William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Francine Banner


This Article critically analyzes Tweets regarding recent allegations of interpersonal violence against celebrities in order to explore societal perceptions of, and expectations about, alleged victims. The Article concludes that Twitter may be viewed as a micro-courtroom in which victims’ veracity and perpetrators’ responses are evaluated, interrogated, and assessed. A key, feminist critique of rape law is that the determination of the perpetrator’s guilt or innocence too often hinges on an assessment of the victim’s character. This is borne out on social networking sites, where terms such as “gold digger,” “slut,” and “ho” are engaged with regularity to describe those who come forward alleging an assault by a public figure. These derogatory terms serve not only to discipline the accuser but also to critique parties’ behavior as they forge relationships with legal systems and processes. Those who do not conform to what this Article deems an “honest victim script”—showing visible physical injury, promptly reporting non-consensual sexual contact to law enforcement, and refraining from filing a civil suit—risk being labeled “whores,” “bitches,” and “gold diggers.” These accusations are not just offhand comments. Closely examining Tweets reveals the ways in which contemporary viewpoints are shaped within the construct of the law’s historical treatment of rape victims and perpetrators. In just 140 characters, the comments suggest pervasive disbelief of victims whose stories do not fit neatly into the stranger rape paradigm. They reveal distrust of survivors who—rather than or in addition to pursuing justice via criminal law—seek compensation in tort for the harms wrought by sexual assault. Further, and importantly, they signal a profound awareness of both the power of law to affect social change and the legal system’s past and present role in fostering oppressions.