SILICON LOUNGE: Website Promotes Date Rape

We all have our limit.

I normally have an unwavering commitment to the First Amendment. I support the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill., the KKK to march hooded in front of city hall, anarchists to publish bomb-making instructions off and online, and pornographers to hawk their mall-slut wares. I even reluctantly grit my teeth and defend the existence of the nasty, spewing racism at Stormfront.org. I'm squarely behind the court precedent that says that if free speech, including Web sites, do not impose an immediate threat to an individual, it has a right to be expressed. I wrote polemics against both the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act. I'm against any government-sponsored filtering of Web sites, especially in public libraries.

But then I saw a site that curdled my free-speech devotion: www.daterape.org. For someone who experienced a date rape as a teenager, the content on this site was almost too much to bear.

"DateRape.Org is now selling 'DateRape in a Box' kits," stated the site (now taken down after a public outcry). "For only $49.99 +shipping and handling. You too can be a proficient date-rapist." The "kit" supposedly included: "1 How-to Date Rape Properly Manual, 2 Rolls of 'Shut-the-Hell-Up-Bitch Duct Tape,' 1 Medical Prescription Guide to check side-effects of certain drugs, 1 Official DateRape.Org Quick and Easy Cookbook, and 1 VHS cassette entitled 'I Met This Girl Over by the Bar, How Do I Seal the Deal Without Her Realizing I Spiked Her Drink?'"

You could also link to recipes using the date-rape drug, Rohypnol, and Xanax. You could learn to make "Robo-Brownies," using Robitussin to put her out and dried fruit to disguise the cough-syrup taste. For those who don't care for baking, you could concoct a "Napkin Surprise" using ether and a napkin. There were illustrations of the best way to hold a woman down.

On my first visit, I stared at the site with disgust. How in hell could I condone such perversion even if it was, as the site's creator said elsewhere on the site, a parody and a test of free-speech standards? It isn't funny or clever -- like, say, a gwbush.com parody -- and it sure as hell isn't respectful of much of anything, especially women.

Sure, I thought, a would-be rapist could probably figure out how to put his hands on a sleep-inducing drug if he wanted, or use his body to hold a woman's body down. But what about impressionable young kids? What a @#$%^&*, backward loser, I thought. Although a few media outlets had reported the site (Wired News first), none had revealed the creator. I set out to to find the culprit. I felt like the virtual Demi Moore in "Disclosure" stalking my prey through virtual reality.

It wasn't hard. An hour or so later, I realized I'd probably found him, and the search left me exhausted. If I had connected the dots right, he was a lonely 21-year-old in Tennessee who spends a lot of time on the Internet, working on computers, experimenting with drugs and writing a sad online journal. Suddenly, revealing the scoundrel didn't seem so thrilling.

Since then, though, I've thought a lot about the date-rape site. I've been unwavering in my defense of the free-speech rights of pornographers and bigots, agreeing with HateWatch.org that hate sites should be used to educate, not be censored. But this one touched a personal nerve. Suddenly, I was the one wanted to protect myself and my loved ones from "impressionable" young minds. I had fallen prey to the same protectionist bogeyman that will gut the First Amendment the second we drop our guard.

Of course, this site is distasteful. And, yes, it is possible that an-already screwed-up young man takes a gander at it and starts baking Robo-Brownies to take on a date. But that mere possibility does not negate free speech in the U.S. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the anti-smut clause of the Communications Decency Act in U.S. vs. Reno, it clarified that the Internet is subject to the same protections as other media. It has to be, of course, whether it is an online Anarchists' Cookbook or a distasteful site about puerile male fantasies.

It would be different if this confused young man were to post a specific threat of rape against a young woman, or the home address of one of his hated feminists. That would be crossing the line from speech into specific threats of harm. That should compel us to stop him and protect his potential victim.

As it is, this date-rape site can serve as a jolt of reality about why we cannot impose personal limits on free speech. We should pay heed.

Donna Ladd can be reached at donna@shutup101.com.

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