Blogging for Jane Doe
on December 5, 2009
News of the brutal Oct. 24 rape at Richmond High School stunned people nationally and internationally, as one Marin resident saw firsthand when she began an online group for the victim. Hannah Kenny’s Facebook group, called “Support the Richmond High School gang rape survivor,” drew messages of support from across the world. Kenny started the group just days after the crime.
“When I read the first article in the San Francisco Chronicle I was heartsick about it,” said Kenny, a 35-year-old graduate student. She posted information about where to donate to the victim on her personal Facebook page, and quickly realized that a public group would reach more potential donors.
Kenny said her motivation for starting the group was to encourage enough donations to allow the victim to move out of Richmond, if that was what she and her family wanted.
“I wanted to give them a choice,” Kenny said.
Kenny said she didn’t expect the outpouring of emotional responses that flooded the discussion board. The group that began as Kenny’s Facebook friends burgeoned to 4,000 members in less than a week. It became “a way to prompt the general public to not just sit there and read these stories but to do something,” Kenny said.
In particular, the discussion board became a place for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories and reassure the Richmond High victim that she too would survive the difficult aftermath of a vicious crime.
Kenny recalled a post from a woman who took refuge in Canada after she was raped by multiple assailants in her war-torn home country. In another post, a Salvadoran man, now 41, revealed that he was sexually assaulted by more than one assailant in his teenage years because he is gay.
“Please be strong, acknowledge the sadness and pain that goes along with this tragedy, don’t let yourself ‘stayed victimized’ by this one horrible life experience,” he wrote to the victim.
Quickly, the comments became too numerous for Kenny to moderate and the discussion began to veer into criticisms of the bystanders who witnessed the rape and failed to report it.
“I was posting to the board saying please, talk about why bystanders were bystanders, but don’t talk about it here,” Kenny said. But her interventions failed to deter off-topic comments, and she shut the group down 12 days after it began.
The same day, she started an easier-to-moderate blog called “Support the Richmond rape survivor,” which has attracted 2,000 visitors since she launched it Nov. 9, Kenny said.
Kenny said she began the online discussions because sexual assault is a widespread problem that has touched her life.
“I’m not a survivor,” Kenny said, adding that she prefers the term survivor to victim. “But I know a lot of women and a couple of men who are, and I don’t think I am unique in that.”
Kenny said silence about sexual assaults makes it appear that rape affects only certain socioeconomic groups, or only “other” people. The blog, she said, helps make rape visible as a crime that affects everyone.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a community to step forward,” Kenny said. “Don’t just be horrified, take action.”
Thinking of the bystanders to the sexual assault is part of what compels Kenny continue with the blog. She said it wasn’t an option to read about the crime and not act. “Or I may as well have just been standing there that night,” she said.
“Support the Richmond rape survivor” continues to accept messages for the teenage girl and offers contact information for donations to her family.
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