Reddit’s leadership is drawing a lot of fire for claiming to take their harassment problem seriously, even though they’ve moved toward protecting some of the uglier and more hateful content on the site. Under the circumstances, it can be hard to keep in mind that much of Reddit—as explained by Tamar Hiram Arisohn on Slate—is actually devoted to normal people having decent conversations about interesting stuff. One such forum is /r/TwoXChromosomes, where regular women can reach out to a feminist-minded community for discussion, support, and advice about personal and political issues.
One recent thread, for instance, was started under the headline “I like kissing again! (Kissed a guy for the first time since being sexually assaulted, and I feel damn near invincible).” In it, a sexual assault survivor explains how she was “messed up” for about a year after being “sexually assaulted at a party,” unable to kiss anyone, and having panic attacks. But recently she “hit it off with a cute guy” at a dinner party and, after talking for an hour or so, she “leaned in and kissed him.”
“I had a semi-romantic interaction with a guy, and he was in my personal space bubble, and he held my hand, and I genuinely enjoyed it,” she adds. “I didn’t feel anxious or broken or afraid.”
Underneath, the entire thread is largely support and encouragement, with other survivors—and their spouses or friends—explaining that recovery isn’t just possible, but manageable. People tell their own stories and share tips about how to have sexual interaction without pushing any of a survivor’s buttons. Despite the ample media and political attention on sexual assault these days, there’s not a whole lot of discourse about the surviving part of being a survivor—the part where you piece your life back together and start regaining the happiness and control that your attacker tried to take away from you. Unfortunately, the prevalence of rape denialists and skeptics means that most of the discourse is still focused on the trauma of sexual assault. This focus might send the signal that rape victims will never have a normal life, and that’s both inaccurate and dangerous.
That context is part of the reason why this post was such a breath of fresh air, even if Reddit’s well-known underbelly of trolls soon appeared to do their worst. “That guy could rape you at any time. He may choose not to, but he could,” one troll remarked. “Wow! congratulations. No one gives a shit,” another sneered.
The trolls are in the minority, but they illustrate the problems Reddit is up against. On one hand, Reddit is a place where smart people can advance the discourse about sexual assault and other important issues. But they risk being drowned out or put off by the site’s ongoing tolerance for trolls and haters. For its own good, Reddit needs to get faster and smarter about hitting the trolls with the ban-hammer. Otherwise, those important conversations are going to move somewhere else.