Your Son Sent Me Rape Threats on the Internet

This article was originally published in the Times of India

Aunty, uncle, hi. I need to tell you something. I don’t know how to put this politely, but: your son called me a prostitute on the internet. I wasn’t offended because I don’t find sex work to be demeaning, but he kept going. Your son looked up my Facebook profile, clicked through my pictures until he found a full-body shot, downloaded the photo, wrote sexualising labels on my body, and tweeted his creation. The photo was from when I was 21 years old.

Then your son started messaging me vivid, detailed descriptions of what he’d do to me if he ever saw me in person. Mostly hurt me, mostly using sexual violation. He said that when he’s done with me, I wouldn’t be able to walk anymore. It was almost like erotica, if one’s specific kink is… well, being murdered.

Your son has done this to friends of mine too. Other outspoken women. Your son morphed my actress friend’s face onto a porn-star’s naked body and uploaded the masterpiece onto multiple porn sites. He got a hold of my journalist friend’s phone number and added her to a WhatsApp group where him and his friends lobbed hundreds of creatively worded rape threats at her. She had to change her number.

Aunty, uncle, your son created multiple anonymous accounts on Twitter to threaten me and my parents. My father should’ve worn a condom that night, he said, and my mother should’ve died in labour. My parents saw the tweets and they couldn’t sleep that night. They couldn’t sleep well for several nights after.

For months, I was nervous in public spaces. This man looking at me from the next table at this restaurant — is it your son? Or this man waiting at the lift of my office building, or this one, passing me in the grocery store, looking me up and down? I’m terrified, aunty, that your son will recognise me in public. I’m scared he’ll follow me home and burn me and my house down, like he said he would in his messages.

I know you’re wondering what I did to so anger your son and it’s simple: I expressed some political views that your son disagrees with. I find his heroes imperfect and I said so online. So your son sent me photos of his penis in private messages. I think he meant for it to scare me and, while I’m not afraid of penises, I know he thinks of his as a weapon, which does scare me a bit.

You may think this is some rhetorical tool and I don’t literally mean your son, but he’s definitely someone’s son — he didn’t fashion himself into existence — and there’s at least a bit of a chance that he’s yours. I know you’re thinking it’s impossible because your son is a good, kind, and hardworking person, protective of his sister, so respectful of you.

But your son is also very frustrated. He was raised under the singular mandate to provide for his family, but now he’s floundering to save anything substantial and is stuck in a tedious, repetitive job under an abusive, demanding boss, and he’s afraid to quit because job security is gold in an unemployment crisis. He suspects his own shortcomings have kept him from his dreams of wealth and that pisses him off. (He’s wrong, of course. The system is rigged. Tell him!)

Your son grew up surrounded by pop culture and corporate advertising that bombarded him with images of semi-clad women, kept him in a constant state of arousal and sexual yearning, promised him that if he just did everything right, if he just bought the right deodorant and wore the right banyan, he’d be drowned in sexual attention from women. In adulthood, he’s maddened by that broken promise. When he isn’t messaging my friends and my threats, he’s messaging us compliments. “Nice smile,” he says, which is nice enough. But we ignore him, and his frustration builds. His resentful loneliness builds. Culture gifted him an expectation that sex would be easy to come by and he’s angry at women for not living up to the promise of our pliancy.

Uncle, perhaps when your son was a young child, you took him to see films in which violence was the tool of choice with which heroes silenced their nemeses? Or maybe when your colleagues came over when the women were in the kitchen preparing dinner, your son overheard you and your friends laughing about how much your wives talk and how you wish you could slap them around a little bit? Maybe he saw you slap your wife around a little bit

There’s someone who taught your son that when he disagrees with a woman, he should threaten her with violence. Who was it, uncle?

Look, I don’t hate your son. I know your son has the capacity for goodness. I know he has small, gentle habits and sweet, important aspirations and I know he wants to be a hero to this difficult world. In fact, he and I have that in common.

But somewhere, somehow, your son learned that one component of heroism is making rape threats against women he disagrees with online. He knows you wouldn’t be proud of him for it, and all he wants is to make you proud, so he keeps this particular habit secret from you. I just wanted to let you know.

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