The uncompromising outrage of activists and survivors has no doubt drawn important attention to sexual misconduct and egregious criminal behavior. Outrage brings awareness to long-buried issues in desperate need of justice. Outrage has resulted in the #MeToo movement, the formation of Time’s Up and the galvanization on display at the annual Women’s March. Outrage is a righteous and necessary vanguard in a free society.
Outrage is different from sex panic, however. The former exposes; the latter silences. Panic rejects nuance, debate and disagreement in favor of party lines and swift action. Panic has resulted in the rise of cancel culture and the dismissal of due process. By the time we can consider whether we’re in a full-blown cultural panic, rational thinking has already been cast aside. It becomes risky to ask for facts and data. In a sex panic, it becomes imprudent to question the extent to which sex-based discrimination exists. It becomes dangerous to suggest that all sexual violations, and all experiences of sexual violence, are not equivalent. As a consequence, we learn to shut up and sit down lest we face public condemnation and risk being attacked on the internet.