Sexism behind tacit acceptance of website promoting rape culture

A Slut Walk protest in Sydney in 2011.
Thursday, August 18, 2016

A week after Green Left Weekly reported on the Brighton Grammar scandal, it has been revealed that this is just the tip of the iceberg: a large-scale child pornography ring is being run by boys and young men at high schools across Australia.

More than 70 Australian schools have been implicated in the group, which has posted more than 2000 graphic sexual images of female students and other non-consenting women on a website to be traded like base-ball cards.

The young men on the site post “wanted lists” with the full name and school or region of specific girls and encourage others in the group to “hunt” their victims, sometimes offering a “bounty” for whoever snaps the pictures.

Other members of the group “contribute” by posting personal details to help in the stalking, such as her full name, face, school, home address and phone number.

Nude pictures of the girls are dubbed “wins” and they are offered in exchange for money or a trade in photos.

The website has been live since last December, but some posters claim to have been “hunting” for pictures of specific girls for several years.

The site has at least 55 threads, organised by regions, from Ryde in Sydney to regional towns such as Orange and Cessnock.

Some pictures are of unaware girls in sexual situations, nude or wearing their school uniform. Other images are of graphic close-ups.

Many girls, on learning of their pictures being traded on the site, have begged the site administrators to get them removed. Mostly, their requests have fallen on deaf ears. They are mocked, or the men respond by requesting the group find and upload even more images of the victim.

One young woman, who took to the site to plead for images of her friend to be taken down, had her own name added to the “wanted” list as punishment.

When another young woman said some victims might be suicidal, she was told that “sluts” deserve to have their pictures shared and that their images belong “to the internet”.

The group uses a code, combining numbers and other characters, which means that most of the targets, their parents and schools do not even know that they are on the site, or can not find the posts of their pictures.

In total, the site mentions 28 high schools in NSW, 18 in Queensland, 15 in Victoria, five in the ACT, two in South Australia and two in Tasmania.

Victim-blaming rife

One of the schools listed is Elizabeth Macarthur High School, an academically selective and community high school in Narellan Vale.

Sarah, a parent of an Elizabeth Macarthur High School student, told Green Left Weekly: “I find it utterly repulsive that my teenage daughter could be attacked in this way.

“Could you imagine going to school every day knowing that everyone has seen these explicit pictures of you and having to see the boys who took them and shared them around?

“I would say that most of the students at the school would know someone who something like this has happened to.

“Not only are the boys not being held to account, the victim-blaming is rife.

“I've even heard other parents qualify the boys' behaviour and blame the victims, saying things like, 'Why was she wearing that dress?', or 'She's the one who drank that night'.

“Perhaps so, but she wasn't the one who spread those graphic photos of her across Australia. Can we talk about that instead?

“School should be a safe place that empowers students, but these girls are being let down by the system which doesn't want to take sexual assault seriously.”

Sarah said that, so far, the school had not done enough to hold the students involved in the website accountable and that she has seen more incidents like this.

“Especially concerning is that the very institution responsible for nurturing my daughter, could tacitly condone this reprehensible behaviour.

“Lip service is not good enough. The school should implement a zero tolerance policy for this type of behaviour.

“The consequences need to be swift and severe to teach these boys that women are not objects to be abused. The school should immediately suspend anyone found with the photos in their possession.

“In the past, the school has refused to move students who harass other students out of their classes. I'm concerned this will happen again.

“Students need proper counselling services. The counsellor is overworked and undertrained and there is no safe space for girls to go, or policies in place to protect them.”

While the site has been reported to police many times, the authorities have said they are unable to act because the site is hosted overseas in what may be a “bulletproof ISP location” — a jurisdiction out of Australia's control.

This is a gut-wrenching outcome for the thousands of girls whose photos are still on the site. Furthermore, the silence from the schools and parents of the boys is deafening.

Justice needed

For the thousands of girls exploited by this group, it is painfully clear that justice is far from view.

The corporate media coverage of the Brighton Grammar “Young Sluts” Instagram account scandal, among others, has been met with a sadistic response on the site. One man on the group, who identified himself as a former Brighton Grammar student, posted that he found the media focus around the exploitation of primary school girls hilariously entertaining.

It tells us that this site has nothing to do with healthy curiosity of sex and bodies and everything to do with the deliberate violation and humiliation of girls and women.

This whole operation can only be described as group training for the next generation of rapists and stalkers, who are now more connected, organised and unified.

Importantly, this group has formed in an age when sexual imagery is in abundance and free, and consensual adult pornography is more accessible than ever. It is also a time when, in the absence of a strong women's rights movement, there is much confusion about feminism.

Across Australia, school girls are being reduced to objects without rights or autonomy, able to be ordered, bartered for, traded and shared without consent. They walk to school with a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach and their heads down.

The boys swan around as heroes. Their lack of empathy for these school girls indicates exactly what the boys are excited by — having power over girls and the clear lack of consent.

That knowledge should do two things: horrify all of us and inspire us to change the world — for girls and boys.

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