Every so often, a serious matter comes up that I just can’t let go. It happened this week. This issue struck me because of my 14-year old daughter who I adore, respect and cheer for – she is, under Dad’s watchful eye, using social media. This is a blog post about a horrible injustice, and how carelessness or impulsiveness on the Internet can really damage a person.
This week a petition hit my inbox from a young woman who just separated from the US Marines. Her cause motivated me to sign – but I always research before signing something. Upon some investigation, I saw that her message made the rounds to many blogsites over the last couple days. I saw her public relations campaign via her new Twitter account (more on the old one below). Here is the gist of it: Service members who are found guilty of rape and sexual assault should be discharged (not honorably) and identified in a database the same way as other sexual offenders. Currently, they aren’t.
My first reaction was: “You mean they’re not! Of course they should be! Let’s close the loophole.” So I went to Google – just Google, nothing else – to see what information in the public domain could verify that this was a legitimate petition. I learned that the woman who is circulating this petition has joined with seven other female Marines or ex-Marines in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. military and government officials that is intended to deal with institutional problems of sexual assault in our Armed Forces.
In the course my research, I also saw… oops, I mean learned more of this former Marine than she probably wants people to see… whoops, I mean, know. The profile picture of her old Twitter account was apparently posted back when she was less careful than she is now – per the dates and contents of her tweets, she was on active duty and on a military installation when the photo was taken. She was clad (scantily), but I can imagine the evil thoughts the photo may have stirred up in the minds of fellow Marines. Or, what hostile lawyers would say about her “inviting” trouble.
I contacted the woman and we communicated privately. I told her that I signed her petition – and I also advised her that she needs to do something about her old photo. She later told me that she contacted someone at Twitter who advised her to fax a copy of her driver’s license to them in order for the photo to be removed. That’s scary – that you can’t remove an old and potentially damaging photo of yourself from the Web on your own. But we all have been warned that once you post something to the Web, or send an e-mail, it’s going to exist in cyberspace for a long, long time. Four days later, the photo is still out there. Let’s assume the woman acted quickly. Then Twitter is not.
Reading the details of the lawsuit, and watching the coverage this case received on NBC’s Today show in March (featuring two of the woman’s co-defendents but not she herself), I believe that her cause deserves my support. Rapists are cowards, and men who use their physical strength and/or professional authority in these ways need to be exposed and punished. They are the antithesis of what the USMC and our Armed Forces is supposed to stand for. Our wives, sons and daughters deserve protection from these perpetrators. Anyone who is found to have played a role in helping to minimize or cover up the problem should also be punished severely – if Penn State football concerns us, a national institution such as the USMC should concern us even more.
If I shared a little of what I learned about the woman whose petition I signed just by “Googling” her issue for an hour this week, I’d really get my point across. It would also be too creepy. It’ll suffice to say that I learned details that I’m pretty sure she never intended me to know, and that I’d wager she doesn’t want broadcast these days, given the legal cause she’s tied herself to. Just imagine if I bore her any malice! (and I don’t)
One hour on Google. I broke no laws, and paid no money. If you’re a kid using social media, you ought to be scared. If you’re a parent, you need to sit down with your kid. The online trails many of us leave behind are just too personal.
In fairness, I should also say that I saw something very moving in that hour of Google research. I saw this same young woman’s correspondence to another military member who was sexually assaulted while on active duty. I saw a heart full of compassion, able to share hurts and encourage another human being in deep and meaningful ways. I saw her emerging maturity. That is the main impression of her that I’d like to carry forward. I’m afraid, though, that those who will take the other side of the legal argument in her quest to right a wrong, may use the Internet breadcrumbs of a younger, less careful girl to create a different picture.