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Paige VanZant's horrifying rape revelation brings out the worst of the internet

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Paige VanZant prepares to enter the Octagon before facing Jessica-Rose Clark of Australia in their women’s flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Scottrade Center on Jan. 14, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Getty Images)

I believe Paige VanZant.

I believe every sad, disgusting, horrifying word she wrote about being gang raped when she was 14 years old.

The UFC women’s strawweight fighter dropped the bombshell in her new book, “Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life,” which was released on Tuesday. In it, she describes being sexually assaulted by a group of boys at a party.

Born Paige Sletten, she legally changed her last name to VanZant in direct response to the rape. Boys at her school were calling her “Paige Slutton,” and of course that always brought the horrifying reminder of what had happened to her.

Since coming forward with her story, VanZant has received overwhelming support. But she has also been tagged as an opportunist, and far worse, by many commenters.

Just about the worst place in the world is the comments section on a website. There, with the anonymity the internet provides, people lay bare their worst instincts. Many commenters questioned the veracity of VanZant’s story, as if she, or any other woman, would willingly put themselves through the storm that is sure to follow such pronouncements.

There were many such comments below the news stories on the rape all over the internet.

Rape is not a crime of sex. It is a crime of power, a crime of domination, of control. Culture has for years made women who have been raped feel they had done something wrong, as if they’d somehow brought this horrible crime come upon themselves by something they did.

It’s traumatic and there is often no one for a woman to speak with, so she holds the awful memory in. It’s an awful thing to have to live with and it leads to many issues for the victims down the road.

According to a study, “The Mental Health Impact of Rape,” by Dr. Dean G. Kilpatrick of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, many victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder after being raped.

Rape victims were 5.5 times more likely to have PTSD than those who had never been the victims of a crime, the study reported. “Almost one-third (31 percent) of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime; and more than one in 10 rape victims (11 percent) still have PTSD today,” according to the study.

A full third, or 33 percent, of rape victims admitted to having seriously thought of suicide. According to suicide.org, about 13 percent of rape victims attempt suicide, which can occur years after the rape.

Suicide.org also notes that 44 percent of rape victims are under the age of 18, like VanZant was; and that 66 percent of the rape victims know their assailants, like VanZant did.

And yet men embarrass themselves daily by having attitudes like these crass website commenters who show no human compassion or understanding of rape culture or of its emotional effects on victims.

Some of those who question VanZant’s integrity point to the length of time between the alleged crime and her reporting it publicly. Women are often afraid to come forward, knowing the reaction that is going to follow.

It would have been perfect if the 14-year-old Sletten had immediately gone to the police and done her best to preserve evidence so that the perpetrators had been arrested, convicted and sent to jail.

That she is coming forward now is bravely heroic, and should provide support to other women who, sadly, will find themselves the victim of a sexual assault at some point in the future.

Hopefully, by having heard from VanZant, or some other woman who has spoken out and lived through the storm, a future victim won’t develop PTSD or depression, won’t attempt suicide and won’t see herself as the one to blame for what happened.

Paige VanZant has been a hero to many for her exploits in the cage.

Never, though, did she stand taller than when she told her story in all of its horrifying and explicit detail. This narrative has to change. We need to stop questioning the victims and instead assail the perpetrators.

I believe Paige VanZant and I hope that she finally understands that she did nothing wrong. She has nothing to be sorry for, and she did the right thing by reporting it at a time that felt right for her.

It takes great courage and she should be commended, not condemned, for coming forward.

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