The mouth of the Internet, the eyes of the public: Sexual violence survivorship in an economy of visibility

By Nelanthi Hewa

Image by Jess Mac ( Used with permission of and payment to the artist. Visual description: A wide open mouth, replete with teeth and a bright pink tongue, moves rapidly towards the screen on a loop. The .gif only loops when the visual field is filled by its epiglottis, giving the viewer the distinct feeling of being swallowed.


This post was first published by the Digital Research Ethics Collaboratory (DREC) on August 18, 2020. The latest version was published in Feminist Media Studies on May 5, 2021. Due to copyright restrictions, this piece has been taken down from DREC. You can find it here. If you cannot access the article due to the paywall, please request a PDF copy by contacting the author:



Image by Jess Mac ( Used with permission of and payment to the artist. A bright pink donut with a pale green, slowly searching eye in the middle. It is, like the social networks Wendy Chun (2016) describes, “wonderfully creepy.”

Sexual violence reporting is a site where issues of visibility, publicity, privacy, algorithms, and intelligibility all converge, and where the language of digital “space” is married to metaphors of “going public.” Using Google search results of Emma Sulkowicz and Chanel Miller’s stories of sexual violence as a springboard, this theoretical paper explores how all of these metaphors—public spaces, going public, being seen—are both prevalent and entirely inadequate for describing the realities of being covered by journalists in today’s contemporary technoculture. Stories of sexual violence in the media operate within a capitalist system of visibility in which they are repackaged, distributed, and made profitable for both news outlets and digital platforms. Rather than a neutral “public space,” stories of sexual violence and survivorship travel in what I call a public stage, or the eternal, infinite, and (often) intensely misogynist space of the internet. I conclude that the visibility economy of digital space, in which everything is treated as public and visible forever, has only intensified rather than abated the skepticism with which survivors are treated.












Nelanthi Hewa is a journalism student turned student of journalism. She is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.