Outing a Rapist

You never know what to expect entering a school bathroom, but one of the last things I expected was to be told that my school had a rapist.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and an estimated 350 women per college campus of 10,000 students are victims of sexual assault each year. But there it was, a glaring reminder that rape is a part of college life. Attached to the trashcan for sanitary products was a sticker reading “USC Has A Rapist,” along with a Tumblr URL. A little startled, I took a picture with my phone before heading to class.

When I looked up the Tumblr on my laptop, I found Tucker Reed’s blog, “Covered in Band-Aids.” Reed is a University of Southern California alumna, comic-book lover and a woman who has outed her rapist. In February, she posted his full name and picture (alongside her own) on her Tumblr, as well as details of her rape.

The ethics of outing your rapist are murky, and those who have spoken up have often been silenced. In 2010, Chloe Rubenstein posted a note to her Facebook page naming two American University students as rapists and warning her friends to “stay away at all costs.” She removed her Facebook note a few days later and wrote that she was deleting it for legal reasons, ending her message with “No Fear. No Secrets. 2010.”

When she was 16 years old, Kentucky high school student Savannah Dietrich was sexually assaulted by two boys while she was passed out. After she took them to court, a judge said she was not allowed to talk about her assault or she would risk 180 days in prison and a $500 fine. Dietrich refused to comply with the judge’s order and tweeted out their names, saying “I’m not protecting anyone who made my life a living Hell.” She says she is glad she stood up for herself, and that she’ll never take the tweets down.

Then there’s University of North Carolina sophomore Landen Gambill, who, after speaking to the media about her complaint to the U.S. Department of Education regarding university treatment of her sexual assault, was told by UNC’s Honor Court that she could be expelled for “disruptive or intimidating behavior” towards another student (aka her rapist). And guess what? She had never even said his name.

Tucker Reed’s situation was complicated by the fact that her rapist was her boyfriend of two years. At first she tried to make sense of things, convincing herself that maybe he “loved [her] so much that he had to have [her],” but ultimately realizing that what she’d experienced was rape. She felt alone, Googling “dating your rapist” and coming up with no answers or advice. Now that she’s shared her story online, she says she gets daily messages from women and girls who’ve read her blog and “realized what happened to [her] happened to them.”

Reed is not the first woman to name her rapist in a public forum, and she’s also not the first to experience the backlash. “It was disappointing to see some people I had considered friends take sides,” she said. “I had one girl message me saying something like, ‘Look, we both know what really happened, Tucker. There’s a big difference between sex you regret and rape.’ I’d hung out with this girl, watched movies at her apartment. She was a self-identified feminist.”

The discussion on outing your rapist is a divisive one, but Reed has no regrets. In fact, she has strong words for those who believe she acted unethically: “The only ethical duty anyone had here to begin [with] was not to rape someone, and my attacker blew that. I would argue that my ethical obligation is to other women—to identify this individual for what he is.”

Feminist activist Jessica Valenti believes that speaking up about rape can be “straight up heroic.” As she wrote in The Nation, “Making the world more uncomfortable for rapists—letting them know that there will be consequences that include public shaming—is something I’m entirely at ease with.” Feminist writer Jill Filipovic agrees, saying that remaining silent “muzzles” rape victims by putting “[their] narrative in the hands of someone who presumably knows better.” In 2010, feminist writer Germaine Greer made loud and clear her wish for an “online rapists’ register” and suggested that sexual bullies should be ordered to wear “a t-shirt with the word rapist on it” as a community service.

Reed and her supporters (members of a sexual assault support and awareness group at USC)  have submitted a letter to the university requesting changes to the Student Conduct Code. They believe that the current wording on sexual misconduct contributes to decisions that ultimately lead to lenient consequences for students guilty of rape. Currently, despite having confessions from her rapist that she surreptitiously taped, Reed says she has been unable to press charges through USC’s Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards.

Like others before her, Reed is “using her full name and attaching her accusations to her own face and reputation,” and she wants other rape victims to remember that they are not the ones at fault. “You don’t owe the boy who hurt you a single thing,” she said.  “You don’t owe him silence. If you feel you want the world to recognize that what happened to you was wrong, don’t let anyone try to talk you out of standing up and speaking out.”

Readers, what do you think about outing rapists?

Photo by Malia Schilling