This post has been updated.
Writer and Democratic strategist Zerlina Maxwell is speaking out about the ugly responses she received on social media after appearing on Fox News last week to talk about rape and guns.
Maxwell, who appears frequently on Fox and is also a contributor to theGrio, has written often about what she calls unfair cultural messages to women, instructing them on how to avoid being raped, rather than focusing on the men who commit these crimes. On Sean Hannity’s program last Tuesday, she applied that message to the issue of gun control, saying arming women isn’t the answer to preventing rape, and that teaching men not to attack women is.
“I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything,” Maxwell said during the show. “I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.”
Her comments prompted a volley of ugly — even threatening — responses on Twitter and Facebook, including from someone named Michael Shapiro, who describes himself as a “Barry Hussein Obama HATER…. Proud American Patriot, Infidel and Rabid Islamaphobe” and who, after calling Maxwell the n-word, added that he hoped she would “get raped” and have her “throat slit,” adding, “may be [sic] then you understand why white women have to be armed.” Shapiro later deleted the tweet.
Maxwell retweeted some of the messages, including one from a user calling themselves Doug Jones, who has only a handful of followers and later protected their tweets, and another, Casey Emfinger; she said, in order to alert other users to them. Indeed, several Twitter users began calling particularly for Shapiro to be blocked or reported to Twitter for abusive messaging.
Maxwell says the threats didn’t appear immediately after the segment. “It wasn’t until an edited version segment got picked up and spread in conservative media like The Blaze, Hotair, Townhall, that the threats started coming in to my twitter feed and my public Facebook page,” she said. “I received the first threat the one mentioning “gang rape” early on Wednesday morning.”
Maxwell, a rape survivor herself, said she was unable to determine exactly how many threats there were, because searching through them was difficult emotionally.
“It’s very triggering to go through all of the individual messages to screengrab them,” she said. ” I know of four, and I had friends go through for me and screengrab the rest which don’t directly threaten to come and kill me but suggest that they hope I get raped, or killed, or have my throat slit, or that I commit suicide.”
She said she reported the threats to Twitter and Facebook, but fears “there is very little that can be done.”
New York, where both Shapiro and Maxwell live, has strict laws regarding sending threatening messages to another person online, but it is unclear whether any of those apply to the tweets sent to Maxwell.
Maxwell has since received an outpouring of support on her Twitter page, and a Facebook page was created where women could show their appreciation for her speaking out.
She says the experience has been difficult emotionally, given her past, very personal experience with rape.
“I knew that going on Fox News to talk about my personal experience as a survivor would be difficult, but the issue is important to me and I viewed it as an opportunity to address rape culture head on,” she said. “I am pretty fed up with the constant messaging around what women can do to prevent rape or domestic violence, instead of focusing on the perpetrators. I’ve written about victim blaming consistently and I used Hannity as a way to repeat the same message in a different forum. The backlash is instructive because I was making a broader point about rape culture and I received rape threats. The irony is pretty remarkable. It wasn’t just trolls with no followers either; many of the harshest messages on Facebook are from real people whose names I know and whose profiles you can click on.”
As for whether she is concerned for her own safety, Maxwell says she isn’t for now, “in terms of any direct threats to harm me,” however she adds: “I’m certainly not naive and will make sure I’m vigilant and aware of my surroundings until this dies down a bit. It’s pretty sad that a rape survivor is threatened with rape and death expressing a viewpoint about victim blaming but maybe something good can come from this and we can finally have a long overdue and absolutely necessary conversation about violence against women.”
And as to whether she might pursue legal action directly against those who threatened her, Maxwell, who among her many other titles is also a law student, adds: “I’m going to explore all possible legal options and the good thing about being a a law student is I know plenty of lawyers.”
Neither Shapiro nor the Twitter user Casey Emfinger, who claims to live in Culver City, California, responded to theGrio’s requests for comment.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @TheReidReport.