The #MeToo movement has highlighted the shocking and persistent nature of sexism in showbusiness, politics and public life. As more women feel empowered to speak out about their terrible experiences of sexual assault, our culture is slowly changing. We are starting to hold perpetrators to account, so they can no longer act with impunity. Despite these advances, however, big challenges remain, such as sexist online harassment and cyberstalking. This is a growing problem that threatens women and inhibits their participation in public life. As a society, we need to do more to address the underlying causes and help victims get justice.
Online Harassment and Cyberstalking
As discussed in a previous blog, online harassment and cyberstalking in general is a serious and growing problem that can take many different forms. Perpetrators often hide behind anonymous profiles or accounts, and many victims feel helpless or unsure about what to do. Recent studies suggest that it affects 60% of Australians and can have profound negative effects on victims. These include adverse impacts on mental health, finances and reputations, and victims’ participation in public democratic life. On top of that, there is a particularly gendered dimension to online harassment and cyberstalking.
Sexist Cyber Abuse
According to multiple recent studies, women and gender-diverse people experience online harassment and cyberstalking differently to men. The situation is even worse for women who also embody other marginalized identities, such as queer or trans women, women of colour or women with a disability. For one, perpetrators often target women more often and explicitly based on their gender. Secondly, they are more likely to encounter severe or persistent forms of harassment, such as stalking and physical threats. Thirdly, especially for younger women, online abuse is often sexualized. Finally, due to the above, women are more concerned about and demand greater political action on online harassment and cyberstalking.
Effects on Public Discourse
Women with significant public profiles – such as actors, politicians or journalists – fare even worse when it comes to sexist online harassment and cyberstalking. The internet’s anonymity is a key problem here, as it allows perpetrators to spew hateful messages with seemingly no consequences. Additionally, major social media companies often do not do enough to respond to reports of online harassment and cyberstalking. For example, a recent report by Amnesty International called Twitter “a toxic place for women”. Another study talks about the “chilling effects” of sexist online harassment and cyberstalking on women’s public expression and participation.
What can you do?
In Australia, the eSafety Commissioner has recognized the particular problem of sexist online harassment and cyberstalking. Its website Online Abuse Targeting Women provides useful definitions of different forms of cyber abuse. The most important distinction is between one-off abuse (trolling) and ongoing harassment (cyberstalking), which require different kinds of action. Trolls look for a reaction, so it is best to ignore, block/delete and report them to social media companies.
Persistent, ongoing form of cyber abuse, on the other hand, can be more damaging, and many victims want serious action. There are different state laws covering online abuse, cyberstalking and image-based abuse, so inform yourself by talking to a lawyer. If you know who the offender is, you have the option of going to the police. Since they decide whether to investigate based on the available evidence, it’s best to gather proof of online harassment beforehand.
How can Cybertrace help?
If you cannot clearly identify the offender, it can be difficult for the police to act. They often do not have the time or resources to find out who might be behind anonymous profiles. This is where Cybertrace comes in! We have the experience, track record and investigative tools to reveal the identities of anonymous sexist online harassers and cyberstalkers. You can then use the information provided to contact police or a lawyer and take action to get justice.
Click here to learn more about how we assist in identifying offenders.
If you have been the victim of sexist online harassment or cyberstalking, contact us to discuss how we can help.