I was as shocked as everyone else by that footage of a teenage boy physically lunging at and grabbing a teenage girl by the hair in full public view in Valletta, and I agree that he needed to be charged with assault (but more about this later). Now I can only hope that people are just as willing to so swiftly identity any other perpetrator of violence, you know for example, some burly, husky Caucasian, Maltese man who raises his fist against a woman. After pointing a smartphone in his face and filming him doing it, of course.
Because it turns out there is much, much more to the story than what that footage implied. There are also a number of questions which come to mind.
Let us start with the video itself..who was filming the encounter? What purpose was there behind filming his reaction while the girl showed him (apparently) nude photos of himself which she was sharing with others? It reminded me of when paparazzi taunt and insult celebrities for the specific purpose of provoking a violent reaction in order to capture an outburst on video which they can then sell for a good prize – what is known as the money shot.
The video was also clearly filmed earlier this year as can be seen from the summer attire. So why post it online now?
This brings me to the social media outcry which followed that video and which I found just as, if not more, disturbing, than what I saw.
The teenager happens to be black – so cue the racism. He also happens to be transgender – so cue the sexual slurs. While his attack on the girl is something which can never be justified, why bring race and his sexuality into it? It is as if that video tapped into some primitive, primal instinct to lash out viciously at everything this teenager represents and which a section of Maltese society clearly seems to loathe. The sheer hatred I read online equalled, if not surpassed, those few seconds of violence on film.
Even more unnerving were the “ha ha” comments. People were tagging one another in a rapid-fire reaction in order to draw attention to the video to mock, ridicule and humiliate this teenager even further. His Facebook profile was plundered for “incriminating” photos. It was a virtual tsunami of cyber bullying.
Again, I stress, his aggressive reaction can never be condoned, but I find it scary that there is this underlying emotion just bubbling beneath the surface ready to figuratively pound someone into submission because he is so very different to them.
It is also significant that whereas in other cases where men abuse women either physically or sexually, you read online comments wondering out loud that she must have done something to “ask for it”, in this case, the teenage girl was hardly mentioned at all. Why is that? If men who resort to revenge porn are considered scum, why was this girl who was clearly doing something similar not equally denounced? Deplorable actions are always deplorable no matter who does them and no matter who the victim happens to be.
And now I turn to the charges in court. I have learned a bit about this boy, and it is clear that he requires psychological counselling. He has been the victim of bullying and the video footage shows just a part of it. As many have pointed out there is a very ugly culture of teenage cyber bullying going on, and we just caught a glimpse of it.
So while people are busying citing this as an example of man-on-woman domestic violence, I think in this case they are completely on the wrong track. Sometimes, things are not always as they appear, even when there is a video.