April 24 TikTok Claim Reaffirms What We Already Know | Opinion

An alarming TikTok trend is inviting men to commit sexual assault on April 24, on so-called "National Rape Day." An unconfirmed narrative claimed six men on the video sharing app told users that April 24 is a day men can rape or sexually assault women with no repercussions. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Currently, TikTok and news outlets are unable to locate the original video or pinpoint how the trend started.

If the trend was meant to be a joke, sexual assault survivors are not laughing. Such a tasteless joke begs to widen the conversation in one direction while forgoing the experiences of survivors.

"It was just a joke," is what we often hear but it becomes difficult to separate boundaries between jokes and reality.

This year isn't the first time "National Rape Day" gained traction. It was a top definition on Urban Dictionary before its removal. Posts about the fake holiday were found on anonymous messaging sites like 4chan.

The overall result of rape jokes leads to rape culture. Sexual violence is a product of rape culture, but things such as jokes about rape, cat-calling, victim-blaming and patriarchal power structures all come together to create a culture that normalizes rape and sexual assault.

All of this occurring during a pandemic changes what sexual violence looks like. In March 2020, there was a 22 percent increase in hotline calls to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, for people younger than 18. Of those who contacted the hotline, 67 percent said their perpetrator was a family member and 79 percent said they were currently living with their abuser.

COVID-19 didn't lessen instances of sexual violence. It made it easier for perpetrators to act.

"As the world is distracted by the pandemic, many perpetrators take on an ever-greater sense of impunity, assuming that they have the freedom to act without restriction," said María-Noel Vaeza, U.N.-Women regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean.

The TikTok logo is shown. Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images

Although lockdowns were important to limit the spread of COVID-19, they had a "devastating impact on women and girls living with the risk of gender-based violence," Vaeza said.

Many perpetrators force their victims to live isolated, which may leave them wondering what they were supposed to do during stay-at-home orders if their home is not a place of safety.

"National Rape Day," a baseless claim or not, dismisses the activist work of feminists and maximizes the trauma survivors face. Videos now circulating TikTok under #april24 have over 120 million views.

Most of the videos on the app feature users expressing concern about the day and warning others—sharing fears, anger and defense mechanisms in hopes of burrowing the disturbing trend.

For survivors of sexual violence, they continue to live in fear as rape culture is perpetuated online in the form of an appalling holiday.

The trend doesn't tell those at risk of sexual violence anything new. We know we aren't safe, but now our safety is determined by whether a TikTok video did or did not exist and how it impacted viewers who crave power and control.

I am not scared of April 24. I am scared of the people who laugh and poke fun at the panic and pain of others. The unease survivors feel comes from the apprehension we live in. Every single day is April 24 because every single day, every 73 seconds, an American is a victim to sexual violence, trending hashtags or not.

Sam Stroozas is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Northwestern University studying social justice and investigative reporting. She was born and raised in Hudson, Wisconsin, but currently calls Chicago home.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

For support, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-656-HOPE(4673) or visit the RAINN website to chat online with a trained staff member who can provide confidential crisis support.