People are saying stupid shit about Amanda Berry.
Burnett’s concerned astonishment was charitable compared to what the lowest form of opinion generators – Internet commenters – had to say about Berry’s newly reignited social life. “It’s just odd given the years of abuse she suffered. Normally she would not have that kind of trust or comfort. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense,” wrote one concerned ABC News commenter, while another more bluntly decided, “It seems to me she was enjoying it and is gonna use her ordeal to cash in.” Many were concerned that she appeared with a man who stood behind her and warmly put his arm around her and kissed her neck while she was onstage. Or, as some of the ABC commenters decided, he was a “dirt bag hanging all over her,” who “groped” and “pawed” her. A CBS News commenter more generously decided she looked “pretty hot.” And 645 comments later on NBC, Berry had plenty of well-wishers but also comments about her eyebrow piercing, and how she doesn’t look like “a real victim….lol.” And of course, if you want to plumb the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s YouTube, where Berry is being accused of “milking everything she’s getting.”
I think it would be interesting (if nauseating) to press these commenters on what exactly they’re implying about her. If she doesn’t look like a “real victim,” does that mean she wanted to be locked up in Ariel Castro’s house for ten years? Do you think she enjoyed what he did to her?
Does she need to justify going outside, looking cute and having a good time, now that she and her daughter are free and reunited with her family? Let’s not forget that Amanda Berry has a small daughter. When moms are happy and healthy, their kids are better off.
This is sort of a digression, but I’d also like to say that if Amanda, Gina and/or Michelle decide to make a living on book deals and TV appearances about their ordeal, that would be totally fine. Amanda and Gina were just teenagers when Ariel Castro locked them up, and Michelle Knight was a little older but also leading a very difficult, troubled life. They didn’t get a chance to go to college or build up work experience while they were Castro’s prisoners. I don’t think they have much to put on resumes after spending a decade as sex slaves. Their captivity has undermined their chances to make a living in the usual ways, so if the news media want to throw money at them, those young women are doing nothing wrong by cashing in.
That out of the way. The scary thing about this victim-policing is that it’s just a point on a continuum. I’m sure most people would agree that it’s appalling to imply that Amanda Berry isn’t “really” a victim of kidnapping and sexual abuse, but this is the sort of scum that sinks to the bottom of a culture that thinks we can define a crime by its victim’s behavior. We’re always telling rape survivors how they’re expected to behave as “proper” victims. Oh, she wasn’t really raped, she went shopping, she went out for beers with her friends, she did this, she did that, she seems too happy, she must be lying. That road leads to trolling women who survived years of captivity and abuse.
Rape victims respond to their trauma in all sorts of ways. The survivors of even the most profound horrors are entitled to get on with their lives.