Newsweek explores the changing dynamics of life after a sexual assault in the age of social media. As social media has become enmeshed in the lives of young people—and a fair number of not-so-young people—so has the widespread sharing of information about specific sexual assaults, especially video and photos. In recent years, a half-dozen high-profile sexual-assault cases have centered around photos or video of the crime that were shared on social media.
Social media can offer victims a path to legal relief by, in effect, creating more witnesses. But there is a wrenching Catch-22 at the core of these cases. For decades, the challenge facing anti-rape activists was to take what is often an intensely private crime—54 percent of sexual assaults are estimated to go unreported—and bring it to national attention as a pervasive crisis. Now that cases regularly crop up in which photos and videos of sexual assaults are circulated on social media, it's becoming harder to argue that rape is anything but a public scourge. Yet the increased attention on social media often has tragic consequences for victims.