Accusations of sexual violence were lobbed at a musician this week, and for once, it wasn't Chris Brown. It was the sensitive, guitar-playing king of "emo," Conor Oberst (cue my 15-year-old self crying out in anguish). On an XOJane "It Happened to Me" article about what it's like to date an abusive rock star, an anonymous commenter said she was raped when she was 16 by a twentysomething musician that she was a fan of and no one believed her — not even her own mother. The commenter later revealed the musician to be Conor Oberst.
The comments have since been deleted, but they've been reposted in several places on Tumblr. Oberst's publicist has made a public response denying the allegations and threatening to sue for libel. Sides have been taken across the Internet, but the discussion of whether or not the rape actually happened is ultimately unproductive. There's no way we'll ever be able to know. But the incident does bring up some important points about dealing with accusations of rape in the digital age, and from the responses around the Internet, it's clear that there's a lot to be learned here.
Victim Blaming Has Serious Consequences
The author says that no one around her believed her, not even her own mother. True or not, that statement alone is enough to cause alarm. It seems that many of the people around this woman believed that she was the cause of her own rape, that because she was a fan of Oberst's music she must have wanted it. As a result, she never went to the police, never got help when she could've seriously used it. Now it's too late for her to do so.
Good, Talented People Are Capable of Doing Bad Things
The reaction from many Bright Eyes fans has been one of denial and disbelief. After all, how could such a sensitive artist do such a terrible thing? This kind of good/bad dichotomy hurts both the accused and the accuser. Just because Oberst is in touch with his emotions and makes music that affects people doesn't mean he's incapable of doing bad things. People can surprise you, in good and bad ways, but they can also be regretful and change.
False Accusations Hurt Actual Victims
False accusations are much fewer than Men's Rights activists would have us believe, but they do occasionally happen, and they're extremely harmful. This accusation can't be declared a false accusation, since it can never be proven true or false, but false accusations do perpetuate the myth that rape victims are lying about their experiences.
The Internet is a Treacherous Place
This one is already pretty obvious to most people, but it's especially true in the case of a rape accusation (just take a look at any Men's Rights online community). This woman has already essentially retracted her statements, and since she posted them anonymously online, there's no way we'll ever be sure if she was even a real person in the first place. But her accusations have already bounced around the Internet, eliciting harmful opinions from both sides. Which leads us to...
Express Yourself in a Safe Space
Hopefully, this woman's admission eased her pain. But more likely, being the source of an Internet witch hunt only caused her further pain. XOJane is a great website, but the comments section is probably not the safest space for rape victims to be heard. There's a host of online resources and communities, like RAINN, where rape victims can get help and counseling.