Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault.
Writer’s Note: To make it abundantly clear, in this space, we believe survivors of sexual assault, regardless of gender, class, sexual orientation, age and other circumstances used to discredit survivors.
Sienna Mae Gomez, an online personality who first developed a following on TikTok and currently has 14 million followers, has been accused of sexual assault by her former friend and fellow Internet personality Jack Wright. It was heavily suspected after Wright’s friend leaked a video in early 2021, depicting an incapacitated Wright being groped by Gomez coupled with a statement from the friend alleging the abuse, but Wright had not addressed the allegations of the abuse for months directly. (For the sake of respecting Wright’s autonomy, I have chosen to exclude incorporating a link to this leaked video.) In the past week, it has been alleged, through a video posted by Wright, that Gomez assaulted Wright over the course of four separate incidents — including the incident depicted in the leaked video — during their relationship. Over the course of the 17-minute testimony, Wright explains the circumstances of his friendship with Gomez, which was characterized by Gomez’s manipulation, love bombing, consistent boundary-crossing and many assaults. Wright’s incredible strength shows through as he gives a detailed account of the events that transpired. Survivors of sexual assault should not have to give such a detailed account on the internet, and they should be believed regardless of whether or not they choose to disclose the details to the public. Although, it is understandable why Wright would choose to do so. Other survivors have contacted him, alleging that Gomez has assaulted them as well. In addition, Gomez previously released several videos alleging that the leaked video was made to deplatform her, that have since been taken down.
In response to the video, Gomez has gone on to deny Wright’s allegations through a Medium post. The apology follows the same format that celebrity apologies typically do: acknowledgment of the allegations, some element of establishing it as a supposed he-said/she-said situation and a promise to do better in the future. These apologies usually leave the author’s (or in the most likely case authors’) true intention uncertain, whether it be a true apology or a last Hail Mary attempt to protect their platform. As a reader, it is difficult to truly know what the writer’s intentions are, yet Gomez mentions in the beginning of her post that “(her) legal team sent his legal team a letter threatening a lawsuit for defaming (her) character because that ‘is the best next step to clear your name.’” In this case, it is abundantly clear that Gomez’s intentions are not to apologize and is simply another celebrity’s graceless attempt to disavow the pain they’ve caused and maintain their platform.
(From this point in the article, I want to make my intentions clear. In no way, shape or form do I want to inspire any hate toward Gomez. However, a large part of the news coverage following these allegations has left a sour taste in my mouth as it has largely failed to address the inadequacy of her response and the harm it caused.)
The post then details her version of their relationship, which largely resembles the timeline brought forward by Wright — with a few key differences. Gomez discusses how she felt that he had allegedly “disregarded (her) feelings for the sake of money” when Wright has said he wanted to maintain mystery on the status of their relationship for brand deals. (For context, a large amount of Gomez’s and Wright’s content at the time included featuring one another in romantically themed videos.) Gomez also stated that the aforementioned leaked video was filmed months before as a “joke.” Apart from the timeline, Gomez minimizes her boundary-crossing as not harmful, but simply not having the same “love language” as Wright. Gomez additionally claims, “Consent isn’t really something that is formally taught in school” as a way of stating that she, at the time, allegedly did not understand what consent was. While it is true there is a lack of formal sex education in the United States, it should not act as a defense and doesn’t negate her responsibility to take accountability for her transgressions. Furthermore, Gomez accused Wright of allegedly trying to paint her “into the ‘loud’, ‘crazy’, ‘overly sexualized’ stereotype that people try to use on young, especially Latina, women,” and equates the accusations against her to equivalent action that Jack took, suggesting “(Wright allegedly) did some stupid stuff too.” In summary, the statement is a mess.
Despite Gomez’s emphasis on her own personal growth in the statement, claiming “(She) is grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so that (she) can be a better ally to victims of sexual assault,” she contradicts herself by continuing to paint Wright in a negative light. She perverts concepts such as “love languages”, lack of sex education, sl*t- shaming and the monetary ties of their relationship in an audacious attempt to discredit a sexual assault survivor. This deliberate misappropriation is heightened by her simultaneous acknowledgment that she did not respect boundaries, or “love languages,” as she put it, throughout the duration of their friendship, diminishing the impact of these violations. Gomez also attempts to justify this misappropriation by including details of the monetary aspect of their relationship, as content from the relationship was largely used to bolster both individuals’ careers through paid-for brand deals and even a reality TV show. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to grow up under this much public interest and have monetary ties to one’s relationships. However, inclusions of these details only serve as a way to minimize her transgressions against Wright and invite further criticism against him. It also seems to serve as a way to allegedly justify her actions against Wright, which is perhaps the most disheartening aspect.
A lot of news outlets have covered the aforementioned monetary ties (brand deals, increased viewership, etc.) of their relationship and Gomez’s excuses of “love languages” that were depicted in Gomez’s Medium post.While I understand the need for including these details in the coverage, I feel it undermines Wright’s experience and alleged assault. One in seven boys will experience some form of sexual violence by age 18. The likelihood of reporting is even lower for men, as opposed to the already-low reporting rate for women. For the most part, the sexual assault of men remains largely undiscussed and neglected. Wright’s statement is a brave step forward to inspire others to talk about their experiences by opening dialogue for others to share their stories. We need to create a space where sexual assault survivors, regardless of gender, can come forward without fearing that every previous action they have taken, harmful or not, will be hypercriticized and put under scrutiny.
The statement also included the weaponization of an experience that I, and a lot of women that identify as Latinx, also face and understand well, which is the over-sexualization and objectification of Latinx women. It’s no surprise that Gomez chose to incorporate this into her defense, as her platform has largely propagated stereotypes of being, in her own words, a “spicy latina” for her monetary gain, despite rarely, if ever, speaking on issues that have impacted our community. I take issue with this, as the over-sexualization of Latinx women personally impacts me. Throughout the years, I have witnessed the overly sexualized portrayals of Latinx women in the media and have been at the receiving end of disgusting comments as well. One incident in high school stands out to me the most when I think about the impact this over-sexualization has had on my life. It was my senior year at Saline High School, and we had just received our grades back for our quiz in AP Economics. I had been assigned to sit at a table where I was the only young woman of Color. After receiving a Starburst for performing well on the quiz, I came back to my desk to find a note passed to me by the boys at my table. It was a stick figure drawing of me in a sombrero with a crude gigantic pair of boobs. I can still remember the self-satisfied smirks on their faces as I opened the note, and the matte, speckled grey tiles in the bathroom where I cried after class was over. This stereotype has had painful implications for my comfort and relationship to my identity.
These implications are not limited to me, but countless others, but it is hardly discussed in the media as I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen an article discussing the over-sexualization of Latinx women and its repercussions. Yet strangely, in the days since Gomez’s “apology” was published, I’ve seen numerous articles highlighting this particular quote, that Wright was painting Gomez “into the ‘loud’, ‘crazy’, ‘overly sexualized’ stereotype that people try to use on young, especially Latinx, women,” that are centered on this issue, including one from the Daily Mail. The article is titled, “‘Jack Wright is painting me as an overly sexualized Latina’: Influencer Sienna Mae, 18, hits back at TikTok star ex-boyfriend’s claims she repeatedly sexually assaulted him and says he’s ‘sl*t shaming’ her.’” In typical Daily Mail fashion, it includes the quote with little-to-no discourse on the implications of Gomez’s statement. I’ve come to expect the bare minimum from the Daily Mail; even still, I did not expect to see a genuine issue experienced by many to be used as a tool to distract from sexual assault allegations. Other publications have followed similarly; for instance, Insider chose to title their article on the issue, “TikTok star Sienna Mae Gomez denies Jack Wright’s sexual assault claims, accusing him of lying and sl*t-shaming.” These issues deserve to be discussed on their own and given their proper attention. It should not have to be given attention only in conjunction with sexual assault allegations. Framing the allegations in a manner that accuses Wright of slut-shaming and over-sexualizing, it acts to diminish Wright’s experience by using the severity of these genuine issues. However, Gomez’s experience of over-sexualization as a whole should not be discounted. The internet is a terrible, objectifying place for women, especially women of color — irrevocably, it is genuinely very likely that she has been over-sexualized. However, it is frankly troubling to see Gomez use this experience as a tool to minimize Wright’s account and to absolve herself of guilt. Male victims of sexual assault should not be fearful of perpetrators accusing them of stereotyping, nor does a victim’s alleged stereotyping serve as a sufficient defense for sexual assault.
Moving forward, I believe we should reexamine the way we treat sexual assault survivors, especially on our campus in light of the Anderson survivors. The University of Michigan has largely retained a callous tone in regards to the experiences of these survivors, which is a microcosm of how society largely discusses sexual assault. The consequences of how we speak about sexual assault victims, especially male, can deter survivors from coming forward. Survivors should not have to worry about their past being examined through a hyper-focused lens. They should not fear speaking out due to the possibility of being accused of slut-shaming or objectification. There is no “your truth versus my truth,” “misunderstanding of love languages” or “reclaiming my narrative” when it comes to sexual assault. Harm is harm; claims of sexual assault should not be undercut by using seemingly woke terms.
To my fellow sexual assault survivors: you are brave. Regardless of whether or not you choose to speak out about your experience, you are seen. In a culture where we have to fight tooth and nail for our experiences to be seen as valid and truthful, believe every survivor’s story. Whether or not others deem it as insignificant and minor, we deserve to be heard.
For help in the aftermath of a sexual assault, you can utilize the support services provided by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University of Michigan such as peer-led support groups, including ones which cater specifically to survivors of Color and Queer survivors. You can also call 1-800-656-4673 to reach RAINN’s 24-hour national sexual assault hotline.
MiC Assistant Editor Kat Andrade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.