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The Penis Threat

Twitter this week has been living up to its terrible reputation. In addition to all things political, there’s been a lot of penis waving. Actually, there’s always a lot of penis waving on twitter.

This ought to be alarming to anyone reading it. But Heather is sort of like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Sadly, Heather works at Southwest.

Twitter being Twitter and all, this is the perfect moment to decide that @ShariatPR is the problem. There is no shortage of people to call her a liar or to intimate she is one. Which I find troubling.

There will always be people who question the validity of a claim. After all, it is only a claim and this is the internet. What I find troubling is that no one appears to be noticing that Southwest has yet to respond with any level of alarm.

I find it doubly horrifying that Southwest’s representative on Twitter is a woman (or possibly a bot with a woman’s name).

I understand that there are people who cry wolf. I understand that we are human and prone to exaggeration. I also know that the majority of sexual assaults will never be reported. An astounding 63%. The reasons for that? Shame? Harassment of victims? Stigma? The fact that these crimes happen most often without witnesses? Tiring of being called a liar?

Twitter is not the place for civil discourse

Research shows false reporting for sex crimes at rates between 2 and 7%. Included in many of those cases are victims who decide not to cooperate with investigators, delayed reporting, or inability to identify a suspect. The false reporting of sex crimes is not remarkably different than the false reporting of other crimes in the US. The major difference between the victim of a sex crime and the victim of any other is the way they are treated. 

Sexual assault victims are routinely harassed, blamed, or questioned about their role in the crime. In no other setting is the victim routinely queried about their consent. Some of this is obviously necessary. As we now know the greatest danger isn’t limited to strangers. Danger begins with grooming and coercion.

The statistics around sexual violence are astounding. It is safe to assume that no one you know is untouched by it. Either they’ve been prey or close to someone who has been. It feels inescapable, which is likely why so many of us are loathe to read about it.

But sexual violence begins in subtle ways. We’re now aware that we don’t teach our girls that boys who hit them just have crushes. Many of us stopped teaching our children of either gender to allow themselves to be touched, as young as toddlerhood. We don’t make them hug and kiss anyone, not even Granny. We arm our children with ownership of their bodies.

And then young men get mad and say, “Suck my dick.”


Or, “Shut your cocksucker.”

No, again.

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I understand why Heather at Southwest didn’t respond to a tweet that would have made other people sound the alarms. It’s because we have embraced abuse at every level beginning with threats that are just jokes, dismissing violence as the norm for boys who are just being boys, and then asking women why they didn’t fend things off better. Heather has absorbed the messages we’ve sent her.

I won’t even go into what we’ve accepted for kids who are not gender conforming. There’s an extra layer of cruelty that most of us will never understand.

That @ShariatPR didn’t behave the way you believe you would isn’t the problem. The problem is that her behavior is questioned before, “Are you going to be okay?” is asked. The problem is that her behavior is questioned before any attempt to care for her is made.

People don’t know how they’ll behave in awkward situations any more than they know how they’ll behave in frightening ones. People freeze. People get loud. People get quiet and retreat. People who experience trauma many times over have reactions to frightening events that baffle the rest of the world.

From The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR):

It is normal for victims to freeze and be unable to physically fend off their abuser.

When faced with imminent threat or danger, most humans will freeze as opposed to fighting or fleeing. This hard-wired, biological response is an automatic impulse that is seen in many other species. The brain instruct parts of the body to literally “shut down” in order to improve the odds of surviving a dangerous traumatic situation.

No victim—whether a teenager, adult, male or female—should have their instinctive response to being sexually assaulted called in to question. No victim should be expected to prevent or interrupt their abuse. The fault for abuse lies squarely on the abuser.

Even if you look at an event like the one that unfolded on Twitter this week and privately doubt the victim, I would ask you to look at the knee-jerk reactions to her. Who would subject themselves to that willingly? If your voice is one that looks to silence and mock her, understand that you’re silencing 30 other people who read your words, internalized them, and will decide to not report a crime one day.

That’s how the next crop of victims is made available.