook group with providing support and convincing her that the assault wasn’t her own fault. Shaw-Fox has been suspended.
This is a great thing. And if online advocacy is a way to provide support to specific women, to convince them that the assault was not their fault and even in some cases to file charges against their rapists, I wholeheartedly support it. I don’t see these kinds of actions as vigilantism. Most rapists are never punished through the courts. That doesn’t mean women who are raped have to keep quiet about what their rapists did.
But I come back to the same concern with regards to women’s privacy: how do we differentiate between helping women and bringing attention to women who don’t want help? Telling a friend in confidence about your rape doesn’t entitle her to create a Facebook account about the assault, no matter how well-meaning she may be. Though a woman was indeed helped here, and naming proved to be vital, did the activists cross the line? Where do we draw the line? How do we expose rapists without putting victims under unwanted scrutiny? Who has the right?
I think that all of these are more than just interesting questions: they’re important questions. What about more generalized Facebook pages created by womens’ groups on college campuses, where women who want to name their rapists can do so and be provided with support? Any other suggestions? What is your take on this case?