When Aaron Swartz took his life earlier this year, enough people spoke up about the tragedy that I felt I not only had no right to, but I didn’t have to. My boss, Aaron’s friend, was amongst the most vocal. I barely knew Aaron, or the law, so what could I possibly add?
And then someone called Aaron a rapist. Not just anyone. A federal prosecutor from the Department of Justice compared Aaron Swartz, a kid who went to trial, facing a 50 year sentence, for illegally downloading academic articles, to a rapist revictimizing its victim, in this case, MIT. Now I’m furious, and I think someone has to speak out against Heymann’s utterly disrespectful and deplorable comments.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how a federal prosecutor could make this kind of error in judgment. Sexual assault is a violent crime, and it is only remotely appropriate to talk about institutions in this context when describing systematic, widespread violence. And even then, clearly, as perpetrators, not victims. For instance, the massacre that occurred in Nanking during WWII was described by Iris Chang as The Rape of Nanking in her bestselling non-fiction book by the same title. Approximately half a million people were killed in Nanking, and as many as 80,000 women and young girls were sexually assaulted by soldiers before being killed. That was rape. For real. This is not.
I have never felt particularly called to protect internet freedom (confession: I’m one of the few people who did not change their Facebook profile pictures in protest of SOPA), but when federal prosecutors start desperately trying to prove themselves in the right by comparing internet activists to rapists, that is a huge fucking problem.
Mr. Heymann, you not only owe Aaron Swartz’s family and friends an apology, you also owe an apology to the millions of victims of sexual assault in this country — many of whom will never get justice thanks to victim blaming and [shocker] the failure of law enforcement to take prosecution of these crimes seriously.
In no universe is it possible, or even remotely appropriate, to compare the late Aaron Swartz to a rapist and MIT to his victim. Take it back. Now.