Dilemmas facing #MeToo: Anonymity is necessary

Author: 
Florencia Goldsman
Photo credit: GGAADD

Why do women still have to file reports of violence anonymously? Because we are talking about things that no one ever imagined. Why do we choose to do it over social media platforms? Because (for now) they remain the most accessible bridge to a large number of people. How can confidentiality be preserved at a time when there is an urgent need to publicly shame aggressors? Find out in this article!

We're doing what no one ever thought was going to happen. We are sharing with each other our most brutal experiences. And we are believing each other. Now it is others who are under scrutiny, who are being talked about. We tell each other the most disgusting secrets and bring them to light so that everyone will know what kind of human beings we have been dealing with.

And we are writing this article because, when accusations are made public, intrusive questions are asked about our real or fake identities on the internet. People start demanding that we use our real identities, our given names and surnames as they appear on our documents; over and over again this is demanded of us. We know that reports of sexual violence are far from dying down, and the internet, its commercial social media platforms, are the public squares chosen to go public with cases and demand justice.

Many of the questions that are asked are actually counter-attacks and criticisms of phenomena like #MeToo, especially after the cases raised by #MeTooPeriodistasMexicanos (MeTooMexicanWomenJournalists) and #MeToomx (MeTooMexico), which began on March 24, when women journalists in Mexico spoke out on social media against harassment, abuse and violence, and the movement grew to include women from all walks of life denouncing cases of sexual violence.

The #MeToo movement has also spread in Costa Rica, where former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias is facing accusations of sexual abuse from three women, one of whom has formally filed charges against him. In El Salvador, #YoLesCreoAmorales (IBelieveYouAmorales) issued a call to support the Amorales Theatre group, which has accused a University of El Salvador theatre professor of sexually harassing female students. In retaliation, the theatre group is facing legal charges for slander. In Guatemala, #MeTooMuni is accusing the director of the municipal youth orchestra of being a serial rapist.

When the feminist wave brings visibility to accusations that continue to emerge, the resulting networks of solidarity and media coverage also spark a backlash of hatred. The angry responses, from people who often feign outrage, are aimed at discrediting the survivors of abuse who speak out. The strategies used to discredit them include demanding that they show their “credentials” and provide paperwork and documentation, as if they are applying for a licence to raise their voices.

"Anyone who has worked with women survivors of violence knows that anonymity is critical to their healing and survival. Privacy allows survivors to live without the constant fear that their abuser is always lurking somewhere, watching them. It enables them to seek help and have access to justice, to rebuild their lives," Anna explained a few years ago on her FWD blog.

Assertions such as the above are fundamental in the online battles in which questions about confidentiality and anonymity sound more like reproaches than a search for strategies to help protect survivors. Questions that blame women abound. In the case of rape: "Did she file a police report before going public with it?" In the case of femicide: "Why did she stay with him if he was violent?" Leading questions, stereotypes that continue to blame the victims – even when we are dead.

In order to understand a little better and build sound responses to the attacks, we have to see that, as the organisation Luchadoras says, "being able to talk about the violence is not easy; recognising yourself as a subject of abuse and naming the aggressor is an act of liberation and courage." Alex Argüelles states in an insightful column for Derechos Digitales that "there is a parallel line of argument that criticises the way these public accusations have arisen – in an organic, leaderless, chaotic way, and with all the validity of the painful weariness that gives rise to these denunciations – and that alleges that anonymity is nothing more than a tool that allows for slander, smears and false accusations."

This line of argument that also arose parallel to the #MeToo, #MyFirstHarassment and #IBelieveYou campaigns sees these movements as negative or raises a cry of indignation. It seems to fail to understand that a large proportion of women do not have the means, resources or possibilities to access the so-called "correct way to report violence."

People who argue that in order to believe women and girls who have been raped, they must first go through the justice system, do not take into account the fact that in countries like Mexico there was an 85% increase in reports of rape compared to the same month in 2018. Guatemala records 16 reports of rape per day in a context where 97% of common crimes go unpunished, and in El Salvador, the press reported that sexual crimes increased by more than 5,100 cases in three years. Justice systems are completely overloaded and impunity is at its highest levels.

It is in these contexts where, at best, anonymity is a shield of protection against those who seek to identify victims in order to silence them. Above all in online platforms, often used as "public private diaries" where people reveal personal aspects of their lives, which are transformed into bridges/interfaces that allow these conversations to be connected and nurtured without risking the integrity (or safety) of those who find the support that enables them to speak out about their own plight.

 

We say "yes" to anonymity

Let's return here to the main points: being able to report abuse with the assurance of confidentiality is indispensable in a social context marked by a dynamic of inequality, with a history in which women's voices have been relegated to the back seat.

Along the same lines, talking about their own lives on the internet for those who are confronting violence, racism, sexism or harassment in the workplace, and who know they are being watched, is equivalent to submitting to self-censorship or risking their jobs or running the risk of being attacked in their own homes (in cases of doxxing: when private or identifying information about someone is published on the internet).

Anonymity protects us in the face of judicial systems which, even after subjecting us to the so-called "correct way to report violence", do not believe our evidence, the arguments we present, or our own stories.

Anonymity goes hand in hand with the recovery of the concept of privacy. We should ask ourselves: in this world of digital narcissism, does it make sense to talk about privacy? Argentine researcher Laura Siri says that today privacy does matter because of the social function it fulfills in helping to make freedom and democracy possible.

As a tool to discuss the issue, Siri refers to the book "Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy and the Integrity of Social Life" by Helen Nissenbaum, which helps us understand fundamental concepts related to privacy:

  • Individuality: because the opportunity for satisfying, creative and healthy personal development depends largely on the possibility of experimenting without the fear of disapproval, censorship or ridicule and without the pressure of having to constantly conform to conventional norms.

  • Autonomy: privacy is a way to maintain autonomy with respect to certain information that a person believes should not be disclosed to third parties.

  • Social relations: autonomy over the elements that make up one's private life allows people to voluntarily reveal to certain people and in certain contexts the personal information that they consider opportune, useful and necessary.

  • Political participation: privacy is an essential component of any legitimate social and political system. It is fundamental to other rights, such as freedom of association and freedom of speech.

We invite you to think about these points in relation to our movements that speak out against violence. Individuality, autonomy, social relations and political participation are the roots of our movement.

That's why questioning anonymity is a ploy used by people who feel they are being accused. Anonymity, concepts linked to privacy and the need to preserve confidentiality are our lifelines in a time that is reactionary, both online and in the streets.

Reports of violence will continue to arise, as sure as the tide in the sea. Let's jump into the water, prepare for the tidal wave and protect our identities always. Anonymity is as vital as managing to get your head above the water to be able to breathe.

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