Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Lynn Chancer

Committee Members

Jessie Daniels

Walter DeKeseredy

Jayne Mooney

Subject Categories

Communication Technology and New Media | Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Gender and Sexuality | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Social Media

Keywords

Digital media, ethics, sexual violence, Steubenville, youth

Abstract

This dissertation examines the growing phenomenon of using digital media technologies to capture and perpetuate sexual abuse. Focusing on instances of high-profile juvenile sexual assault, I use case studies, interviews, focus groups, and thematic media analysis to investigate (a) how crime, gender, status and technology intersect for young people growing up digital, and (b) the ways technology intersections with sexual abuse to create new forms of crime, new ways to victimize and perpetuate harm, as well as new opportunities to investigate and address sexual violence both through the criminal justice system and in the public. I argue that young people recording and disseminating sexual assault through social media is normal, rather than deviant behavior, and needs to be understood in the context of performing hetero-masculinity, rape culture, and shifting disclosure norms and ethics resulting from social media logics and the attention economies in which they are situated.

My research also details the contradictory potential of social media for sexual assault survivors and offenders, as well as institutional responses to sexual violence. The digital trail enables new opportunities for investigating and prosecuting sex crimes through formal legal channels, although challenges resulting from the law’s inability to keep with technological change and the various harms perpetuated through these platforms risk compromising this potential and contributing to more punitive responses in cases of juvenile sexual assault. For young survivors, too, digital media’s utility is context-specific, often amplifying their suffering and future victimization, particularly considering the law’s inability to account for the gendered nature of harm perpetuated through these platforms. At the same time, social media present some survivors and advocates with new opportunities to seek justice through extralegal avenues, as well as engender cultural shifts in discourses and solutions to sexual violence and image-based sexual abuse.

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