By Emily Esworthy, WeWillSpeakOut.US

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his week, actress and March Madness fan Ashley Judd posted a spirited 140 characters on Twitter about a college basketball game. She did not expect the disturbing response she would get from the Twitterverse. She describes it in an op-ed on Mic.com:

“I read in vivid language the various ways, humiliating and violent, in which my genitals, vaginal and anal, should be violated, shamed, exploited and dominated. Either the writer was going to do these things to me, or they were what I deserved. My intellect was insulted: I was called stupid, an idiot. My age, appearance and body were attacked. Even my family was thrown into the mix: Someone wrote that my “grandmother is creepy.””

Though terrible, this kind of response is not uncommon or even surprising. It’s happened before (foul language warning), and it will continue to happen until we make a concerted effort to change our society from deep within. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

In the internet age, it’s safe to say the fingers type what the heart is full of. This incident, and the many others like it, is proof that a truly scary number of people in our society harbor deep hatred, resentment, and/or disrespect for women.

Don’t like a woman’s stance on sports? Tell her she deserves to be raped.

Think a woman is physically unattractive? Tell her she’s not even worthy of being raped.

And so on.

I truly can’t understand the logic behind these hateful responses, but they accomplish exactly what they want to: they make me feel hopeless. They make me feel like speaking up is a waste of my time, that the problem is too big, that my voice is not loud enough to make a difference. They make me worry that if I speak out, I will be the next target.

The problem is, this type of online harassment comes from the same dark place where sexual assault, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender based violence come from. They are controlling and dehumanizing in the same ways. They may only be words, but words have great power.

This is exactly why every single one of us needs to speak out and speak up.

Ashley Judd has a big platform and a loud voice, but she alone cannot create the cultural shift we need. The WeWillSpeakOut.US movement is all about uniting voices, especially those in the faith community, to take a strong and united stance against violence in all its forms.

If you are committed to speaking out against sexual and gender based violence, sign our Pledge Against Violence now!

Emily Esworthy is the marketing and communications manager for IMA World Health and the Secretariat for the WeWillSpeakOut.US coalition, a faith-based initiative to end sexual and gender based violence.

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