What happens when Islamophobia emerges in a normalized rape culture? “They actually went and printed my home address and encouraged people to come and visit my ‘camel jockey, Muslim children,’ [saying] ‘I’ll go fuck your children…’ and ‘I will skull fuck your children,’” said Trista Hendren, 38-year-old Portland, Oregon mother of four—both a Christian and a Muslim.
Hendren is the co-founder of Rapebook, a Facebook page aimed to flag and report misogynistic content including graphic images depicting sexual assault, the sexualization of children and rape “humor,” photographs captioned with rape jokes, though she was compelled to shut down the page in April, after receiving hundreds of threatening messages.
Rapebook is the product of frustration, according to Hendren who believes that Facebook holds the de facto monopoly on social networking and bears a likewise responsibility to keep the market safe. “I just felt like really nothing was happening,” she said. “It seemed to be a really women-centric problem…the way that Facebook sort of dealt with women and men.”
Hendren thus opted to build a page with a central location, “where women who wanted—and a lot of women wanted—to help,” she said. “So many women have experienced violence or rape in their lifetime, so it goes way beyond just being sensitive that [rape] pictures are up; it’s very triggering for a lot of women to see this… I felt like, those of us who could [help], owed it to our other sisters as much as we were able.”
Under Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities: Safety, number six and number 10 read, “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user” and “You fill not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory,” respectively. Content that clearly violates such terms is removed, but content that is “distasteful” but not illegal or in violation of the terms has the right to stay up.
But Hendren, among other activists, does not believe Facebook is following its own rules against the intimidation and discrimination of women. “I think that these—if you want to call them jokes—have a very specific intent of scaring women and keeping them in line. I don’t see them as jokes…It’s really highlighting a bigger issue of our society that women can be raped at any time, and they’re to be subordinate and stay in their place,” she said. “I definitely think that there’s intent there, whether or not it’s intent to actually go out and rape a woman is, in a way, irrelevant, because I think the fear of rape keeps women quiet and subordinate.”
Hendren argues that this is a human rights concern. “I think that [Facebook] has a moral obligation to take down content that is targeting half of the population in a very specific way,” she said.
But to add insult to injury, Hendren endured hundreds of menacing messages and photographs each day. “They were putting pictures of girls actually being raped up on our page, sending us threats against us and our children,” she said. At one point, according to Hendren, Facebook even shut down the Rapebook page and demanded that Hendren call it “controversial humor.” She said she replied, “This is not ‘controversial humor;’ this is a protest page and we’re not going to do that.”
Facebook put the page back up, and thus Hendren was able to make the decision on her own terms in April not to remove it again, but rather, to make it inactive. “We just decided okay, are we really doing anything here?” She said she began to re-evaluate Rapebook’s initial intent—to remove misogynistic content—and what it was actually doing—inviting misogynistic content.
The comments poured in even after the announcement to deactivate the page, reading, “It’s about time, you feminist pieces of shit. Fuck you and your stupid page. THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE!!!”
If you really want to be feminists(which is retarded if your american, i cant state enough how equal we are, minus the fact there are special circumstances for women, i mean shit i want a week or two off every year or so just because a woman gets it off for pregnancy, also i would like to be able to be a dick for 1 week out of every month without their being anything bad happening. You wanna know what happens to women in saudi arabia who mouth off to their husbands? No you don’t.) go and do it yourself, don’t just support a page that does it for you, or your going against everything that feminism is about.”
Get back in the kitchen.”
Sounds like a personal problem take the barbed broom stick out of your ass and get laid for once in your miserable life faggot”
Even other women wrote, “All Rapebook supporters are attention-seeking sluts.” Another woman wrote, “The Internet was made not to be restricted– don’t try to control what you don’t know. I disapprove Rapebook…Fuck off the Internet if you can’t handle it <333”
And what perhaps says a little more about the “America” in which we now subsist…she “needs a bullet in [her] Muslim head.”
Despite hate-speech calling Hendren a “Feminazi” and ensuing Islamophobia, Hendren said the convergence of feminism with faith is imperative for transcending change across the globe. “To me, one of the reasons that I think faith is really important within feminism is that the majority of people around the world hold onto their religion, and they’re not going to change it. I really think that if you want to work with women, you [cannot be] saying their religion is bad.”
The mother of a 10-year-old son, seven-year-old daughter and two stepsons of 16 and 12 is forced to protect her family from those who oppose Hendren’s views. “The local police were contacted here and, actually, what they encouraged me to do was to get a gun,” she said, though she declined to comment further on her safety precautions due to the inexhaustible controversy over gun control.
Hendren has an open case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who is still investigating; however, she is not certain that anything will come of her case. “It’s still such a new area,” she said. “It’s difficult to prosecute because they’re looking at whether or not someone will actually carry out a threat. I think a lot of times there is a tendency to downside what people say online…”
In addition, Hendren makes sure to keep her own children off of Facebook. “You have all of these young kids on Facebook so they’re growing up in an environment that is normalizing rape…normalizing behavior that I would never want to see in my son.”
And in an effort to raise her own children as accepting of all religious beliefs, Hendren also said, “I wanted to raise my kids in a way that was different than how I was raised— kind of more multi-faith, where they’re exposed to different faith traditions where they can make their own decisions. So I raised my kids around the Muslim tradition and the Christian tradition.”
She said she thought she was doing okay raising her children in a multi-faith home, until she spoke with her daughter and unearthed yet another male-centric aspect of our society. “When I was speaking with my daughter, I realized that she didn’t relate to the concept of God at all, because God is always male. Whether we were at the mosque or at the church, it’s very male-centric.”
To provide her daughter with spirituality, Hendren recently published “The Girl God.” She said, “I realized that I didn’t even see [the male-centrism] in my own life; I just kind of confined to it because it was always that assumption of God being male. That’s what inspired the book and brought on the whole faith journey for me.”
Hendren and her children are continuing their individual faith journeys, and her FBI investigation of Rapebook is ongoing.