When Sharing Becomes Exploitive

Lately I have begun to notice what I find to be a disturbing trend. I know it is not a new one but I find it objectionable nonetheless. People are sharing stories that are not their own; horrible, graphic, and terrifying stories of sexual assault and violence. Sometimes there are pictures or videos involved where the survivor’s identity is not being protected and his or her story is not being honored. I have seen several posts and articles where a video is posted and the author of the piece says something like “I could barely make it through ___ minutes.” My question is why are you watching at all? Videos and photos do not need to be shared in order to point out that something terrible happened.

This feels exploitive to me. It feels wrong.

I was in an abusive relationship for many, many years. After it ended I saw him about a year later. He assaulted me. If someone had caught it on tape and shared it with the world, without my knowledge, or permission, before I was ready to share my story I would feel violated. Once it is out there you cannot take it back. You may think that you are helping by sharing their story and attempting to shine a light onto a terrible injustice, but you’re not. By sharing another person’s story, especially one of violence, you could be just another person taking away their voice. You are disempowering them by telling them how they should be feeling, what they should be thinking, and how they should be reacting. It was a long time before I could name what happened to me and the process of sharing has barely started. Healing is a process. Part of that process is recognizing what happened to you and giving it a name on your own.

A survivor is the sole owner of his or her story. They should be the ones to tell it, in their own time, and with whomever they want. If they want to share it with a broader audience then so be it. But it needs to be their choice. A story of violence is a terrible thing but once someone has experienced it, it is a part of their life. It is sacred. If someone is not ready to identify as a survivor outing them will do so much damage. You may be rallying people for a cause but in the process you’ve destroyed the person you are supposedly fighting for. To me this is not worth it.

So be careful when you tell someone else’s story. Ask yourself why you are sharing it. Is it for the benefit of the survivor, or for you? Are you protecting this person? If not please think twice about posting or sharing. Think about the way you are doing so. Is it to honor them and bring light to injustice or for sensationalism and a boost in your ratings? Using the words “trigger warning” at the beginning of your post does not give you the right to exploit another person.

If this post makes you feel defensive or chastised please take a good look at what you’ve been posting. Ask yourself if you too have been exploiting the survivor for a story. If you have, then stop. Fighting against rape culture and the oppression of women is important. But we cannot do so by stepping on the souls of each other. We need to be careful, especially with blogging where the only people to hold us accountable for what we post are each other.

For a website that does a great job of honoring survivors and giving them a space to share their stories check out And It Was Wrong.

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One thought on “When Sharing Becomes Exploitive

  1. jennpower says:

    Couldn’t agree more. When other people tell your story, it’s told from the perspective of an outsider- they can’t know what you’ve gone through because you’re the one who went through it. Every experience is different, and every individual should be allowed to decide for themselves how much they disclose and to whom about their life.

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