For an increasing number of young women, the Internet has become not only a place to exchange e-mails with friends or navigate social networking sites but also a destination to share their most intimate secrets: their stories of rape.
With just a few clicks of a mouse, Web surfers can find a Florida teen detailing her rape on YouTube, sobbing and pleading for help and answers after the state dropped her case against the 23-year-old man who she says forced her to have sex with him.
"I need some help, I didn't want to do it this way but it's the only way I know it's going to work, and that someone out there in the world is going to listen to me," said the self-identified 16- year-old Crystal, who sits perched on the edge of her childhood bed as she tapes herself crying hysterically.
"He took advantage of me and drugged me and raped me,"' said Crystal, adding that she's "so messed up" she no longer attends school.
"And I told him to stop, I told him to stop," she pleads into the camera, never revealing her last name.
Crystal's story is not uncommon; there are several other teens and young adults who are turning to YouTube, MySpace and Facebook to talk about their assaults.
"About half the victims of rape are under 18, and that is a generation that is doing practically everything online," said Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. "We found that younger victims were overwhelmingly saying they have a hard time talking about [rape] -- even to their best friends.
"Online is where they want to do it," Berkowitz said. "It's the format they're most comfortable communicating in."
RAINN estimates an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes and half of them are under the age of 18. Data also shows that only one in four women under the age of 25 will report her assault.
Those alarming statistics have pushed RAINN to do whatever it can to reach the youngest victims, even if it means becoming technologically savvy and logging online.
While their phone hot line helps about 400 victims a day, their newly launched online hot line, the only one in the country of its kind, offers victims a Web-based approach to getting help.
Victims can log on during a 12-hour time period and start chatting with trained rape counselors on a program that is similar to instant messenger. Since it's inception in 2006, 10,000 victims have been helped, according to Berkowitz, about 100 cases a day.
"The [hot line] users say that they would never have gotten help through another means like picking up the phone," said Berkowitz, who said that one of the motivators for developing the online hot line was to discourage teens like Florida's Crystal from using less secure means for telling their stories.
"A lot of the victims are very young and don't fully understand the consequences of revealing their identity and intimate details," said Berkowitz, whose online hot line scrambles Internet provider addresses to maintain its users' anonymity. "People were reaching out and trying to help them, but while they were well-intentioned they were unqualified and had no training."